Grandmothers Against Removals angry at NSW Family and Community Services appointing a non-Indigenous chair.
Photograph: Marianna Massey/AAP
A program aimed at stopping forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes has been labelled paternalistic by the group that campaigned for it and warned of a second stolen generation.
Family and Community Services (Facs) NSW have established a working group in northern NSW to trial alternatives to removing children from their families, such as putting them in the care of another family member.
Grandmothers Against Removals (Gmar) has welcomed the decision but has accused Facs of paternalistic behaviour by appointing a non-Indigenous person to chair the working group, with no input from the Gunnedah community.
A Gmar member, who asked to be known only as Sue as she did not want her grandchildren to be identifiable, said the high rates of removal of Indigenous children from their families in Australia was at crisis point. Indigenous children are 10 times more likely to be put in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.
“I can say as a generalisation both in the present and in the past people have said that contact with children removed from their families becomes a very, very difficult issue … it appears they [Facs] are trying to break the connection with their Aboriginal family, that is the feeling and it sounds very familiar to the past,” she said.
The working group starts in Gunnedah next month and will meet every month to discuss the trial scheme before filing its first report in July. Sue hopes the scheme will end up being rolled out nationally but said there were some issues with the terms of reference Facs put forward.
In particular, Gmar wants there to be a co-chair of the group who has been selected with input from Gmar and the Gunnedah community. Gmar have been allocated three positions as members of the working group with another position going to an Aboriginal specialist or caseworker.
“We are not going to accept any sort of paternalism from the Department of Family, which is completely demonstrated in their response to our proposal, so much so that they even deem who is going to be the chair,” Sue said.
“That’s very paternalistic to say ‘this is the person who’s going to be in charge’. We are not going to accept that sort of paternalism. It cannot be a working group when one party is trying to impose on the other.”
Sue said Facs had been forced to act quickly in response to Gmar’s campaign because Gmar’s support base was swelling quickly. One of the first demonstrations was held on the anniversary of the national apology to the stolen generation, which Sue said was beginning to seem hollow.
“We are going to have the same stories in the next 10, 15 years [from Indigenous people talking about being taken from their families as children],” she said. “Who is going to apologise to them? Who’s going to apologise to this generation of stolen kids? Why are we not learning from the past? Who’s accountable?”
Sue said Gmar wanted the trial in Gunnedah to become the blueprint for a statewide, then nationwide, scheme. The working group grew from a proposal Gmar made to the department about preventing the removal of children.
“This proposal we put forward recognises unprecedented removals of Aboriginal children in NSW and across Australia, what this proposal hopes to do is have removals as a last resort,” she said. “There’s a whole process leading up to working with families in crisis, it’s making sure these children have the least amount of trauma placed on them as possible by remaining in families and Aboriginal communities … rather than this one-size-fits-all approach.
“They [the children] go through one wave of trauma and then another wave of trauma when placed hundreds of kilometres away. We’re hoping this policy when it becomes enacted will stop the removals, especially in the traumatic ways children are removed, taken from parents’ arms, taken from beds, taken in the middle of the night.”
Sue’s two grandchildren were removed from their parent’s care in 2012 and then from Sue, who says she was given no explanation for their removal. They are living with a non-Aboriginal family and Sue says her contact with them is very limited.
Sue said the issue also went beyond Indigenous children and there was likely a family member or someone in the community who would want to care for any child removed from their parents.
“[Removal] is an archaic process, historically proven not to work, it’s ineffective, ill-informed – here we are in 2014, children are still being removed under these draconian laws,” she said.
Deidre Mulkerin from the Department of Family and Community Services said she believed working with the Aboriginal community would allow for early intervention.
“People in the local community are much closer to what is actually going on,” she said.
“So we are hoping by working in a much closer way that they will be able to point out other support that might be available to families and the communities.
“I wanted to particularly acknowledge the courage and persistence of the grandmothers who’ve stood up for their community and their children and asked government, demanded of government that we work with their community differently.”