A nationwide crisis in the forced removal of Aboriginal children has been labelled as another stolen generation by many Indigenous community leaders.
The most recent Productivity Commission report outlines that NSW has the highest number of forced child removals, with one in ten or a total of 6200 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.
Forced removals in NSW are being carried out by the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS).
A group called Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), which formed in Gunnedah at the beginning of this year, organised 15 protests across the country on National Sorry Day, May 26, to highlight the crisis.
Hazel Collins, a founding member of GMAR, knows from past experience that the effects of forced removals will impact future generations.
“I’ve had grandchildren removed. My grandmother and my aunty were removed. The impacts of their removal and the experience that was inflicted on them is still devastating,” she said.
“This is continuing and we grandmothers of today are suffering the same atrocity, racism and violence.”
Ms Collins calls for a system where FACS would work in conjunction with families and communities in order to encourage families to stay together.
“We’re demanding a better way to prevent removals, rather than the first response be to come in, take our babies and then we’re left to fight for years for the return of them,” she said.
Social justice activist Olivia Nigro said that there are more Aboriginal children being forcibly removed from their homes now than at any other time in Australian history, and that families must be given more control.
“FACS is conducting the removals without the necessary consultation both with the family themselves nor with the Aboriginal-run services within the community,” she said.
“Aboriginal communities must have control over the decisions that affect their lives. The care and protection of Aboriginal children must be decided by Aboriginal families and their service providers.”
Ms Nigro pointed out that the underlying cause of the forced removals is a lack of understanding within FACS of cultural differences in parenting.
“A child may not be parented by two parents alone. They might be parented by ten family members because of the collective parenting model that is culturally historic to Aboriginal families,” Ms Nigro said.
“Neglect is often the biased opinion of a case worker. If children run around barefoot, that’s neglectful. That’s not neglect. That’s a different way of being.”
Debra Swan was a FACS child protection case worker for 13 years. Earlier this year, she quit her job due to the department’s lack of consultation with Aboriginal families.
“They do assessments and they make comments about people but they don’t give them reasons as to why they’re unsuitable,” Ms Swan said.
“Everything they do is Westernised so it makes it difficult for Aboriginal people to meet their expectations.”
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said that since the 1997 Bringing Them Home report was released, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of Aboriginal children removed. But, Mr Shoebridge has hope for change in the future.
“The national day of action saw some 15 protests and it’s that act of self-will by Aboriginal communities that’s going to ultimately demand and achieve change,” he said.
“I don’t think change will be driven by the department, by FACS. It’s going to be forced upon them by the community.”