Removal of Indigenous children: facts, figures and terms you need to know

15 Apr 2016 - 5:36 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2016 - 10:00 PM

There are currently more than 15,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care across Australia. This week, Insight is putting them in the spotlight and asking them about their experiences.

Ahead of the show, here are some of the crucial facts, figures and terms to get your head around the issue. 

How many children are being removed?

In 2014-15, there were more than 15,000 Indigenous children in care across the country. 

Since Kevin Rudd made the National Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, that number has risen by 65 per cent

Even though Aboriginal kids make up just 5.5 per cent of children aged 0-17 years in Australia, they represent 35 per cent of those placed in out-of-home care. 

Indigenous children aged 1-4 were 11 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-indigenous children in the same age group. 

There are claims that there are more Indigenous children being removed today than any other time in Australian history. It's difficult know, given many records prior to the early 90s were destroyed or kept erratically, but in 1993 there were 2,419 Indigenous kids in out-of-home care. 

Overall, the rate of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children being moved into out-of-home care is increasing. Nationally, however, Indigenous kids are nine times more likely to be removed than non-Indigenous kids. In some states, it is 15 times more likely. 

Why are they being removed?

The circumstances under which children are removed from their families differ widely, but a general trend appears to be the level of risk a portion of young Indigenous people grow up with. 

Indigenous children are seven times more likely than their non-Indigenous peers be the subject of substantiated reports of harm or risk of harm. 

In WA, they're 13 times more likely. 

There were almost 17,000 substantiated investigations into Indigenous child protection across Australia 2014-15. 

But child abuse and neglect is underreported in Indigenous communities. Studies have shown this can be attributed to a range of factors, including:

      • Fear, mistrust and loss of confidence in police justice system and government agencies
      • Fear of racism
      • Fear of removal, including social stigma not to report abuse for fear children will be removed and repeat the Stolen Generations
      • Belief in the need to protect perpetrators, to reduce numbers of Indigenous deaths in custody
      • Fear of retaliation or exclusion from perpetrator and family if reported
      • Personal cultural shame, feelings of guilt
      • Geographical isolation (no-one to report to)  

'A national crisis': Indigenous incarceration rates worse 25 years on
Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the tabling of the recommendations of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

According to the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, Aboriginal kids are over-represented in child protection and out-of-home care due to the legacy of past policies of forced removal and cultural assimilation; intergenerational effects of forced removals; and cultural differences in child rearing. 

Further studies have found other attributable factors to be alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, and overcrowded, inadequate housing. 

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse among Indigenous kids, followed by emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. These differ to non-Indigenous kids, where the most common form of abuse is emotional abuse. 

Despite low substantiated reports of sexual abuse, police data on reported victims shows Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children are at a greater risk of sexually assault than non-Indigenous children.

Indigenous children are twice as likely than non-Indigenous young people to be diagnosed with an sexually transmitted infection. 

Domestic violence, creating an unsafe home environment, is also an issue: Indigenous women are 35 times more likely to be hospitalised for non-fatal assault and 11 times more likely to be killed. 

Suellyn Tighe, of Grandmothers Against Removals, says these issues are not 'Indigenous' issues, but societal issues generally. 

Where are they going?

One recommendation from the Bringing Them Home Report was that Indigenous children, if removed, be placed with family or another Indigenous community, acknowledging the grievances of past policies of removal and ensuring children stay within their culture. 

From this recommendation, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle was developed. It provides a hierarchy of preferred placement for children placed into care. Suitable carers should be looked for among: 

    • the child's extended family (kin)
    • the child's Indigenous community (kith) 
    • other Indigenous people 


Only when these possibilities have been exhausted can an Indigenous child be placed in the care of a non-Indigenous family. 

The majority of Aboriginal children are placed in kinship care, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous residential care (67 per cent). In some states, like NSW, this is as high as 81 per cent. In others, such as Tasmania, it is only 40 per cent. 

Chloe is now 23, and she was one of that 67 per cent who were placed in care with their extended families. She's maintained a strong connection to her culture and believes staying within the family was important. 

Ruby, on the other hand, was placed with a non-Indigenous carer, where she had a generally positive experience but conflicting ideas of her identity when young. She now has a strong sense of her Aboriginality, and believes it was the best option for her to be raised how she was. 


Ruby and Chloe will be sharing their stories alongside other young Indigenous adults who have experienced removal on this week's episode of Insight | Catch-up Wednesday 20 April 3:30pm SBS or online: