“It makes me feel angry, because I would stand and I’ll fight, I’ll fight until the day I die,” a Kukulangi grandmother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told NITV News.
She is questioning why the placement was in NSW and not in Queensland where she says the children are based.
“The police just came and stole them,” she said.
“FACS [the NSW Department of Family and Community Services] did not engage with me or my family at all, they just took the babies.”
The grandmother expressed concern the children would lose their cultural identity.
“They haven’t placed them with an Indigenous family,” she said. “They haven’t rang me. I’m a foster mother, so why should I have to go and fill new forms to take my children home.”
‘I’ll fight, I’ll fight until the day I die.’
Grandmothers Against Removals Sydney, a movement that works to ensure government welfare services place Indigenous children in culturally appropriate care, staged a protest at the FACS office in Sydney on Friday over the case concerning the Kukulangi grandmother.
“The first a family may know FACS is removing their children is when a FACS worker is on the doorstop with a [Children’s Court] order,” Grandmothers Against Removals Sydney spokesperson Michelle Hoogesteger told NITV News.
“Across Australia we’re seeing child removals taking place in the absence of any family consultation and any family support services.”
Ms Hoogesteger says that after FACS produces a court order it makes an application in court for that child to stay in the care of the minister until they turn 18. She likens the practice to the Australian government’s ‘White Australia’ policies through the 20th Century.
“We are seeing welfare being used as a fundamental assimilationist tool by governments and so rather than support and improve safety, Aboriginal families are experiencing these sudden removals,” she said.
‘We are seeing welfare being used as a fundamental assimilationist tool by governments.’
A 2012 Productivity Commission report says that of 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW who were were placed in out-of-home care, none were placed with next of kin or in homes of Aboriginal or Torre Strait Islander families.
Ms Hoogesteger says this shows FACS “are contravening FACS policies”.
As of 30 June 2014, 18.6 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care had been placed with non-Indigenous carers, reports the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
As of the same date, 35 per cent of all children in out-of-home care had Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestry.
But Section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) states that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families must be allowed to determine who cares for their children:
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, kinship groups, representative organisations and communities are to be given the opportunity, by means approved by the Minister, to participate in decisions made concerning the placement of their children and young persons and in other significant decisions made under this Act that concern their children and young persons.”
The act mandates carers be from an Indigenous child’s extended family or kinship groups, or if not practical, that they be a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
“The police just came and stole them.”
The act says the last resort for a child’s placement is a carer who has been chosen as a result of consultation between the secretary with “a member of the children’s extended family or kinship group, as recognised by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community to which the child or young person belongs or Indigenous organisations.”
FACS says it does place the majority of Aboriginal children and young people with relatives or kinship carers in accordance with the children’s protection act.
‘Placement with relatives, kinship carers and placement in country is always the preferred option in child placement’
“Placement with relatives, kinship carers and placement in country is always the preferred option in child placement,” a FACS spokesperson told NITV News.
“The decision to remove a child from their parents is not a decision taken lightly. Other options are always explored first and decisions to remove children at risk of significant harm are overseen by the court system,” they said.
“However, our first priority is to work with the family to restore children to their parents wherever it is possible and safe to do so.”
The spokesperson says that the department is investing resources into Aboriginal non-government organisations to increase capacity and responsibility in the child protection and out-of-home care systems. While the department cannot comment on the specific case of the Kukulangi grandmother, it is taking the concerns of Grandmothers Against Removal on board, including recently implementing guiding principles provided by Grandmothers Against Removal for strengthening the participation of the local Aboriginal community in decision-making over child protection matters in the Hunter New England region.
“[It was] a watershed moment in the relationship with the grandmothers and the department,” the FACS spokesperson said.