• Insight, 2016 Ep 11: Looking After the Kids (Insight)
What’s in the best interest for Aboriginal kids at risk?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

National figures suggest Indigenous children are being removed from their parents at a rate greater than any other time in recorded Australian history.

This week, we put them front and centre to have their say.

There are more than 15,000 indigenous kids in out-of-home care, and they are almost 10 times more likely to be in care than non-Indigenous children. 

Some claim we’re at risk of repeating the experience of the Stolen Generations.

Others say that comparison isn’t useful, and that the traumatic history has meant Aboriginal kids are too often being left in harm’s way out of fear of claims of racism.

Indigenous children are seven times more likely to be the subject of substantiated reports of abuse or neglect. 

Legally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are to be placed in order of preference with extended family, the child’s own Indigenous community or other Indigenous people. But as of June 2014, about a third of Aboriginal kids in care across the country were not placed with Aboriginal carers (with even higher rates in the Northern Territory and Tasmania). 

In this rare discussion, young Aboriginal adults who’ve been through care share their experiences with Insight and explain what they would’ve liked growing up, as well as what they want for their own kids. 

 

Credits 

 

Further reading and links 

For help

Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800 | https://kidshelpline.com.au/ 

 

For further information  

What is out-of-home care? - Australian Institute of Family Studies Fact Sheet

Child protection statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children - Australian Institute of Family Studies Fact Sheet

What is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Child Placement Principle?
https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/enhancing-implementation-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-child

Child abuse and neglect statistics
https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/child-abuse-and-neglect-statistics

Transcript

SEG 1. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everyone, good to have you with us tonight. Ruby, you're 18, you were removed from your birth parents when you were four. Why?    

RUBY:  Um, not too sure but I know that there's a report about the whole situation. Um, I did read that report when I was 16.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you find out? 

RUBY:  Um, so through that report I found, I found out that, um, there was, um, a lot of, um, problems between my parents going on.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is there anything specific that you remember from that time when you were really little, when you were still with your parents? 

RUBY:  Um, I don't know where I was, I think I was in between my parents, they were both arguing about something and, um, it was my father, my father got really aggressive and got really angry and he threw like a TV at my mum. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A TV? 

RUBY:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I remember that. And it ended up, um, falling on top of me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   A television fell on top of you? 

RUBY:  Yeah, a television - that's what I remember, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how old -you would have been under four then or four…

RUBY:  Yeah, probably under four, that's what I remember. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And were you hurt? 

RUBY:  I'm not sure if I was hurt or not. Probably was…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Hard to remember because you were so tiny? 

RUBY:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you remember that? 

RUBY:  Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember being removed from your parents? 

RUBY:  No, no. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And did you have any contact with them growing up? 

RUBY:  I did have contact with, um, them both, including my father, but I kind of lost contact with my father around the age of four towards five because for some reason he had just disappeared out of my life and my brother's life as well. So from that age up till now we still haven't heard anything from him. Um, but we did see our mum quite frequently because we had access but sometimes my mum would cancel out on our plans for access and it was kind of really upsetting and stuff growing up because, you know, wanted to hang out with your mum and you couldn't because she cancelled on you. So…

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what was that like for you as a child not seeing her as much as you'd like to? 

RUBY:  Um, it was, um, I kind of got used to it. You kind of just get used to, you know, only seeing them on rare occasions. But when she, um, passed away, it was like one of the regrets that I wished I had spent more time with her cause, I always look at other people's families and I'm like, you know, I would like to have that same connection with my mother and my father but I can't. So it was, yeah, growing up was really upsetting but, yeah, kind of move on, I guess. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sean, you're 25 and your younger brother Cameron's here with you as well? 

SEAN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You were also removed from your parents when you were quite young, I think you were four as well at the time? 

SEAN: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember what it was like being with your parents before you were removed? 

SEAN:  I remember we used to go to the beach a lot, didn't we?  And we used to go down to the beach and we used to collect cockles, they're like little seashells and we used to like come running up the road with them, we'd like stack our shirts up like this and we'd come home and then mum would cook them up like on the stove for us and stuff like that. And there's not really many other memories, like good memories anyway, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Bad memories? 

SEAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   That you have? 

SEAN:  Yeah, bad memories because like our parents were both alcoholics and drug abusers at the same time.  Like, you know, most of us can relate. But, yeah, that's all we really, can really remember and it's kind of like sad. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you were too little, you were? 

SEAN:  Yeah, he couldn't even talk. 

CAMERON:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, to remember very much at all? 

SEAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you remember the day that you were taken away? 

SEAN: I remember bits and pieces.  I lived on an Aboriginal mission.  So we would all go to like school in the morning and stuff and I remember, I think it was like recess time or something and we're all just playing with our friends and stuff and then like a lady came in and the lady was like, oh, I just want to talk to like these boys.

And we were like oh, because our parents were like, you know, if you don't know the person, like they're a stranger so don't go anywhere near them and she was like come with me, you know, come with me, everything's going to be alright, and we were nervous and like she'd coach us out like with lollies, oh it's okay, come with us.

