• GMAR have been active for a number of years and have had some successes when it comes to getting governments to recognising the importance of kinship care . (AAP)Source: AAP
On the anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people say they're still calling for a change to the system that continues to fail Indigenous children.
Keira Jenkins

12 Feb 2020 - 7:44 PM  UPDATED 13 Feb 2020 - 4:30 PM

Twelve years on from the national apology to the Stolen Generations, it remains a momentous occasion, marked every year on February 13. Yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are still overrepresented in out-of-home care, and peak organisations say the child protection system is failing First Nations families.

Richard Weston, CEO of SNAICC - the national voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children - said although the apology was a powerful moment, there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the situation.

"I think [the apology] was a very important part of truth-telling that we needed in this country, so it was the start of that. I think it was really important for the Stolen Generations survivors to hear that apology," he told NITV News.

"I think it was really important for our national leader to make that gesture to make an apology. It was a very important historical moment. 

"But it was a starting point for changing the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of the country. 

"It's not an end in itself, it was just a beginning. It started a long process - it's been going for 12 years - of an effort to close the life expectancy gap between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. 

"We've just heard from the prime minister that a lot of the [Closing the Gap] targets are not on track so we know there's still a lot of work to be done."

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In fact, Mr Weston said the statistics show that more and more Indigenous children are being removed from their families and this can have long-lasting effects on these children.

"What we can know, and we can learn from [what] the stories that the Stolen Generations have told us, is what the impact is going to be on kids who go into care systems," he said.

"They become disconnected from their culture, they become disconnected from their families and communities and the outcomes for them, they're at greater risk of poorer outcomes through their life.

"It really is a priority to reduce those numbers of our kids going into out of home care. I think systems are starting to be responsive but it's not good enough at the moment.

"It requires significant and massive action to change the child protection system that we've got at the moment."

'Still playing out'

The NSW Child and Family Peak Aboriginal Corporation, AbSec, has this week released its annual report card.

The report shows that in the past 12 months to June 2019, the number of Aboriginal children reported at risk of significant harm has risen by more than 15 per cent in the past year and 33 per cent since 2015.

The report card also found a 12.8 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care in the same period.

AbSec CEO Tim Ireland said this is alarming, and shows that these systems haven't changed.

"For us, we want to see Aboriginal kids supported by our Aboriginal organisations to either return home or at the very least keep connected to community and culture for their overall lifelong wellbeing," he said.

"Overall I think the systems across the country haven't changed.

"We've seen many reports handed down over the 12 years since Kevin Rudd made the apology, recognising the impacts that these systems have had on Aboriginal people with the Stolen Generations.

"It's still playing out today I think."

The NSW child protection system is still in a state of crisis when it comes to protecting Aboriginal children
OPINION: AbSec has this week released its annual report card indicating that in the past 12 months, the number of Aboriginal children reported at risk of significant harm has risen by more than 15 percent and more than 33 percent since 2015.

While in Victoria, the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) Muriel Bamblett said there's still healing to be done, and part of that is listening to the stories of Stolen Generations survivors.

"In Victoria we haven't seen any kind of reparations for Stolen Generations," she said.

"But when you look at what they've contributed, we've heard stories in the Bringing Them Home report about children with no genealogy, no Aboriginality, didn't know where they come from.

"Now child protection practice is now about making sure that children know who they are, where they come from, they're returned to country.

"You shouldn't have to wait until you leave care to experience your community and culture and you shouldn't have to do that by yourself.

"The system has to change and see the value of culture and keeping kids connected and strong."

Mr Weston agreed, saying we need to learn from the experience of the Stolen Generations and make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are able to stay in their communities, where possible.

"We need to heal those processes and we need to see more of our kids staying, staying where they do better, and they do better in their families," he said.

"Even if families have some challenges and problems, if we can support those families to get through those problems, keep the kids in the home, keep them connected to their community, their culture and their identity, and attending school and attending health services, we're going to get better outcomes."

While Mr Ireland said he'd like to see governments around the country sit down with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to instigate reform based on Indigenous perspectives.

"This is about Aboriginal approaches, governments investing in that and supporting and empowering Aboriginal people and organisations to come up with the solutions to the problems that are really causing the disadvantage that's in our communities that lead to situations such as a child protection intervention," he said.

"Aboriginal-led solutions and Aboriginal-led approaches are the way to disrupt what's occurring in the systems, that's been occurring for decades.

"For governments, it's about recognising that the best people who can change systems and deliver better results are the people that are living and breathing it every day.

"So invest the resources as needed through our Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations to deliver for our communities."

And for Ms Bamblett, it's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having a voice at the table, that will make a difference.

"Clearly we need to stop the removals and we need to work out how to restore balance to our communities," she said.

"It's my wish that there be reparations for the Stolen Generations. But the fight shouldn't just be left to a few. As Aboriginal people we need to fight for reparations for Stolen Generations here in Victoria."