A Northern Territory teenager living with disability has told a Royal Commission a harrowing account of his life in out-of-home care.
The 17-year-old, known as “IL” was taken away from his family and put into foster homes when he was 8 and has been in and out of detention since he was 10.
“I have everything in here,” he told the inquiry in a pre-recorded interview from the Don Dale detention centre.
“When I'm in here they give me everything and then when I get out it's like, they just kick me out onto the streets.
“That's what happened recently, you know, I was out of parole and they said that they'll have all this stuff for me, appointments and stuff for my therapist and everything like that, and then when I got out nothing ever happened.
“It was pretty hard for me, you know…. it just felt like everybody forgot about me.”
The royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability is investigating the experiences of First Nations children in out-of-home care and detention settings.
The young man told the royal commission he'd been placed in 20 Darwin foster homes in his life and not seen his family in Alice Springs for four years. He said he couldn’t recall ever being placed with First Nations carers
"I've never really had anybody to teach me right and wrong, you know."
He also detailed how he'd been assaulted by multiple carers.
“Most of them used to bash me and stuff. Force me to clean the house and you know and I trusted them, you know, and I was a young kid trying to get away from that stuff and I trusted them to look after me.”
He that some of the charges which have resulted in him being put in youth detention related to breaching bail when he fled abusive foster homes.
A stark reality
Friday's hearing is the second Indigenous-specific public hearing to be held by the royal commission.
It aims to provide an insight into the life course of Indigenous children with disability and their experiences, including cumulative and systemic abuse and neglect by multiple systems over time.
Counsel Assisting Lincoln Crowley says more than 20 per cent of Indigenous children have a disability, compared to eight per cent in the general population.
Out of the 45,996 children in out-of-home care in 2019 and 2020, 18,862 - more than 40 per cent - were Indigenous.
"Significantly higher than the approximately six per cent of the total child population in Australia who are First Nations," Mr Crowley said.
Of the Indigenous children in out-of-home care, 14 per cent were reported as having a disability, however, Mr Crowley said that number is likely to be under-reported.
"The available data portrays the stark reality of the over-representation of First Nations children in out-of-home care and the consequent over-representation of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care," he said.
Royal Commission Chair Ronald Sackville said Indigenous children with a disability experienced multiple forms of disadvantage that exposed them to greater risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.
"Those disadvantages include the impact of colonisation involving the dispossession of First Nations people, forced assimilation, marginalisation, intergenerational trauma and, not least, the removal of children from families and communities," he said.
The disadvantages also include social and economic impacts, which have resulted in many of those children experiencing poverty, inadequate housing, and poor health.
System failing our people
Central Australian Strong Grandmothers Group also gave evidence from Mpartntwe Alice Springs.
Doreen McCormack said she wants more focus on diverting young people from detention.
"We're fighting to make sure they get back to Country. Instead of being in an institution, they need to be sent back to Country and the government needs to do some more, make sure we send them home to their homeland instead."
Kumalie Kngwarraye Rile told the royal commission that too many children had been taken into custody and transferred to Don Dale in Darwin, with no consultation with their families.
"A lot of those kids, young men, young women, do have disabilities," she said via video link.
"They got something wrong with their eyes and hearing, or maybe they didn't get a chance of a good education.
"The system does fail our people, our kids, and our kids in custody, and our kids with disability."
The hearing was scheduled to take place in Alice Springs, however, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks and border closures mean it will now be closed and broadcast via video.