And um, so we went with her and she put us in the car and she said like we're just going to go for a little drive. Cameron couldn't talk but we had our other brother Christopher and my older sister Jamie and they would always ask the lady like, oh where are we going, where are we going? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So all four of you were taken at the time? 

SEAN: All four of us were taken, yeah, pretty much, like not all at the same time but we were all rounded up and then we were taken away before any of our family or parents could do anything, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you know now why you were taken away? 

SEAN:  Yeah I do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you know more about why? 

SEAN:  Yeah, because like I said, our mum, like our dad not so much because our dad stopped and he was like telling our mum like you know, like he became Christian and was like you've got to stop, you've got to stop taking drugs, you've got to stop doing this.

And there was this other lady, her name was like Punkie, it was actually a relation, but she kept telling our mum you've got to give up the drugs, you've got to give up the alcohol. You know, you've got to do it for you kids and stuff, but mum, like she's so caught up in it, it was like a cycle with her.  She just kept going and so she called DoCS and that's why DoCS had come in and they investigated.

And they realised like the best thing to do is just take these boys out of there because everybody that lived on the Aboriginal mission was all family. So if we went from one family to another family, everything was just going to follow us.  So I think they just decided the best thing to do for like all these kids…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Was to take you out all together? 

SEAN:  And then put them like with a white family and bring them up like that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How did your mum's drinking affect you, how did it affect you Cameron? 

CAMERON:   Um, I guess, well, it was really disturbing to be honest.  Like when I was younger I didn't really know but as I grew older I started to learn more about it and stuff.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder? 

CAMERON:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   FASD.  Do you have it as well Sean? 

SEAN:  Yeah.  When I - I think I knew which I was little, I was like a little shit, like I used to run around, like I was really naughty, I wouldn't listen to nobody and stuff.   But as I got older I think like I matured very easily and I just - I didn't think it really affected me as much. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   As much? 

SEAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what about your other siblings, were they affected by it? 

SEAN:  Oh Christopher, he was born with like cerebral palsy, autism. 

CAMERON:   Epilepsy. 

SEAN:  Epilepsy, like the whole works and our sister Jamie, she was born with it as well but yeah, I don't think it really affects her any more. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was it like being raised by non-Aboriginal foster parents for you? 

SEAN:  Um, I think I've realised now, like me and Cameron are really, really grateful. 

CAMERON:   Yeah. 

 SEAN:  Because of the experience that we've had. Like, you know, we were brought up really, really well. Like, I didn't want to associate myself with Aboriginal culture because everything that happened, and like foster parents were kind of a little bit saying, you know, you don't want to turn out like your parents. So it's not like, it's hard to like explain, but like we're really grateful because if we grew up on the Aboriginal mission, like honestly, like most people down there it's like, you know, ice addicts, you know, you take drugs, you're an alcoholic, and we wouldn't have had the privileges of what we've done to this day, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how strongly do you identify as being Aboriginal? 

SEAN:  Now I'm 100 percent proud, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ruby, who looked after you? 

RUBY:  So I had a carer who I was with for thirteen years.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was she Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal? 

RUBY:  She was non-Aboriginal. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and what was that like for you? 

RUBY:   I actually went through an identity crisis growing up because I was living, you know, I was Aboriginal and I was living with a non-Aboriginal woman and I was, you know, going to school.  I was doing, I was doing things that, you know, the majority of my family wasn't really doing. I've gone through primary school to high school and now I'm into university and not a lot of my family have done that. And so growing up I was, I kept asking myself, um, who I was, like am I black, am I white? Like who am I sort of thing?

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now that you're 18 and you look back on that, I mean how do you, how do you view it? How do you weigh it up in terms of the benefits and the disadvantages of the upbringing that you had? 

RUBY:  Well, with the upbringing I had, I was quite, I was very grateful to be, you know, cared for and, um, to have, you know, just got given a childhood even though I wasn't with my family, I wasn't with parents. Throughout my care I got, I got so many opportunities to, like a lot of like things that I always wanted to do, like even my art and music and stuff like that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was there anyone else in your extended family who could have looked after you do you think and would you have wanted that? 

RUBY:  I don't think anyone was able to look my brother and I. Not anyone that was stable enough and kind of like in the right shape of mind to actually look after two young kids.

JENNY BROCKIE:   OK.  Sue Ann, you work for Victoria's largest Aboriginal foster care agency. How often are kids, indigenous kids being cared for by non-indigenous families like these kids we have just spoken to? 

SUE ANN HUNTER, SECRETARIAT OF NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND ISLANDER CHILD CARE:  So 33 percent of children are with non-Aboriginal carers, so that's with kith and kin placements. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay and how does the system work?  You know, that's not preferred option, is it? 

