SNAICC, the national voice for Indigenous children, have released their 2021 Family Matters Report at the 9th SNAICC Conference.

SNAICC has reported every year that increasing numbers of Indigenous children are permanently disconnected from their family and culture, where any reunion is not possible. This year’s report shows this continued trend of children being removed from their families at disproportionate levels, despite the evidence of the harm this causes for all involved.

“This report makes for uncomfortable reading. Our children are 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care or permanent care, a figure that continues to increase every year. This should be unacceptable,” Family Matters Co-Chair and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children CEO Catherine Liddle said commented.

“All children deserve to know who they are, grow up connected to their Mob, family and kin – learn their stories and pass them on to future generations. Yet sadly, for many of our children, this is taken away from them.”

At the end of June 2020, there were 21,523 Indigenous children in out-of-home care ad permanent care. Where 79 per cent of them were permanently separated and living away from their birth parents.

“There has been no shortage of commitments from governments but not nearly enough action,” Family Matters Co-Chair Paul Gray, a Wiradjuri man and Associate Professor at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, UTS said.

“Recent changes in child protection measures that have been framed as solutions – such as arbitrary short timeframes for reunification and streamlined pathways to permanent care orders – only entrench many of the problems our children and families face.”

Those children separated from their families are predominantly placed with non-Indigenous carers, as the proportion of Indigenous carers has dropped from 53 per cent to 42 per cent between 2013 and 2020.

Dr Gray noted that Indigenous communities are reporting “that their voices are marginalised. They are increasingly concerned that there is lots of talk, but communities are not being heard”.

Dr Gray described the system as “fundamentally flawed” and in need of urgent fixing given only 16 per cent of government, funding goes towards early intervention and prevention services, with rest directed to intervention and out-of-home care.

The report comes after the federal government, as well as state and territory governments, committed through the National Agreement on Closing the Gap to reduce Indigenous over-representation in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031.

The report states that this representation is instead expected to rise by 54 per cent by 2030.

The report particularly focuses on the impact of poverty, homelessness, intergenerational trauma and social exclusion on families, and the insufficient policy responses to them.

Liddle further highlighted the report spotlighting the efforts of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations “who are working closely with our children and families in a culturally safe environment, providing wraparound support and giving families a voice in decision-making about their children”.

“Through the National Framework [for Protecting Australia’s Children] and the National Agreement [on Closing the Gap], we can set a clear and resourced pathway to transform Australia’s child and family service systems and uphold genuine self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” she said.

“Together we can make a difference.”

By Aaron Bloch