THE rate of indigenous children being taken from their families has become so rife, more are being removed today than at any other time in Australia’s sordid colonial history.
Figures reveal the number of indigenous children being forcibly taken from their homes has risen almost 400 per cent in 15 years, prompting Aboriginal Elders to condemn what they are labelling a ‘new Stolen Generation’.
Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children represent 4.6 per cent of the Australian population, and a whopping one third are in ‘out of home care’.
According to the Federal Government’s 1997 Bringing Them Home report, the number of indigenous children removed from their families at the time was 2785.
Fast forward fifteen years to 2012, where a report by the Federal Government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recorded the instance of removal had risen almost 400 per cent to 13,299.
“More than 14,000 Aboriginal children are in what they call ‘out of home care’ in any given night in Australia,” said Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“That is a far greater number of children removed in any year over the Stolen Generations period.”
According to Mr Gibson, Australia has essentially returned to an “assimilation policy” where mass removal of Aboriginal children is being used as a strategy to “deal with questions of Aboriginal disadvantage, just as it was in the Stolen Generations era”.
For Ray Jackson, the issue is as prevalent now as it was when he was taken as a child in 1943.
Mr Jackson was just two years old when he and his two siblings were removed. His non-indigenous father died in World War II, and his Aboriginal mother was deemed unfit to care for the family due to her ethnicity.
“The number of children being taken these days is horrendous. I’ve read about this. I’ve seen it,” Mr Jackson told news.com.au.
“I’ve tried to help families who’ve had their children taken, but you’re fighting a behemoth.
“To take the coppers on is bad enough, but to try and take on a government and its policies, no one out there will listen to you.”
But the Federal Government has washed its hands of the problem, with the Minister for indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, telling news.com.au “Child protection is the responsibility of the states and territories. At all times and in all circumstances, the best interest of the child is paramount.
“However I do encourage states and territories to work harder to find solutions, where possible, within the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family. Experience has shown that where issues can be resolved, the extended family is at the centre of the solution.”
In NSW nearly 6300 indigenous children are wards of the state. That’s nearly 10 per cent of the state’s Aboriginal children. Meanwhile, only 1.6 per cent of white children have been removed.
According to the Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner’s annual report, indigenous children were 395 per cent more likely to be put into care than non-indigenous children.
In the year to June 30, 2013, 624 indigenous kids were removed in the Northern Territory, in comparison to 126 non-indigenous children.
“Some communities don’t even have running water,” said Mr Gibson.
“There are massively overcrowded situations, there’s no sealed roads for the community. The idea that these people get more than average Australians get is farcical.
“Governments don’t provide resources to the people who need it most.”
Child protection services have denied having an unfair focus on indigenous communities, claiming it is beyond the Department’s control and that the health and welfare of the child was at the core of the department’s interests.
“The NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) has a statutory responsibility to protect children, and will only remove a child or young person as a last resort when court order finds there are serious concerns for their safety or wellbeing, said a spokesman.
“The decision to remove a child from its family is not taken lightly by the Children’s Court, which treats all cases equally, no matter what the racial or social background.”
FACS pointed news.com.au to the 2014 Report on Government Services, which stated NSW had the highest percentage of indigenous children in out of home care placements with relatives or kin (63.6 per cent of indigenous children as compared to the national average of 51.5 per cent).
But Mr Jackson remained unconvinced.
“Yes we do have drunks, yes we do have druggies, some of them are mothers even, but in the wider family, not all of them are drunk or drug-affected,” he said.
“When you walk into an Aboriginal house, the first thing you see is a wall covered with photos. “Photos of family of those who have gone, those have just come and those who are in between and growing. Walk into the kitchen, the fridge is covered with children’s drawings. That is a normal home.
“That is pride in your family and children, and that is not being recognised.
“These people need assistance, they need help; they don’t need their children taken from them.”
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