• Family Matters chair Sue-Anne Hunter. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
The latest Family Matters report has revealed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are still being removed from their families at an 'alarming' rate.
Keira Jenkins

16 Nov 2020 - 4:24 PM  UPDATED 16 Nov 2020 - 4:26 PM

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were almost 10 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in out of home care in 2019, according to the latest Family Matters report.

The annual report showed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 37 per cent of the children removed from their parents, despite being just six per cent of the population of children in Australia.

Family Matters chair Sue-Anne Hunter told NITV News the rise in numbers is, unfortunately, not surprising.

"We're not addressing the underlying issues," the Wurundjeri and Ngurai illum wurrung woman said.

"The underlying issues for coming into care are around transgenerational trauma, around poverty, family violence, drug and alcohol issues, mental health.

"Then where the investments are happening, they're not happening where they should be. More money is actually going into child protection, so removal of children rather than looking at how do we preserve families, how do we reunite families."

81 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care are living permanently away from their birth parents until the age of 18.

Excluding children under permanent care orders, only 26 per cent of Aboriginal children in out of home care were assessed as having a possible reunification with their families.

This compared to 37 per cent of non-Indigenous children.

Out of 19 adoptions of Indigenous children in 2018-19, 95 per cent were to non-Indigenous carers. All of those adoptions occurred in NSW and Victoria.

Ms Hunter said this is an 'alarming trend'.

"Once a child goes permanently into care, and we've seen the rates rise, particularly in NSW and Victoria, they then go off the books, so to speak, for the government," she said.

"Government doesn't count them, because the definition for out of home care doesn't count permanent care and once a child is permanently placed, the government loses responsibility.

"But what happens is then the child loses connection to culture, to community, then there's a gap, how do they learn their culture, and how do they learn who they are and how to be as an Aboriginal person, particularly with the high rates of being placed with non-Aboriginal carers."

'We know best'

The new National Agreement on Closing the Gap, signed in 2020, includes a target to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care by 45 per cent by 2031.

Ms Hunter said the goal of Family Matters is to eliminate the over-representation of Indigenous children in out of home care by 2040.

She said to achieve this goal the causes of child removal have to be addressed, investment in early intervention and prevention as well as Indigenous community-controlled services need to be increased, and Indigenous families must be central to decision-making when it comes to our children.

"What we need to do is invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations," Ms Hunter said.

"We need to invest in family support, we need to get to our families before the system does.

"We know best and we know we do. We need to make sure that legislation and policies, that we're part of that decision making, that we're not left just to be told what to do." 

The report also calls for a commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be appointed nationally and in every state and territory.

Ms Hunter said a national commissioner would be able 'to call governments out' on failures to address the over-representation of Indigenous kids in out of home care.

"We know what's best for us, we know what programs we need to run," she said.

"If we've got an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander national commissioner they can make these calls and make governments in each state and territory jurisdiction accountable."

New National Children's Commissioner says the protection of the rights of First Nations children will be a priority
Australia's new Children’s Commissioner says the number of children in out of home care and the rate of suicide among First Nations children is deeply concerning.