SUE ANN HUNTER:  No, there's a thing called the child, the Aboriginal Child Placement Principles which came out of the bringing Them Home Report, the enquiry into the stolen generations. So there was one of the recommendations out of that was that there be a hierarchy of where Aboriginal children are placed and the first option is the family, and it goes down sort of a hierarchy, so then within community, close to community, within community, with abdomen an Aboriginal person and the last resort is with non-Aboriginal placement. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So if it's the last resort, why are a third of kids in that situation? 

SUE ANN HUNTER:  I would say there's a range of issues. One of them is not looking hard enough for family options.  I think the other point is also that Aboriginal people to care need to go through western system of answering a range of questions about their parenting styles and their families so then they're looked upon, they're judged by their parenting.

JENNY BROCKIE:   OK. Suellyn, you're from a group called Grandmothers Against Removal, what do you think about the way the system's working at the moment and the stories you've just heard? 

SUELLYN TIGHE, GRANDMOTHERS AGAINST REMOVALS:  There are - I'm pleased that they had, you know, I must say that I'm pleased that they've had good experiences and that in some aspects that's pleasing to me. But throughout our journey through Grandmothers Against Removals we've spoken to people across Australia, we've spoken to many a parent and children and not just young people, we've spoken to older people and they all talk about an identity crisis, of which you've mentioned that they've had.

But I think that what's happening is basically the system's not working.  So quite often what happens is it goes straight to the last option which is non-Aboriginal foster care and people aren't, they're not looking seriously at the whole family in its entirety and they're not giving Aboriginal people the best opportunity to care for these children, to assume that care. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What if there's a situation though where the community's dysfunctional or the extended family is dysfunctional? I mean the way that Sean described his situation.

SUELLYN TIGHE:   I don't know the processes for the individuals on the stage, on how they were placed in the foster care they were placed in. But if, I do find it hard to believe that a whole community is dysfunctional, I do, I do find that hard to believe. But I think it's very important that the Aboriginal Placement Principle that it is followed hierarchically and it is the extreme last option. I find it very hard to believe that there isn't going to be an Aboriginal family member or Aboriginal community or an Aboriginal foster family that can take on the care of Aboriginal children. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you want to say anything about that? 

SEAN:  I think that varies.  I think it depends on the circumstances. Like cause some certain Aboriginal missions only have population of twenty to thirty people. Like with my Aboriginal mission, like twenty to thirty people, thirty five people max and everybody on the Aboriginal mission is related. It's not like if we had a choice, we would love to have grown up with our parents. Like we would have loved to, but like, yeah, we couldn't tell them to stop drinking or stop taking drugs, do you know what I mean? People their age told them to do it and they couldn't even listen to that. So I think there has to be like a system to come in and help parents out in that instance. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Josephine Cashman in Darwin, you advise the Prime Minister on safety in indigenous communities. I just wonder what you think listening to these stories.

JOSEPHINE CASHMAN, PRIME MINISTER’S INDIGENOUS ADVISORY COUNCIL:  Yeah, what I would like to do Jenny, to explain this, is to draw a comparison. We did have a stolen generation where there was systematic policy of removing children from their families but now unfortunately we're actually dealing with something that's been created by the community which I call the abandoned generation.

Parents not, not taking on the responsibility of their kids, placing them in situations where they're at risk, alcohol, sexual abuse, domestic violence.  The most important thing for a child in that situation is to be in a safe family, whether it's black, white or brindle, and I think you've got examples here.

There are promising statistics like in New South Wales, it's actually 80 percent of children in care are placed with their Aboriginal family. There are many communities who are trying to take leadership through things such as empowered communities and there are some very functional Aboriginal families and very successful ones. But the problem is there's this whole group that we're having a whole generation of children who have to suffer like the guests on your stage and that's a huge problem for Australia. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Do you think the system is working at the moment? 

JOSEPHINE CASHMAN:  Oh, obviously not, obviously but it's not actually just the system. It's about people taking personal responsibility and about them actually having environments where children feel safe. Where there's not a lot of alcohol and there are levers that the government's trying to pull such as the healthy welfare card, but I would encourage all people in every community to take responsibility.

I mean we have got a crisis, we've got a crisis of domestic violence, Aboriginal women, 34 more times likely to be hospitalised for non-fatal assault, in most jurisdictions seven to eight times more likely to be killed and normally by their partner. So you know, governments can do a lot but also community leaders have to do a lot.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can I get a response from you Suellyn, what's your response to what Josephine's been saying? 

SUELLYN TIGHE:  First of all I'd like to say that domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse is not specifically an Aboriginal issue, it's a societal issue. And that we do have those issues and we freely, we acknowledge that these exist, but they don't only exist in Aboriginal communities. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But indigenous kids are seven times more likely than non-indigenous kids to be the subject of substantiated reports of risk or harm. So there's clearly, there's clearly an issue there in terms of the proportionate numbers of kids at risk. 

SUELLYN TIGHE:  That is alarming that those statistics are there and what we are about is, Grandmothers Against Removals, we're about empowering Aboriginal families and Aboriginal communities in terms to address those. So one of our points is saying that we need to support families, we need to make sure that we're supporting the whole family.  It's not by just removing the children, we need to support the families as well.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Jacinta, can I get a response from you?  You're from Alice Springs, you're a counsellor there? 

