• Two foster carers in the Northern Territory have been accused of abusing 12 Aboriginal children over 16 years. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
An investigation by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner has found that 12 Aboriginal children were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by two foster carers who still have children in their care.
Keira Jenkins

27 Jun 2020 - 10:42 AM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2020 - 10:42 AM

Two Northern Territory foster carers have been accused of abusing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children over the past 16 years.

A man and woman at the centre of an investigation by the Northern Territory Children's Commissioner Colleen Gwynne have been accused of abusing 12 Aboriginal children in their care since 2004. They are still foster carers to two young people. 

Children's Ground CEO Jane Vadiveloo said the findings of the investigation were "devastating".

"It's devastating for children and families and highlights the need for systemic change," she told NITV News.

"There's been a real focus on incarceration rates but the rates of child welfare for First Nations children are also of concern.

"In some cases they're going into serious danger - in this case it's happened for 16 years."

'Unacceptable and damaging'

Among the allegations against the foster carers was a complaint by a 15-year-old girl that the adult male carer had sex with her.

Ms Gwynne found that the then NT Government Family and Children Services department - now Territory Families - failed in its legal obligation to report the allegation of sexual harm to the police.

The man had continued to sleep in the same room as some of the children for years afterwards, the investigation found.

There were also numerous allegations of physical and emotional abuse, including allegations that the carers hit the children with a metal pipe and a hockey stick, or kicked them.

The female carer was also accused of racially abusing the children.

One one occasion it is alleged that when one child's poor hygiene was remarked on by school staff she told them, in front of the child, it was because they were Aboriginal.

The children were exposed to negative messages about their families and culture and discouraged from contact with family or engaging with culture.

Ms Vadiveloo said said this alone should be enough to warrant children being removed from the carers.

"That's devastating for children," she said.

"That impacts on children's identity, who they are, damages any connection to culture and families. 

"It's unacceptable and profoundly damaging to a child and their sense of identity.

"It's meant to be a system that protects children."

'Out of control'

The pair were re-authorised as foster carers in August last year and two children remain in their care.

The Commissioner made 14 recommendations in her report, related to Territory Families, and other departments, police and the contractor Life Without Barriers, which provides the carers.

"Our investigation into this case revealed a 16-year history of systematic failures to adequately review the suitability of the carers, conduct quality standard of care checks and thoroughly examine allegations of child abuse within the out of home care setting," Ms Gwynne said.

Ms Vadiveloo said a "complete overhaul" of the system is needed to make change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

"It's not enough to just tweak the existing system," she said.

"Aboriginal children are 13 times more likely to be in care. The rates are completely out of control.

"It's about having agency in communities, it's not about giving money to organisations - Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

"The solutions are in communities, and it's about communities having agency from a grassroots level.

"There needs to be a massive overhaul. The key people who need to be at that table are government, lawyers, magistrates, and families.

"The key is the families; grandmothers, grandfathers, mums, dads, aunties, uncles, the cultural governors of the land, who understand family from a First Nations perspective.

"Those are the voices [that are] always ignored and we always end up with something from a deficit point of view, which does not work for First Nations people."

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