• The girl and her sister have been living in out-of-home care for three years. (NITV: Living Black)Source: NITV: Living Black
The girls say their daily routine was limited to 'eat, sleep and watch tv' while in the accomodation - a situation the peak body for our children calls 'inexplicable'.
Sarah Collard, Julie Nimmo, Karla Grant

NITV News, Living Black
22 Jun 2021 - 12:39 PM  UPDATED 22 Jun 2021 - 12:39 PM

Most children's bedrooms are filled with toys, stuffed animals and their prized trophies.

But hundreds of children in care in New South Wales don't have those basic luxuries, because they sleep in hotel rooms.

That's the reality for two sisters who were removed from their mother's care after she was attacked by a random stranger. 

They were placed in what's known as alternative care arrangements (ACAs) in the state.

"The police came and picked me up and two siblings. It was really scary," one of the girls told Living Black.

"We didn't see Mum for a year and a half... I was confused, I didn't know what was going on." 

Living Black has been told that the siblings have spent almost two years living out of hotel rooms and were homeschooled for months.

During this time, the girls said they couldn't enjoy a regular life like other children. There were no after-school activities and their daily routine was strictly limited to 'eat, sleep and watch tv' - they were also not allowed to interact with friends.

"They said we were going away for three months."

In 2019 there were 6,766 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in New South Wales; representing 38.9% of all children in out-of-home care.

Most are removed from their families and placed with foster or kinship carers, while others find their way into the residential care system, which has rotating staff. 

The last resort is the ACAs — These kids live in hotels, motels, serviced apartments, and even caravan parks - with caseworkers who change shifts every eight hours. 

One of the girls said often there was uncertainty over who was caring for them.

"You don't know who is picking you up [from school], you wait there for ages waiting... because no one showed you their faces," she said.

The siblings had multiple placements which were unsuccessful, including time with a kinship carer, who asked for respite care from the state government as it was understood to be just a short-term situation.

But they ended up living in hotels in greater Sydney, and it's been more than three years since they were removed.

"They lied to us. She needed some support, she needed just a little more and they took us away ... They said we were going away for three months," one girl said. 

A 'damning' practice 

During a New South Wales budget estimates hearing in 2019, it was revealed that 195 children were living this way — costing the government millions. 

Living Black requested more current statistics from the NSW government, and in April it said there are now on average 86 children in ACAs every night.

Each child is costing the government around $420,000 every year — for the two sisters it has cost the state government almost $2 million in hotel and staffing costs alone. 

Statistics reveal 42 percent of children in alternative care arrangement placements are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. 

Linda Burney has said Australia Day is a "difficult time".

Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister and federal opposition spokesperson for child protection, Linda Burney, said the very system designed to protect children is failing them. 

"The practice is very damning, particularly when it becomes long term. Obviously, there are holes in the system that need to be plugged," she told NITV News.

"It's supposed to be for emergency short-term situations — It's not a way to prop up the system. And unfortunately, my suspicion is that it's doing that." Ms Burney said. 

"I think we need to start to look at where Aboriginal children end up in a system that is fundamentally working against them." 

The Chairperson of SNAICC, the national peak body representing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care, Muriel Bamblett, said the situation is unacceptable. 

"That is extreme," The Yorta Yorta and Djab Wurrung woman told NITV news. 

"It is often on a weekend or overnight care, and so to hear that the children have been in hotel accommodation for over two years is inexplicable. I just don't understand."

Ms Bamblett, who is also the chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, said alternative care arrangements are replicated across the country. 

"I think we need to start to look at where Aboriginal children end up in a system that is fundamentally working against them," she said.

She said children in residential and alternative care arrangements are often the most traumatised having often survived neglect, family violence, sexual and physical abuse. 

A spokesperson for the New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice told NITV News children are only removed when there are safety concerns, and the use of ACAs only occurs in emergency situations.

"The NSW Government is working hard to keep families safely together, but when it’s not safe for a child to remain with their parents, we want them to have a safe, loving and permanent home." 

"Home-like environments are preferred and trained staff are responsible for caring for the children and young people."

Four in 10 Australian children in out-of-home care are Indigenous, new report shows
A report shows four in 10 Australian children in out-of-home care are Indigenous, with most of them being looked after by family or community members.