JACINTA PRICE, ALICE SPRINGS TOWN COUNCIL:  Yeah. Well, I have to say that we can't ignore those statistics. Aboriginal people, we are faced with an absolute crisis. I've, I've grown up in Alice Springs, my family scattered throughout town camps, my family come from Yuendumu community as well and we have come across situations within our own family where we're practically begging to have kids removed from our own family because they are not being taken care of. We have got, it's, it's incredible just within my own family the children that aren't being removed because of the fact that they are indigenous, because of the fact that, you know, departments… 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why is that happening, what do you mean it's because of the fact…

JACINTA PRICE:  Because of the fear of being called racist, if we're removing Aboriginal kids from these dire situations.  We had a situation out at Yuendumu where a family member of ours, we wanted her to be given to a white woman in the community and DCF turned around to us and said well, what about our culture?  And we were begging, her culture is not helping her right now.  She needs to be given to these people that understand the tools of this modern world because that is what our kids need to learn, the tools of the modern world, the tools of 40,000 years ago aren't working for our mob.  We need to take what is good and move forward but we need to leave a lot of it behind.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Debra, I want to get a response from you to this, just your reaction to what Jacinta said.  You're a former child protection officer. She's saying not enough children are being removed from unsafe situations.  What do you think? 

DEBRA SWAN, GRANDMOTHERS AGAINST REMOVALS:  I do agree with that at some point but I'd like to just say that I was born on a mission, I lived in a tin hut with dirt floors, none of our, neither me or my siblings or my aunties or uncles ever got removed.   We lived a good life and it's in your interpretation of what culture is.

JENNY BROCKIE:   OK. Let's get on to though the question of keeping kids safe and whether, you know, at what point they should be removed and whether we're either not removing them often enough from dangerous situations, indigenous children, or whether we're removing them too often. I mean what's your view? 

DEBRA SWAN:  Well I think it's a bit of both. I think there are some kids who need to, even working for the department, there are some kids that need to be removed earlier than they were. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why do you think that didn't happen? 

DEBRA SWAN:  But I've also seen kids being removed for things that weren't substantial risk of harm and I've also seen that family weren't informed. Family who could look after these kids were informed that these kids were being removed and when they've come back later to try and get the kids back, it's virtually like it's too late. Once it's been through the system you're not going to get these kids back. And I don't think the work's being put in to find the family members who can look after these kids.

 

SEG 2.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Chloe, you're 23? 

CHLOE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You grew up with your auntie Rachel and her partner. Why did you grow up with her? 

CHLOE:  When I was seven days old I was given away by my biological mother to live with my auntie and my uncle and I call them mum and dad now and, yeah, I've pretty much stayed in the family and I've known all my family my whole life, my whole culture and I love all of it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now did you have any contact with your biological mum growing up? 

CHLOE:  I had a bit of contact with her, not a lot, but she is still family so she still did come around and I still did see her a bit. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what was that like for you? 

CHLOE:  Yeah, it was good.  It wasn't, it was a bit awkward but other than that, it wasn't anything else. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you have any contact with your biological father? 

CHLOE:  I don't know who my biological father is. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what's it been like for you being raised by your auntie and her partner? 

CHLOE:  It's been great. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   In what way? 

CHLOE:  Like they're like the best parents ever and it's like the best thing that's probably ever happened to me 'cause, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell me what's good about it, what kinds of things do you do with them and what is important in that relationship? 

CHLOE:  Well, culture, my family, I've always been involved in our culture and I've always danced and taught the language and I've always been like, I've just always known where I came from and I never had to worry about any of that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So when you hear these stories how do you react? 

CHLOE:  It's, it's sad but I understand because it's where they come from obviously wasn't a good situation to be in and they didn't have family like I had that could have looked after them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Serena, you were placed in kinship care with your Nan and your auntie when you were about five. Why were you removed from your parents? 

SERENA:  Family feuds and domestic violence. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you remember much about that from when you were little? 

SERENA:  Yeah.  I remember like when I was little my mum and dad always used to argue and stuff and my dad used to go, a lot go to prison and  I remember like bricks and stuff were getting thrown through the windows and stuff like that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When the feud was going on? 

SERENA:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Yeah, and what was that like for you when you were little, do you remember how you felt? 

SERENA:  Scared, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was it like then growing up for you in kinship care? 

SERENA:  With my Nan, well at first she was alright and my pop had a job and everything, but I think they just turned into alcoholics because, yeah, turned into alcoholics, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So did you feel looked after when you were in kinship care? 

SERENA:  At first but not really.  They used to like drink every night and people used to come in and out of the house and stuff. Some people that we didn't even know like, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And there was sexual abuse? 

SERENA:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Not involving the people who were taking care of you in the house but people who came through the house, is that right? 

SERENA:  Mm-mmm, yep. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you when all this was happening? 

SERENA:  Um, from nine to twelve. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nine to twelve, okay. And were you there with any other children or were you the only child? 

