And this year, there is concerted and voracious protest in response to continuing forcible removal.
In a national statement, protest organisers said,
Since [The Bringing Them Home Report was published] the number of our children being removed has exploded – from 2,785 in 1997 to 13,914 in 2013 — a five fold increase. In NSW, 10 percent of Aboriginal children are in “out of home care.” Across the country, it is almost 6 percent of Aboriginal children, more than 10 times the non-Indigenous rate, and the figure is rising every year. “
The Bringing Them Home Report, released in 1997, and based on the testimony collated from 777 Indigenous people and organisations poignantly reveals how the loss of children has devastated entire families and communities.
And the ramifications continue on to this day, as detailed in numerous subsequent reports, such as the annual Social Justice Reports published by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Debra Swan, who was recently employed as an Aboriginal worker within the child protection system in the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), told The Guardian
I believe the department is still pushing an agenda of assimilation. They look down on Aboriginal cultural practices and disrespect the way our families operate. Most removals happen because of ‘neglect’ – but this is all about people’s perceptions.
Caseworkers emphasise the importance of the nuclear family. It is held against Aboriginal families that children may move around, staying with different aunties or uncles. We often travel to visit extended family, or have visitors come to stay and all pile in with mattresses on the floor. Caseworkers say this sort of thing disrupts “stability and routine.” Even co-sleeping with our children is put forward as a risk, despite its cultural importance for us, or the fact that this may be the safest place for our children to sleep.
She pointed out,
If our kids keep getting taken off us, our culture will be fractured even further… I see the push for assimilation creating despair right across our communities, not just through child removal. Yes, there are more people drinking or taking drugs in recent years, but why is this happening? People feel there is no future for them, that their world-view has no value.
Debra Swan recently resigned as she does not wish to remain involved in the department’s mistreatment of Indigenous people, even though she had worked in the position for 13 years. She continued,
If parents do have drug or alcohol issues, there is often a perception that they are hopeless, that there is no point doing proper casework because people will never change. The department rarely has the cultural understanding or community connections to win trust, help people open up and move forward.
Among the solutions proposed are demands for deep systemic change in conjunction with adequate and sustained funding. Aunty Hazel from Grandmothers Against Removals Gunnedah (GMAR) maintained
If FACS is serious about working at a local level then it needs to use an empowerment framework. Aboriginal families and service providers must be decision makers in the care and protection of children, not just subject to token consultation.
Considered and respectful strategies have proved successful in the past. Debra Swan reported,
“If case workers engaged properly and supported families who are having problems, there would be no need to remove so many children… From 2006 – 2010, I worked with an all-Aboriginal team in a remote area on a special program. We worked closely with the elders and the women’s and men’s groups. We ran healing workshops. We were upfront and honest with families that if their children were not safe, there was a risk of removal, but we always tried to find a solution that would keep the family together. In those four years, we only removed two children. “
GMAR, along with with expert lawyers, has written a proposal for an Aboriginal Community Liaison Committee which would be involved in child-related matters, and work towards the elimination of child removals. A FACS office expressed interest in the proposal but has since ceased responding to emails.