• Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) supporters mark Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day, Sydney, 2017. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)Source: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
The number of incarcerated Indigenous youth in South Australia has gone down, but the gap is widening. Advocates are calling for a renewed focus on justice reinvestment and culture during Family Matters National Week of Action.
Rachael Hocking, Madeline Hayman-Reber

26 May 2019 - 12:32 AM  UPDATED 26 May 2019 - 1:17 AM

Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia are 41 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Aboriginal peers according new report released by the SA Guardian for Children and Young People, published to coincide with the Family Matters Week of Action. 

Family Matters is a group of more than 150 child welfare organisations, members of State and Federal Parliaments, Commissioners and Guardians who have joined forces to halt the rising numbers of Aboriginal children in out of home care and detention.

Family Matters are taking action to raise public awareness of the dire reality for Aboriginal children. 

In South Australia the data indicates the average number of Aboriginal young people in detention is at its lowest since 2013. However, the trend over time shows a stark difference between Aboriginal children in detention, as compared with all other youth.

The Children's Guardian, Penny Wright admits her concern that Aboriginal children and young people are 41 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Aboriginal peers. 

"Although in both populations there's less children being detained, the rate [of detention] is much greater for Aboriginal kids." said Ms Wright. 

"The reason that we are concerned is that, the number has also been going down for non-Aboriginal kids, and it's been going down much faster," Ms Wright told NITV News.    

Children in Out of Home Care

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) CEO Murial Bamblett says that more cultural support for families and kids in care could make a real difference across the country.

"We know that Aboriginal children are 11 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to go into care," she told NITV.

"The system isn't good at looking after children. It has proved that it's not good for Aboriginal children," she said.

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According to the data sourced from the Productivity Commission, of every 1000 children who go into care, in Western Australia 64.4 are Aboriginal, the number jumps to almost 73 in South Australia. In Victoria the number verges on 89. The worst performing state is the ACT, where there are 101.4 Aboriginal children in out of home care, out of every 1000. 

Ms Bamblett says those rates are far too high, "children are more likely to end up in juvenile justice, be in mental institutions, be involved in criminal justice, drug and alcohol and mental health. All of those things are particularly impacting on kids in out of home care." 


Ms Bamblett says having more Aboriginal people involved, could lead to having less Aboriginal children removed, and have a flow on effect when it comes numbers in the youth justice system.

"I think that different governments have different approaches. We're hoping that through a coalition of Aboriginal organisations we can Close the Gap and get greater action and greater agreements on outcomes for Aboriginal children," she said.

"We hope that [states] will adopt the Family Matters campaign and some of the recommendations around Aboriginal-led decision making, in having Aboriginal people involved in all decisions."

During Reconciliation Week this year, Ms Bamblett is encouraging organisations and workplaces to host an event for this cause. 

Foster Care Placements

Other data from South Australia reveals a 10 per cent decline in the placement of Aboriginal children according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle - where placement of an Aboriginal child with a non-Aboriginal family is a last resort.

In 2018, only 65 per cent of placements were with Aboriginal families.

Ms Wright is calling for two changes to the way child protection and youth detention policies are followed in South Australia: culture and justice reinvestment, channeling resources to strengthening communities. 

"We need to embed a respect and a knowledge of culture in everything that happens for these kids," Ms Wright said. 

In particular, Ms Wright wants to see a dedicated cultural program implemented at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre where the state's young people are detained. 

The Guardian pointed to the justice reinvestment program in Bourke, NSW, as an example of how things should be done. 

For the past few years Bourke has worked to reduce the number of young Indigenous kids being locked up by focusing on alternative options to detention. Using a collective approach the town looks to build trust between the community and key service providers, such as schools. 

An assessment report on the project last year showed not only reduced rates of contact with police, but also genuine signs of improvement in high school retention.

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