SERENA:  I was there were my two sisters. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you feel connected, to that family?

SERENA:  To my Nan, not really. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   To your culture? 

SERENA:  Not really. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What did you want growing up?  As a little kid, what was it that you wanted? 

SERENA:  Just to be with my mum, my dad, my sisters and my brothers, that's all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you wanted to be with them if life could have been better than it was? 

SERENA:  Mm-mmm. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what's it like for you when you hear these stories about the way these kids have grown up? 

SERENA:  Yeah. Different way. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What would have helped you Serena in that time? 

SERENA:  Um, maybe if my mum didn't live amongst all family and maybe if she would have liked moved out of, just made a better future for her kids would have been alright.  But she did end up doing that in the end when we moved back with her when I was about twelve, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Rita, I want to, I want to talk to you about your great nephew and you've said that you're willing to talk about him tonight. Dean Shillingsworth, a little boy who was two years old, who was murdered by his non-Aboriginal mother nine years ago. Now did you know he was at risk?  Did the family know that child was at risk? 

RITA WRIGHT:  At first we thought he was safe because she was, she was a good woman until she got on the drugs but when the drugs come it really wrecked her, really, really done her damage. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And did you know that things were getting dangerous?  That there were, I mean the family was trying to do things, weren't they? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yes, she had weekends with Dean and they had to meet at Mt Druitt Station and she had to bring him but no, she didn't turn up with him and we knew that something was happening. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now he'd been looked after for a while by his Aboriginal grandmother? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why was he back with his mother? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Because she had, she went to the welfare and said that she needed, she wanted to have time, weekends, have the rights to have him for the weekends. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Who did you want him to be with? 

RITA WRIGHT:  With my sister-in-law.  What welfare was doing it wasn't enough, the rights for my sister-in-law to keep him at the house where he was safe, where he was safe.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ruby, you talked a little bit about your identity crisis when you were growing up. I want to talk to you a bit more about that when you were a kid. Tell me more about that, about wondering whether you were black or white.  How old were you when you were thinking those things? 

RUBY:  Probably - I was in primary school, probably maybe around the age of eight upwards until I got into high school, my first year of high school. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you talk to anyone about it when you were feeling like that? 

RUBY:  No, I didn't.  It was just this thing, it was like a conversation I had with myself.  You know, I just sat there and I was like are you black, are you white?  Yeah, I think it's just me getting involved with community, whether or not it's my community or not. I think it's important for indigenous kids where ever they are for them to be connected to their culture in some way, but like to be connected through maybe if they don't have access to their own community to another community because it's possible. I was involved with cultural activities, I was being… 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And was that because your foster carer actually supported you in that? 

RUBY:  Yeah, she got me, she got me to do, you know, to get me going and to get to go to these things and you know, through VACCA, if it wasn't for VACCA I probably wouldn't be as connected to culture as I am today.  Like I'm proud of my culture, I go to so many cultural events.  Even though we're not, like I'm not related to any of them, they're still my family, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When you were nine you discovered something about your background.  I want to have a look at you announcing this. 

 

VIDEO PLAYS. 

RUBY:  My name is Ruby, my family is from Cape New York. My grandmother is Amberlamba  my grandfather Wantawanta and my group is … I don’t know.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What was it like when you found that out though, that you were from Cape York, because you'd grown up in Melbourne.

RUBY:  I felt unique.   I was like really happy.  I was like, you know, oh, my god, I have somewhere where I belong, even though it's not down here.  I have somewhere I belong and you know, I carry that with them whenever someone asks me, I'm from Cape York, not Cape New York, Cape York. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You eventually went there four years ago, about four years ago, and you met your extended family.  What was that like? 

RUBY:  That was really emotional, yeah.  Because I remember this one point where we got to where we were staying up in Coen where is where my family lives and there's this like really, um, old looking woman who kind of looked like my auntie, kind of looked like my mum and I was like who's this woman?  It was my Nan and she just broke down in tears when she saw all of us.

Because I look so much like my mum, so I look like my mum and she just broke down in tears and I was like oh, you don't need to cry because I hate when people cry because I get all teary. And I was like you don't need to cry, it's all good, it's all good and she was just really - I think she was just overwhelmed that her grandkids had come up to see her and stuff.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did you think about staying there? 

RUBY:  I actually have thought about staying there but I don't think, because I'm too, I'm too used to Melbourne weather and I'm too used to like the Melbourne lifestyle.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sean, I want to back to something you said about, you know, not necessarily identifying with being Aboriginal growing up when you were younger? 

SEAN:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell me a bit more about that, what did you identify with? 

SEAN:  I think it all started from like when we did go into foster care and we did get, like started going to primary school and like, there comes this stigma like being Aboriginal you're always going to, as a little kid you're always going to get picked on. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how did you deal with it? 

SEAN:  I think as I got older, like because some people would say oh, you don't, like I'd tell them I'm Aboriginal and they'd go you don't look Aboriginal and then I would just throw off and I would just say that I'm something else. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you say you were? 

