• Child protection and reducing family advice is a key area of need in Indigenous communities. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)Source: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Brisbane child safety workers have pledged to work "differently, respectfully and better" with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, after a group of women spoke out about disturbing child removal practices in their community.
Ella Archibald-Binge

22 Feb 2018 - 5:02 PM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2018 - 5:19 PM

Child safety staff have vowed to listen to First Nations families "so that their voices are heard", and to reunify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with their families "where safe to do so". 

The workshop follows an NITV News investigation detailing a string of alarming allegations about child removal processes in the South Burnett region. 

The pledge came after Indigenous stakeholders voiced their concerns at a Brisbane workshop, as part of the Palaszczuk government's Our Way strategy - a $160 million-dollar plan to eliminate the disproportionate rates of Indigenous children in care by 2037.

In Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 8.5 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous kids. Over 40 per cent of Indigenous children aren't placed with kin or Indigenous carers. 

A group of women from Cherbourg attended the workshop to speak out about what they call an "epidemic" of child removals in the South Burnett region.

"I wanted to address the racism and white privilege that happens within departments when dealing with our people," said Janine Kelly, an advocate for the women.

The Yamaji filmmaker said the meeting ended on a positive note, but must be followed by action, particularly in regional areas. 

"We need to take what we’ve learned today and take it out to the regions, because this is where the people are suffering and they’re not being heard," Ms Kelly said. 

"There was a lot of input from our people at the table, and we really don't want it to go to waste. We want it to be used, this information, because this is the groundwork for a new system, a new way of doing things for our people."

'They need to curb the way they're going about things, because to me they're abusing their power.'

In previous instances, parents claimed police and child safety workers removed children from a local school, leaving other children afraid of going back. Another mother said her child was taken from hospital immediately after birth while still "on the breast". Others said they'd witnessed police "practically dragging" children from their mother's arms, or chasing them down "like a dog".

"We know we can't put a stop to it (child removals), but they need to curb the way they're going about things, because to me they're abusing their power," said Cherbourg Elder Irene Landers. 

Calls for meeting with Child Safety Minister

The women's group has called on the Queensland Child Safety Minister, Di Farmer, to meet with them to "lead the way in walking with us to end the disproportionate rates of child removals from Aboriginal families and communities". 

A spokesman for the minister said while she hadn't yet received a formal invitation, she would be happy to meet with local community stakeholders, including representatives of this group. 

"I am looking forward to visiting the Cherbourg region over coming months and meeting with community Elders and other community leaders who have been doing so much to get better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families," Ms Farmer said in a statement to NITV News. 

The minister's spokesman said the South Burnett Child Safety Service Centre has been actively holding yarning circles with families to provide opportunities for family-led decision making at critical points in the child protection process, prioritising kinship care where possible. 

He says a working party has begun conversations with elders to establish a cultural advisory panel.

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