• Aboriginal youth share their experience of out-of-home care at a forum in Sydney. (Pic: Amanda James) (http://jamesphoto.com.au.)Source: http://jamesphoto.com.au.
A landmark forum has called for more Aboriginal caseworkers and extra family support to reduce the number of Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care.
Ella Archibald-Binge

27 May 2016 - 7:04 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2016 - 7:04 PM

Key points:

  • $15 million injection for NSW Aboriginal Child and Family Centres
  • Calls for more Aboriginal caseworkers and carers
  • Young people formerly in care say families need more support
  • One third of kids in care in NSW are Indigenous

Vanessa Orcher was eight when she was taken into out-of-home care. Growing up in Bourke in regional New South Wales, she says she was surrounded by crime. 

Placed with a non-Indigenous carer, Ms Orcher was 16 when she turned to crime herself. 

"Being in-and-out of the justice system really affected me to an extent where I turned to drugs and alcohol to ease that pain that I was going through, and the grief and loss of not having my family there to give me the love and care that I needed," the 29-year-old says.

After her release, Ms Orcher went back to her family. 

"I had a lot of hate towards my family because I thought they wasn't there for me, but it wasn't like that," she says. 

"They had that experience themselves being taken away from their parents and I found forgiveness."

Ms Orcher is still getting to know her parents. Today, she and a panel of Aboriginal young people with similar experiences of the care system shared their thoughts at a forum in Sydney hosted by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). 

"I think the things that didn't work was the support not only for the child, but for the families," she says.

"If they would've focused on the whole family... it would've been much better."

'I'll consider anything': Minister

Brad Hazzard, NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, says it's these kind of stories he'd hoped to hear at the forum. 

Today he announced a $15 million funding injection for nine Aboriginal Child and Family Centres across the state.

Mr Hazzard says the Premier has given him a clear directive to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in care, who currently make up a third of all kids in care in New South Wales. 

"That is plainly inappropriate, wrong and hopefully we can change it," he says. 

As to how that change will come about, the Minister says "everything's on the table". 

On Thursday, calls surfaced for an independent Aboriginal-led review of every child's case in NSW. Mr Hazzard says he won't rule it out: "In all seriousness I'll consider anything". 

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More Aboriginal caseworkers needed

The need for more Aboriginal caseworkers was a common issue at today's forum, with FACS caseworkers themselves backing the calls.

"It's imperative that Aboriginal kids have Aboriginal caseworkers, and we know there's a shortage of those in New South Wales," says NSW Aboriginal caseworker Kade Goodwin.

Mr Goodwin, whose family has had personal experience child removal, says he became a caseworker to "help make decisions on behalf of Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people". 

However, it has been challenging role. He says the hardest part of his job is removing a child from a family in his own community in western NSW. 

"There's times when you can get community support, but a lot of the time we don't have a good rap in the community," Mr Goodwin says. 

"It's a tough function for a caseworker to work in his community with his mobs and be viewed as such."

Mr Goodwin says more Aboriginal carers are also needed, to ensure Indigenous kids can be placed with Indigenous carers. 

Calls for independent review of Indigenous children in care
Almost 20 years after the Bringing Them Home Report, Indigenous kids are still nine times more likely to be in out-of-home-care. Now there are calls for an Aboriginal-led review.
Indigenous kids in out-of-home care continues to rise, says new report
The increase in Indigenous kids in out-of-home care as outlined in the Child Protection Australia 2014–15 report, prompts calls for more government action.