Generations of Aboriginal families in the Northern Territory are having their children taken away by a system that is confusing absolute poverty with neglect, an inquiry has heard.
Social worker Dr Christine Fejo-King says despite the Aboriginal kinship system being the legislated principle for indigenous child placements in every Australian jurisdiction, the child protection system uses a restrictive western family tree concept.
It means children are being taken away rather than being placed with someone in their massive Aboriginal kinship system.
It is causing as much grief and heartache as the stolen generations, the Aboriginal consultant told the NT child protection royal commission.
"They're taking our children away," said Dr Fejo-King, a third generation stolen generations person.
"They're bringing such grief and sorrow and heartache, the same as what happened when I was young and involved nearly 50 years ago. We're right back to that."
There is no bridge between the Aboriginal people and the child protection system amid generations of mistrust due to children being removed, Dr Fejo-King a Darwin hearing on Wednesday.
"There are families now who are experiencing generations of their children taken away, so why should they trust the system."
She said the only way to make a difference was to listen to Aboriginal people and change the practices on the ground.
Dr Fejo-King said there is no doubt that there are children who need to be removed from their families for their own safety.
"But in many instances what we see in the Northern Territory is absolute poverty and there's a difference between absolute poverty which is often then equated to neglect as opposed to actual life-threatening situations for that child as a result of the people that they're living with in an unsafe place," she said.
"If you don't tackle the poverty, you're always going to be taking our kids away."
The inquiry has heard child protection notifications to Territory Families have doubled over the last five years to 20,465 (involving 10,851 children) in 2015-16, almost half of which related to neglect.