Sorry Day protests – Perth – May 24 – May 30

On ‘Sorry Day’, May 26, the national network Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) will lead a protest in Perth against continuing Stolen Generations. This date marks 18 years since the release of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report. This report detailed the horrors of the Stolen Generations of the 20th Century and called for urgent action to stop the continued removal of Aboriginal children from their families by ‘child protection’ agencies.

Since 1997 however, the number of Aboriginal children being forcibly removed has increased more than five times, with more than 15,000 Aboriginal kids in foster care today. In WA more than half of all children in ‘care’ are Aboriginal, despite being less than 5% of the population. This is an urgent national crises and affected families are fighting back. Grandmothers Against Removals stand as representatives of Sovereign Aboriginal Nations and fight for restoration of their sacred children to their people. Over the past 18 months the group has forced the issue into the national and international media spotlight, helped many families win their children back and forced negotiations with welfare departments in different states.

GMAR is appalled that WA Premier Colin Barnett is using “child protection” as an excuse to forcibly remove entire communities from their lands, recycling the same lies about child abuse used to justify the NT Intervention. These forced closures will be systematic child abuse on a massive scale, putting families into destitution, more kids into foster care, more adults into prison.

GMAR is leading a conference at Matagarup, the Perth Tent Embassy from May 24 – May 30, to strategise for the future and to march on May 26. Western Australia has been chosen as a focus for the conference to show solidarity with communities facing closure and help build links between the struggles. Your support is vitally important to help us fight for the right of children to live with their families and the right of all Aboriginal people to live on their lands and determine their own futures.

Donations are urgently required to assist with the costs of travel, accommodation, food and other logistics for the conference. Please give generously and spread this message through your networks.

Donations can be made to:
Grandmothers Against Removals WA
BSB: 633 000
Account Number: 154 186 902

For more information contact:
Vanessa Culbong 0475 790 046
Albert Hartnett 0478 166 033

16 MAR |SMH | Racism ‘a factor’ in child removal | Saffron Howden

An alarming number of Indigenous children are being taken from their parents.

For nearly three excruciating days, Albert Hartnett had no clue where his 18-month-old daughter, Stella, was being kept.

Social workers and police officers arrived at their inner-Sydney home one Saturday morning in mid-2012 with paperwork entitling them to remove his baby.

Among the concerns that prompted such drastic action was that Stella did not have her own cot in which to sleep, the dishes had not been done, there were cobwebs on the ceiling, and there appeared to be dog faeces on the floor of the apartment. But, Hartnett says, “[we had] no dog at the time”.

The police had reported the family after visiting the unit on unrelated matters. However, by Monday afternoon, after threats of legal action, a long meeting with NSW child protection officials and an assessment of the home, the baby was returned to the family’s care.

“They basically did everything back to front,” Hartnett says.

In recent years there has been an alarming increase nationally in the number of Indigenous children removed from their parents and placed in out-of-home care – anything from foster and kinship care to family group homes and residential homes with paid staff.

According to the Productivity Commission, 14,991 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were in out-of-home care in mid-2014. Indigenous children accounted for nearly 35 per cent of all children in care despite making up only 5.5 per cent of Australia’s total child population.

The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, who last month gave evidence before the Senate inquiry into out-of-home care, says racism is playing a part in the over-representation of Indigenous kids in the child protection system.

“We know that there’s a level of racism in our community,” Mitchell says. “You’ve got a really high level of surveillance of Aboriginal communities. I do think there’s a level of racism, whether it’s intended or not.”

But she says there are myriad other factors, including problems with the system itself.

“I also think that the way we invest in care and protection is at that removal end, not at the family support end.”

Foster care, Mitchell says, should only ever be a short-term response to children at risk of harm. State-based child protection authorities should be using supervision orders – where parents are offered support to help improve home life and then monitored to ensure the child or children are safe – “a lot more”.

“We’ve really got to change things up completely,” she says.

The experts acknowledge the tragic social context in the high level of interaction between child welfare authorities and Indigenous families, including the intergenerational trauma caused by past removals of Aboriginal children from their parents, culture and land.

But they are also more likely to be victims of child abuse, neglect and sexual assault, to have higher hospitalisation and mortality rates for injury, and are over-represented in the juvenile justice system and among the homeless population.

In its 2014 publication, Indigenous Child Safety, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) also found the death rate for Indigenous children from intentional self-harm was nearly seven times the rate for non-Indigenous kids.

“The reasons for the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child protection system are complex but may include the legacy of past policies of the forced removal of some Aboriginal children from their families, intergenerational cycles of poverty, and cultural differences in child-rearing practices,” the institute concluded.

“Other factors such as disadvantaged socioeconomic status, violence, drug and alcohol abuse and inadequate housing may be associated with greater risk of child abuse and neglect.”

Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), says the child protection system is, in effect, punishing Indigenous parents and families for their disadvantage.

“The government response to the very real social issues and social trauma that [are] out there in Aboriginal communities is a punitive one,” he says. “Child removal is being funded as a solution to the social problems.”

Welfare workers are also not taking cultural differences into account when they decide to remove a child. For example, Aboriginal children generally have a greater degree of autonomy than their non-Indigenous counterparts and the most common reason cited for taking Indigenous children from their parents is “neglect”.

“Overwhelmingly, the removals are for neglect or emotional abuse, which are both subjective,” Gibson says.

For “Uncle” Albert Hartnett, who is now heavily involved with Grandmothers Against Removals, the child protection system is a sign of a wider malaise.

“Australian society has lost touch with its humanity,” he says.