• Cody McGrady Miller. (Supplied.)Source: Supplied.
Cody McGrady Miller was removed from his mother's care as a 12-year-old, nine years later he still remembers even the tiniest details of that day, but he says he was 'one of the lucky ones'.
Keira Jenkins

6 Mar 2020 - 12:07 PM  UPDATED 6 Mar 2020 - 12:07 PM

It was nine years ago, but Cody McGrady Miller still clearly remembers the day that he was removed from his mother's care.

The Gomeroi and Wonnurua man was 12-years-old when case workers from Department of Child Services, as it was known at the time, and police officers turned up to his house to remove him and his younger sister.

"I can still remember the removal like it was yesterday," he told NITV News.

"We were getting ready to go to a youth group that me and my little sister went to every Friday after school. I remember on this particular Friday it was storming.

"My sister had actually slipped in mud and had to go back inside to change her pants. In that time I remember a white Camry pulling up outside of home with a paddy wagon.

"I remember sitting in the car and mum saying to me 'lie down; I need to talk to them, don't get out of the car'. I remember peeking out the window to look at mum talking to them, and being young and curious I got out of the car.

"When they saw me, they said they were here to remove my younger sister and me."

Mr McGrady Miller said it only took about five minutes before he was in the car with the case workers.

"I remember it was quite aggressive, the way the police were presenting to my mum and other family members," he said.

"I had my two older sisters home at the time, one who was just about ready to give birth. I remember people were quite distraught. They didn't want us to go; they were trying to grab hold of us and hug us.

"I remember the police officer grabbing [my sister] and using his forearm to hold her against the wall. I think when that happened my [younger] sister and I became more distressed.

"At that moment, I remember not feeling safe to go with them."

'Always proud'

But Mr McGrady Miller said he was one of the lucky ones. 

His auntie stepped in, taking both him and his sister into her care, but it was still a big adjustment for him.

"It was difficult, in those first couple of weeks coming to terms with what had been my home for 12 years, was no longer somewhere I would return to," he said.

"I remember being quite upset, especially coming from such a large family of eight siblings to it being just me and my sister. It was quite different.

"What made it so much easier was that from that day of removal, we were placed in the care of my auntie.

"I remember looking down from the DoCS building and seeing her car out the front and feeling a sense of relief, that I was okay, I was safe.

"Without her taking it upon herself to inquire about us, we would have ended up in a home, and when I say home I don't think it would have been with carers, I think it would have been a group home.

"Listening to other people's stories, that was just common practice for a 10 and 12-year-old. Not many people want to take it upon themselves to look after kids of our age."

Importantly though, Mr McGrady Miller got to stay in the care of family, and said he grew up with the strength of his culture surrounding him.

"I grew up in a household where I was always proud of who I was and where I'd come from," he said.

"I'd always had connection to my aunties, uncles and my great nan even. I remember that being my only real fear, that I wouldn't see them again.

"Being able to stay connected to them was paramount to who I am today.

"I have seen that so many Aboriginal young people in the care system have been removed and not been put into kinship care. That disconnection -- it's there, and it's felt by them, and it's hard.

"You can see that having been brought up culture ways and having that instilled in you from grassroots, it's part of you every day to having it ripped away from you.

"There's a lot of trauma in that. That's why I do say I was very lucky."

'Culture is their lifeline'

Mr McGrady Miller was one of more than a thousand Indigenous young people who were consulted as part of last year's Family is Culture review spearheaded by Professor Megan Davis, looking into the foster care and out of home care.

This week more than 20 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations wrote to the NSW Government, calling for action on the 125 recommendations laid out in the review, which was released in November.

AbSec was one of these organisations, and CEO Tim Ireland said he wants to see action from the state government and the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

"We're asking the Premier and the Treasurer to really consider including something in the next state budget that demonstrates their commitment to our kids and our families in this state," said Mr Ireland.

"We don't want more Aboriginal kids removed from their families, we want them connected to their families, their communities and their culture because we know for their life that's their wellbeing, that's their lifeline."

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Mr Ireland said the review lays out a 'roadmap' for the NSW Government to follow, which would improve the system for Indigenous kids, and one of the most important things is self-determination in policymaking.

But he said the government is slow in taking action, or even starting a conversation with Indigenous communities.

"I think the report in itself is quite damning, which could be a reason why the government hasn't started opening up and talking to community about how implementation could look or how it could occur," Mr Ireland said.

What I would hate to think is that the government is thinking that their policy parameters or their policy objectives are on the right path, because they're not.

"Ultimately, I think the Department of Communities and Justice and the government is just following a process of working out how to implement and how to follow the advice.

But even in considering that advice they should be talking with communities - lay it all on the table - communities can have an adult conversation with the government about how implementation should occur of these 125 recommendations."

Mr McGrady Miller agreed, saying what is important, is for the government to listen to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to say.

"I believe that the leaders that we see in these departments at the moment should take a back seat and allow Aboriginal people to steer the boat in regards to child protection and out of home care matters with Aboriginal children," he said.

"We know what works in our communities. We know what works for our kids. I think allowing Aboriginal people to look after Aboriginal people; it just seems to me, it would just be a normal thing to do.

"I don't understand how a department can think 'let's do this and let's do that' without thinking about the people it's affecting."

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