SEAN:  Oh, I would just say I'm Spanish or, you know, I'm Italian or Greek or something. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Cameron, did you do that? 

CAMERON:   Yeah, I used to say I was Pakistan. 

SEAN:  And they actually believed him. 

CAMERON:   Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So at what point did you start feeling proud about being Aboriginal? 

SEAN:  I think it was when we first met our first, no, it wasn't our first trip up but made our own individual trip, it was just me and Cameron when we went back down to the coast. 

CAMERON:   Yeah. 

SEAN:  Then we seen like our uncles and aunties similar to Ruby, and like the first time you seen them in a long time and like it's all emotional and they just show you bits and pieces of the culture and they take you to the beach and stuff and it just makes you think like,  you know, if only I knew or had more of that in my life and I think from that stage I've just gone like, hang on a second, you know, I'm not Italian, I'm not Greek or anything, like I'm Aboriginal and I should be proud of it, yeah. 

CAMERON:  Totally. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Stephen, you work in the Family Court and the Federal Magistrate's Court.  You assess, you know, some of the cases like the ones we've been hearing about tonight and you make recommendations about who might care for a child. How do you make those decisions, those assessments, and what sort of things do you weigh up? 

STEPHEN RALPH, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST:  I'm bound by the legislative requirements to look at what is in the best interests of children and that varies in terms of, obviously the fundamental principle is the paramount consideration of the best interests of the child.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how big a factor is culture when it comes to indigenous kids? 

STEPHEN RALPH:  There are many factors that need to be considered in this but there is a specific section in the legislation, the Family Law Act, which states that the Court has to consider the needs of any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child for an on-going connection with their culture. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why do you think so many kids, you know, a third of indigenous kids are in the care of non-indigenous families? 

STEPHEN RALPH:  I think it's really a failing of the system. I think it's been a system which has been under-resourced for many, many years. There hasn't been enough effort put into cultivating indigenous carers and providing support for them.

JENNY BROCKIE:   How is kinship care defined? What is kinship care? 

STEPHEN RALPH:  Kinship care is a very loose, a very loose term. In New South Wales, for example, it pretty much covers anybody who has a cultural connection to that child so pretty much any Aboriginal person can be regarded as being a kinship carer for that child.

I would emphasise that one of the things about kinship care is that it's, its application across various states and territories is quite different in how it is, how it is considered.  In New South Wales, for example, there are different requirements for kinship carers. They are assessed but the level of assessment for a kinship carer in New South Wales, from my understanding, is not what it would be for a foster carer, for example.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So there is a lower bar there? 

STEPHEN RALPH:  Yeah, the requirement for approval for kinship carers in New South Wales, from my understanding, is that it doesn't follow exactly the same process as what it would follow for others. The compulsory checking of background information is sometimes not compulsory. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Josephine, is the bar too low for kinship care in terms of the welfare of children or the safety of children? 

JOSEPHINE CASHMAN:  I think it is. I think we need the same standard no matter what nationality the child is and the same checks and balances has to be done. But what we're not talking about tonight is we're talking about we need more foster carers, we need more resources, what about stopping some of the violence in the community, what about preventing some of this violence?

I'm a Warrami woman but I've lived in Aboriginal communities in New South Wales where every single adult person there has been child sexually abused.  It's not on. We have to break this culture of silence. It's very similar to what's happening at the moment, you know, with institutions like the Catholic Church. People aren't talking about it, it's under wraps.  We don't, we actually need to have solve the problem and make these communities safe.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, yes?

MALE:  I was born in Yindyamarra actually in Central Australia, with my Yindyamarra family, this is my auntie actually. And so I was born in that community. My father is white Australian and he actually brought me here to be raised with his white family and I had a Filipino stepmother and there was never, you know, and that's because we have to have the reality in the central desert and these communities it's so violent.

Like my sister's murderer just got out a few weeks ago, he got nine years, he stabbed her in the back, she drowned in her own blood, no one helped her... You know, there are kids, we had that cousin that’s a three year old with gonorrhoea and then she was, you know, raped as an eight year old and she's not telling us.  Why aren't we talking about this and saying well, when do you remove yourself and say, you know, how is it safe to put in a family where that's just going to happen again because we know that in the community this is happening, this is rife. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Debra, can I get a response from you to both those comments? 

DEBRA SWAN:  Well I think we're targeting Aboriginal people all to be bad here. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   No, I don't think we're targeting, I don't think at all and I would not want to give that impression at all. 

MALE: I'm talking about the reality of the situations in this community. 

DEBRA SWAN:  I know there's reality about all these things, you know, kids are being abused, kids need to be removed. But again, I can hear the kids even saying that family would have been the preferred option and I think there are a lot of Aboriginal people out there, and I disagree that we don't get assessed, like non-Aboriginal people do because we do. I've actually had people close to me who've been assessed, they're assimilated people, they had their own jobs, own cars, own houses, they didn't do drugs or touch alcohol and they were not suitable to care for the kids. So I think it's a bit broader than that, I think the system…

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why were they assessed as not suitable do you think Debra, what was the reason? 

