The forced removal of our children continues today in unacceptable numbers. This Sorry Day, we have to say no to ongoing Stolen Generations
Every year on National Sorry Day, events are held to remember the Stolen Generations of years gone by. This year, I will be joining protestshappening around the country to say that the forced removal of our children continues today in unacceptable numbers. In NSW, almost one in 10 Aboriginal children is in “out of home care”. I have seen the injustice, and how unfair this system is, with my own eyes.
I have worked as an Aboriginal worker within the child protection system in north west NSW since 2001. At the start of this year, I quit my job. I couldn’t bring myself to go to work any more with the way this department is mistreating Aboriginal people.
If case workers engaged properly and supported families who are having problems, there would be no need to remove so many children. People blame their heavy case-loads, saying they are already too busy to do the intensive work that’s needed, but this is not good enough when you’re talking about people’s 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.
Unfortunately, these programs are not funded in an ongoing way, yet there are communities crying out for them right across the country.
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.
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.
Other family members who want to take on a caring role are often pushed away, dismissed as “inappropriate” without any explanation. Those who are appointed as kinship carers can be subjected to onerous surveillance.
Too often, removals happen without any consultation. Parents come into the office frustrated and angry, as anyone would be after having their children ripped away from them. They are then written off even further, branded “non-compliant” or “aggressive”.
The children’s court system is stacked against Aboriginal people. I have seen too many solicitors who have no idea what they are doing, or just push our people to go along with the demands of the department. Parents are told that unless they agree to orders, they will be denied any access to their children.
It’s no wonder so many Aboriginal parents fall into a cycle of helplessness and hopelessness. Even as a worker you can fall into a depression.
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. For example, in Toomelah they cut the community development employment program, telling everyone they would have to move to find work and the drinking problems became far worse.
As Aboriginal people we need to come together and speak up for change, to break this cycle of despair. Aboriginal people need to be given control over child welfare in our communities – from the front line workers right up to the minister.
If our kids keep getting taken off us, our culture will be fractured even further. We are not just going to just sit back and let the Stolen Generation happen all over again.
• This piece is an edited transcript of an interview with Padraic Gibson, senior researcher at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS