• COVID-19 policies could be separating Aboriginal families with long-term consequences. (AAP)Source: AAP
COVID-19 policies could be separating Aboriginal families with long-term consequences, according to a new report published by Change the Record during Reconciliation Week.
Rachael Hocking

28 May 2020 - 1:32 PM  UPDATED 28 May 2020 - 1:35 PM

A Northern Territory mother who had her baby taken from her at birth and was required to make "formal requests" to see photos of him is just one of the stories collated in a report tabled by a coalition of Aboriginal frontline services on Wednesday.

The report, titled Critical Condition, also raises concerns about the health and safety of prisoners, documenting parents who have had limited or no contact with their children in out-of-home-care and juvenile detention due to government restrictions to contain the coronavirus. 

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby told NITV News that this period of separation could have long-term consequences. 

“We’ve heard of cases of children, babies being removed from mums at birth, where families have even been struggling to get a copy of a photograph to know what the baby looks like,” she said. 

"We’re looking at our mob in the justice system, and in the out of home care system and also many of our women who are experiencing family violence.

"I think we are probably seeing a lot of fall-out of all the protective measures that need to be taken place, that is probably placing our families more at risk."

The report highlights one man with poor health currently being held in remand in Tasmania, who reported having no hand sanitiser and limited access to soap. 

The report said he was "feeling lost" due to lack of contact with his family and lawyer, and had "extreme anxiety" about the coronavirus reaching prisons. 

Ms Axleby said young people in detention were also suffering from a lack of contact with their families and culture, and said it was important not to further isolate them. 

She said Aboriginal families required more leniency from governments to meet requirements – such as attending drug and alcohol counselling. 

“The biggest impact of course has been a reduction in staff, so we know that essential services are still operating, but they’re not operating to the levels that they had previously,” Ms Axleby said. 

“And that means again a further reduction in contact with children and you know, even getting support systems, programs, for parents to meet their legal requirements.

“They’re not able to meet these expectations placed on them by the departments because of those services not being available.”

The report outlines ten recommendations, including re-vamped calls to release low-risk prisoners and those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. 

It also calls for a national child protection notification and referral scheme for Indigenous children, and changes to legislation “to ensure parents don’t lose their children to permanent care during COVID-19” 

“When we reflect on Sorry Day this week, and the fact that children are still being taken from our families at unacceptable and disproportionate rates, we are calling on the Federal Government to not allow Covid-19 to be yet another excuse to tear our families apart,” Ms Axleby said. 

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