Number of Indigenous children removed from their families has increased fivefold since Bringing Them Home report of 1997
Hundreds of people rallied across Australia on National Sorry Day calling for urgent changes to state child-protection regimes, which organisers say are responsible for an “ongoing Stolen Generation”.
The number of Indigenous children removed from their families has increased fivefold since Bringing Them Home, the report which thrust the Stolen Generations into the national spotlight, was tabled in parliament in 1997.
Nearly 14,000 Indigenous children were taken by state services last year, and one in 10 Aboriginal children in New South Wales currently lives in state care. Around 30% end up in the care of white families.
Survivors of the Stolen Generations policies of the last century were among those addressing crowds across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia on Monday. In Sydney, protesters chanted “Bring them home” and carried signs that read, “Sorry means you don’t do it again”.
Aunty Hazel, from Gunnedah in northwest NSW, helped form Grandmothers Against Removal in January to draw attention to what she calls “a violent system”. The group does not contest that sometimes children need to be removed from harmful environments, but say it can be done without shattering families.
“If you take that little one, and the parents are struggling, then place the little one with family members. Engage the parents in all decisions and keep [the child] in community,” Hazel said.
The group has proposed an alternative model, the Aboriginal Community Liaison Committee, that brings together families, government agencies and service providers before a child is removed “to put in place solutions that can keep these families together”.
They secured a meeting to discuss the model with senior NSW child welfare authorities after a rally outside their headquarters in Sydney on Monday morning.
Ian Curr, from the Brisbane Sovereign Grannies Group, said Indigenous advocates were “just starting to come to grips with the scale of the problem” in Queensland.
The national day of protest was aimed at “educating” child protection authorities about the potential of extended families to look after Indigenous kids at risk, he said.
“In problematic situations, you can also have hope, especially in Aboriginal culture, where grandparents, aunties and uncles are really charged by their culture to step up and look after their grandchildren,” he said.
Writing in Guardian Australia, a former Aboriginal social worker within the child-protection system, Debra Swan, said she was driven to quit her job by the “forced removal … in unacceptable numbers” of Indigenous children.
“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,” Swan wrote.
A researcher into Aboriginal welfare, Gerry Georgatos, said children were being taken at a higher rate – and a younger age – than at the height of assimilation policies in the 1930s and 1940s.
“The threshold of judgment in terms of assessing the welfare of children in Aboriginal families is lower. It’s a systemic problem within government and its agencies. They make a values judgement. What I call it is prejudice,” he said. Child welfare departments needed to make clear exactly why they were removing children, he said.
“Define what the difficult situations are. Malnourishment? Injuries? Violence? They need to disaggregate and define that.”
Another rally is planned for Alice Springs on Wednesday.