Dr Howard Bath gave evidence at the Royal Commission into the protection and detention of children in the Northern Territory today.
He said that while most children in care in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal, they aren’t being placed with Aboriginal families who meet their cultural needs.
"When we did our investigation for the board of inquiry in 2010 the Northern Territory was lagging behind, from memory, every other jurisdiction with placing Aboriginal children with Aboriginal carers,” he said.
Dr Howard Bath said there was a principle in the child protection system that when Aboriginal children are placed into care, the order of preference for a placement should be with close kin, extended kin, and other Aboriginal people.
"I would see it as a very, very important aspect, particularly in the Northern Territory, where the vast majority of children in care are Aboriginal…I think it's critically important."
Dr Bath said he hoped the statistics had improved, but he did not have data for the past two years.
He also noted that there were a number of cases that were referred to the Department of Children and Families but were not investigated.
“Not only were the cases not being dealt with in terms of the flow of procedure that we saw, but we also discovered that there were a significant number of cases that were referred to the regions and received in the regions but investigations didn’t occur,” Dr Bath said.
“So there were problems with the intake, and there were problems with how cases were not actually being investigated.”
Yesterday, the former NT ombudsman Carolyn Ann Richards raised similar concerns.
She told the commission the department “wrote off” reports of possible abuse as “unsubstantiated” because they didn’t have time to get to them.
During her evidence, she took the commission through parts of her 2011 report into the territory’s child protection system, launched after whistleblowers drew her attention to 17 children in need.
Ms Richards told the commission she found the intake service to be secretive, protective and withholding of information.
During her investigation, she said she discovered uninvestigated notifications of possible abuse or neglect that were being finalised in the system, despite not being investigated.
She said a witness from the department of child protection’s central intake service told her:
“At the end of three months after the notification had come in, if they hadn’t reached it because they were overloaded or if they hadn’t been able to contact the child or the family because they were moving around, or if it had been referred out to one of the regional work units and that work unit had not had time to reach it because it was overloaded, it was entered as ‘abuse/neglect not substantiated’.”