DEBRA SWAN:  They did not give a reason, they don't supply, they just say you're unsuitable. This is our argument, that we don't want kids to live with people who abuse them either but there are a lot of good people out there who don't get accepted by the non-indigenous systems that they are good enough.  So I think that needs to be looked at, that there are Aboriginal people out there who are good people, who can care for these kids who are their relatives. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Anthony? 

ANTHONY DILLON:  Kids, whether they are black or white, do best in a culture of love and, you know, love is often, or should be colour blind.    

JENNY BROCKIE:  Ruby?

RUBY:   I think we need to kind of come to a realisation that you know, not play any cards, you know, not play the culture card or not play the race card. I think we need to come together as a community to figure out what's best for the kids because as a kid in care, sorry…

JENNY BROCKIE:   That's okay Ruby, are you alright? 

RUBY:  No, yeah, I'm fine, just - it's just frustrating to hear that - I believe strongly, I strongly believe that we need do come together as a community to try and stop all that is going on from alcohol, to violence to all these things that kind of like upset our children and you know, I mean I see it, I see all the time that people like to play, you know, the culture card, you know, kids aren't in, you know, with their family and stuff, they're not going to recognise the culture.

Well hey, I'm going to tell you right now I know my culture. I grew up in a foster care, I'm still fine. At the end of the day, you have to think about the children, you can’t just think about yourselves, you can’t just think about oh, what's this going to look for us? You know, is this going to give us a bad image? No, it's not about the image, it's not about anything, it's about the children. Ask yourself what's best for the children and I think that if there is a place available for them to be safe, for them to grow up in an environment, then that's fine, then you should let them do that and for the parents.

You know, my parents they didn't try hard enough to get me or my brother back. I'm going to do this… If you want your children to come and live with you, you need to step up your game and you need to start taking responsibility. You need to start analysing yourself and asking yourself am I stable enough to look after these children because you can do it? You just need to work hard enough to do it because I can tell you, you can do it, alright?

I believe that if you want your children back, you need to, you need to honestly work for it because you can't just keep blaming, you know, the non-indigenous people. You can't keep blaming anyone else. You need to just, don't even blame yourself because it's not your fault, it's, it's just the environment that you're in. Isolate yourself from your environment because you can do it. I believe parents can do that, just get away from all of that mess and just find yourself, you know, look after yourself first before you look after a child. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I'm going to stop you there.  That is an incredible speech, well done Ruby. Suellyn, can I get a response from you to what Ruby is saying and I also just wanted to ask you, to what extent do you think the stolen generations has informed the way the debate is now ?

SUELLYN TIGHE:  First of all Ruby, well said and we do agree with you that it has to be, we have to go out and work with communities and bring about change in these communities because we need to, children are best safe at home and we need make those safe and we need to make those communities safe. So totally agree with what Ruby has said so well said as well.

And in terms of stolen generation, that's still a living memory for people and it's carried across generations and so it's, that becomes a generational experience. So we've spoken with families who've had, you know, one, two and three and four generations of removals. So it's a perpetuating cycle.  So what we're about is we want to stop that cycle, we want to bring about these children in safe families and safe communities and part of that is through support.

 

SEG 3.

 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Rita, I want to talk to you because you were removed from your family as a child. Can you tell us about that, can you tell us what happened to you? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yeah, it happened at a place called Woolamaringal, just outside of Burke.  My mum was inside and me and my sister was outside just playing with our cousins and while they was inside, welfare had come, they had parked their car around the side and they just come and just took us in the afternoon. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you? 

RITA WRIGHT:  I was two and my sister was four. They done it twice to us, taken from Woolamaringal and then from Brewarrina. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And who were you brought up by? 

RITA WRIGHT:  I was brought up in, I was at Cootamundra and then at a place called Kellyville outside Windsor there, near Windsor, it was called Marella. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what was that like for you? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Very cruel. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Cruel? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   In what way? 

RITA WRIGHT:  We worked like slaves, we got hidings, we were abused, we had to call them mum and dad.  They were, they were missionaries, I ran away at the age of 15 because I had enough of everything and I had a tin and I just, every bit of penny and that I put in, the shillings, I put in the tin. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you could run away? 

RITA WRIGHT:  So I could run away, I run through a paddock, got on Windsor Road and got on - I hitched a ride into Parramatta. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   When you hear Ruby talk, when you heard Ruby talk just then, what was your reaction? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Oh, she's fine, very powerful but that she speaks telling the truth.  She makes me cry and being reared up with the white people, they call them so-called Christians, you know, teaching us from the bible and flogging us because we didn't know the psalm.

JENNY BROCKIE:   So what do you think now about someone like Ruby being raised by a non-indigenous foster carer?

