Photo taken at Aboriginal Tent Embassy, October 2008 – Gerry Georgatos
Grandmothers Against Removals was formed by NSW regional Gunnedah grandmothers who have been broken by the record number of removals by our State Governments – yes by Governments – of their grandchildren from their Mothers. According to grandmother Hazel Collins, the Stolen Generations continues and in numbers never-before-known. Ms Collins travelled from regional Gunnedah, with affected families from across the State and from interstate to NSW Parliament to raise awareness of the record number of children being removed, and the cycle of devastation this is causing to the communities of First Nations peoples.
“We live in fear, we always live in fear of the Department of Child Protection, of the Government taking our children. If anything has changed it is that the numbers of our babies being taken away have increased,” said Ms Collins.
There are 6,000 Aboriginal babies which have been removed in NSW alone – and the terminology now is ‘out-of-home care’. NSW Minister for Family and Community Services has conceded the number of children in care is too high but nevertheless defended the Department of Child Protection.
“There is no denying we have too many children in out-of-home care who are Aboriginal,” said Ms Goward.
Ms Collins said six years have passed since the Prime Ministerial Apology to the Stolen Generations but the “removals keep on happening.”
“The Apology has meant nothing,” said Ms Collins.
“My grandmother and my aunt were removed from their families and now four of my grandchildren have been taken. It is breaking us.
“You cannot say sorry to a nation of people on something that just keeps on happening, that has never stopped.”
NSW Greens parliamentarian David Shoebridge said that very little is being done for families at the coalface.
“They say removal is the last resort but when you go and talk with the families, particularly in regional NSW, often what they say is their first meaningful contact with the Department of Child Protection is a Friday afternoon special, when the (Department) turn up and remove the children and they’ve got no access to support over the weekend,” said Mr Shoebridge.
Senior researcher at Jumbunna House, University of Technology, Paddy Gibson has long campaigned for remedies to a broken system where children are being removed instead of families being helped.
Mr Gibson said that what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said must at long last be lived up to, that “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.”
But Mr Gibson said that “the numbers of Aboriginal children removed has increased five times in the past 15 years. The majority of children are not placed with relatives or kin.”
Nationally, the removal rate is 5.5 per cent and highest in NSW at nearly ten per cent. Annually, hundreds of babies are taken from their mothers in hospital, no different to fifty and more years ago, only hours after birth.
Mr Gibson points to the same of the social ills underwriting the culminating rises in removals. “Overcrowded housing is endemic in communities, with more than 20 people commonly crammed into one house. Third world conditions such as otitis media and trachoma, eradicated in the rest of the developed world, are common.”
“Aboriginal family support services are barely surviving.” Services are not being adequately funded.
Mr Gibson points to a report by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal and Advocacy Service, “the child protection system is too closely related to the historical discriminatory policies of the past which deemed Aboriginality to be sufficient grounds for removal of children.”
The latest Productivity Commission statistics describe the continuum of rises in ‘out-of-home care’ nationwide, with now more than 14,000 First Nations children removed in the care of the State. Mr Gibson pointed out that since the Northern Territory Intervention the removal of children has more than doubled in the Territory, with 268 children removed in 2007 to 623 in 2013, and only 37 of these children are in ‘kinship care.’
As of June 30, 1997, the year of the Bringing Them Home Report, 2,785 Aboriginal children were in out-of-home-care. Ms Collins is correct, the Stolen Generations are well and truly here and both Ms Collins and Mr Gibson said, “if you say sorry then if you truly mean it, you must not do it again.”