Professor Michael Lavarch’s paper titled ‘A new Stolen Generation?’ begins with Paul’s story – a harrowing account of a boy taken away from his mother, who desperately pleaded the State Welfare Authorities for his return for years to no avail.
The report, to be presented at Flinders University on Thursday, argues that there is an increasing widening of the gap between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in out-of-home care after former Prime Minister’s Kevin Rudd’s historical 2008 apology.
“At the time of the apology, Indigenous children were 7 times more likely to be in out-of-home care. This figure is now 10 times more likely”, says Professor Lavarch.
NITV: Why do you suggest there might be a new Stolen Generation occurring in Australia?
ML: This is based on sheer numbers of kids in out-of-home care. At the time of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, Indigenous children were 6 times more likely to go into care compared to non-indigenous children. In 2007, at the time of the Apology speech by Kevin Rudd, the rate had risen to 7 times more likely to go into care.
Now, almost a decade later, the rate is sitting at 10 times more likely to go into care. We are also seeing a separation rate of Indigenous kids from their homes of 52 children out of every 1000 kids, compared to 8 out of every 1000 kids who are non-indigenous.
At the time of the Stolen Generation, the rate was 10per cent of kids were out of home. The current rate now is 5 per cent of Indigenous kids are out of home. This means that if rates continue as they are, in ten years’ time we will have the same amount of children being removed to out-of-home care that we were seeing during the Stolen Generation.
NITV: How is the child protection system failing our kids?
ML: It may be that child protection is failing, but then again it might also be working very well as our kids are safe. But overall the environment is leading to child separation. In part it’s because of how the system is operating, but that is not the primary issue. Poverty, dysfunction in community and the practices of child placement are just some of the big problems. There are also large pressures on the community as well as extended families to also take on children that need to be rehomed, so the pressures created by the system are also very large.
NITV: In your speech you say that indigenous children are now ten times more likely to end up in out of home care, why has this risen so much since Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2007?
ML: There are multiple factors at work here. The numbers of kids in care, both Indigenous and non-indigenous have risen.
This is because more places are paying attention to the welfare of kids, places such as schools. But the weight of carriage in taking on kids in care is far exceeding the population as a whole.
We are also seeing that Indigenous families are also some of the most economically disadvantaged group in the country, so their children find themselves facing an extra problem. But when you are poor it doesn’t matter where you are from, you will face an increasing likelihood of pressure.
Other factors at play are the assumption by the system that all families are the same and have similar dynamics, but these models are not based on an Indigenous family model. They don’t factor in what applies to Indigenous communities. But, which factors contribute more? Well that would need further research.
I argue that the Closing the Gap report, which was based on the Apology speech, didn’t have enough about children in out-of-home care. I think that needs to become a larger part of Closing the Gap, because it’s ever widening.
NITV: What is a way forward? Is there more we can do?
ML: The starting place is to acknowledge the issue and start talking about it.
The main way to do it would be to make it one of the Closing the Gap targets. The targets now are for families and come as more of a holistic approach to Indigenous peoples and their communities. But then you have to dig further into child welfare and separation rates. We need to take this out of the reads section and make it front and centre.