The peak body representing the interests of Indigenous children has called on the Northern Territory government to take immediate action to protection children in care.
At least 12 children were left with two foster carers despite a long history of abuse concerns, an investigation by the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner has found.
The investigation exposed systemic failures of child protection services and police to report and respond to complaints of abuse, sexual assault and discrimination between 2004 and 2018.
SNAICC, a peak body representing community-controlled children's services organisations, has urged the NT government to take immediate action to respond to the report.
SNAICC chair Muriel Bamblett told NITV News that she was worried about the future of the children who were left with abusive carers.
“Imagine what those children are going to grow up thinking," Ms Bamblett said. "That I was in child protection, I got sexually abused, I told my story, people tried to stand up for me and no one did anything about it - they left me where I was."
Ms Bamblett said children who are subjected to these circumstances often end up in the criminal justice system and develop serious mental health issues.
SNAICC is calling for accountability in the child protection system, as well as improvement in the quality of carers and responses to concerns about abuse.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield told NITV News that the NT government had been "working very hard" to increase the number of kinship carers and help Aboriginal children to stay with their families or appropriate family members.
Ms Wakefield said that in 2019 the number of Aboriginal kids in care being placed in kinship situations rose by 14 percent, and that there was a 17 percent increase in kinship carers. Ms Wakefield said it was "the highest number we’ve ever had in the Northern Territory.”
However, Ms Bamblett said that government services are not looking at families in Aboriginal communities as a source of strength, and that families are often left in the dark.
“Many of our Aboriginal grandparents aren’t asked to be carers, so are they actually trying to keep those children in their families?” Ms Bamblett said.
Only 36.9 percent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in the NT were placed with family, kin or other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers in the 2019 financial year - which is below the national average of 63.6 percent, according to a statement from SNAICC.
Ms Bamblett said the systems in the NT that are supposed to protect the most vulnerable are actually perpetrating abuse.
“If we’re removing a child from a parental home because of abuse and neglect, why aren’t we removing them from the child protection system carers when they’re experiencing levels of abuse?”
Ms Wakefield said she is aware of the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the system.
“We know that we need to be addressing the underlying causes of why kids need to go into care, and they are issues like poverty, the impacts of colonisation," she said.
“There’s so much more to do in terms of the justice system, the health system and making sure people get the right support at the right time.”
For a long time, Ms Bamblett said the government has continued to fund mainstream systems that don’t work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“There has to be greater engagement and greater investment in Aboriginal people,” she said.
Funding towards Aboriginal-led organisations has increased, according to Ms Wakefield.
She said that the NT Government is now working closely with over a dozen Aboriginal-led organisations who are involved in family support.
“We believe the long-term reform of letting Aboriginal organisations lead the way, as well as making sure we’ve got more kinship carers better supported, is the best way to keep Aboriginal children safer if they do have to go into care.”