RITA WRIGHT:  Yeah. Well I learnt the hard way and my sister.  You know what really, what we missed out on is the love, the love and the care from our parents and then we had, we thought we had the white people to love us like Rube's got, she had a lovely lady, what I can understand, you know? That gave her the biggest opportunity in life to talk about her culture and how to live, live a straight, you know, live a straight life.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you foster children, you've fostered seventeen kids? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   In your local area? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why have they been with you, what was their circumstance that meant that you had to look after them? 

RITA WRIGHT:  I don't know, I just give them, I want to give them the support and not to let anybody else take them because I don't know why they come to my door, you know? And I just feed them, just said where you from?  They said they've got nowhere to live so I just say come, we'll make room for you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how many have you had at once, what's the biggest number you've had at once? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Oh, thirteen, fourteen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You've got 23 grandchildren? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And seven great grandchildren of your own? 

RITA WRIGHT:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How many kids do you think you could look after you if had to? 

RITA WRIGHT:  I could look after lots, if I had a big, big house I would take a lot, I'd take anybody, I don't care what culture but the main thing is trust and love. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Ruby, I wanted to, we are going to have to wrap up, I wanted to ask you about your foster carer who you were with for thirteen years but you left that carer recently and you're with someone else now, why, what happened? 

RUBY:  We just clashed too much. We'd get into so many fights. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How old were you, a teenager? 

RUBY:  Teenager, this was just like, you know, last year, I clashed with her, we got into so many fights and she couldn't take it anymore. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How do you feel about her now? 

RUBY:  I, you know, I see her, I go visit and stuff. I go stay there and stuff and I still call her mum, she's still a mum to me, she's still a mother figure.  But you know, I mean, you know, like I'm in a good place where I am at the moment.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sean, you had a falling out too with your foster cares when you were 17? 

SEAN:  Yeah, that's it yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What happened, just briefly, why did that happen? 

SEAN:  I just grew up too quickly and I just wanted to go out and do things and I was a bit naughty and they was like you can't do that and just really rebellious. And then so…

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of things did you get into in that time? 

SEAN:  I've got into fights, ended up in hospital and stuff like that and that's what really like woke me up. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You got stabbed at one point, is that right? 

SEAN:  Yeah, I got stabbed, yeah, in a fight, yeah. I cut my main artery in my left arm here, I was in hospital for like three days or whatever, had like 28 stitches in my arm, and then after that he just gave me a massive pep talk and he was like look, you're going down the wrong path and he was like, you know, you can turn it round, get your stuff together. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what's your relationship like now with the foster parents now?  

SEAN:  Oh, it's amazing.  Both me and Cameron we got our own place now, we live together, Cameron just moved out of foster care so he's living with me now and I'm like helping take care of him.  But yeah, we're really appreciative and yeah, we still call them mum and dad and yeah, we're really lucky just to have something to do with them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Cameron, you're a talented sportsman I hear, you're a member of the Paralympics football team, is that right? 

CAMERON:   Yeah. Been part of that team for about, I think it's four or five years now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how has sport helped you? 

CAMERON:   Yeah, it's been great. It's built my skills and I guess just made me stronger and stuff, oh, yay. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Serena, you're back with mum now, how's that going? 

SERENA:  I don't live with my mum, I've got my own place in Perth. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you're seeing your mum? 

SERENA:  Yeah, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And so how's life with for you with your own place, who are you living with? 

SERENA:  Just myself. I study nursing so the place where I am, yeah, makes you focus on you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, and how is life for you at the moment? 

SERENA:  Pretty good, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Chloe, what about you? 

CHLOE:  I'm just working, just…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Where are you working? 

CHLOE:  I'm work being at Coles, just constant working, that's about it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And do you want to stay doing that kind of work? 

CHLOE:  Not forever.  I want to do something with the community and stuff and give back, but yeah, sometime in the future.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you all want for your own kids if you have kids? Serena, what you would like?  If you have kids what you would like their lives to be like? 

SERENA:  Stable home, safe and a bright teacher, maybe nothing like my childhood. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Nothing like yours? 

SERENA:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Chloe. 

CHLOE:  Just happy, so they can be kids, grow up, go to school, just in a safe environment pretty much. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Sean? 

SEAN:  Yeah, I think they pretty much nailed it, yeah, safe environment.  You know, definitely have kids, you know, when I'm stable enough and I'm ready enough and I know that I'm capable and I can look after kids and keep my kids, that's when I know I'll have kids. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Cameron, what would you like if you have kids what would you like for them? 

CAMERON:   I guess a stable environment and just the same opportunities I got when I grew up and stuff. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Ruby, what would you want, if you have kids what you would want for them? 

RUBY:  I would want them to, I would want to give them a lot of love and support. I would want to inspire them, I would want to, um, just make sure that, um, they knew how much I loved them and surround them with culture, surround them with people who will support and look after them and I would just want them to be happy and for them to like know who they are and be more confident in themselves to do the things they would want to do in life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Thank you all so much for joining us tonight and for sharing your stories, really generous of you and great to talk to you.  And thank you Rita too, for sharing your story with us and everybody who's here tonight, thank you very much. And that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking about this on Twitter and on Facebook.  Thanks so much everyone. 

 

END OF SEG 3.