David travelled to Dubbo, Gunnedah and Tamworth this week to meet with Aboriginal elders and community representatives to continue to campaign against the appallingly high rate of Aboriginal child removals in NSW. It has been a privilege to work with Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) in their struggle to prevent the ongoing Stolen Generations. This is a grassroots grouping that is now linked to a national movement called the National Aboriginal Strategic Alliance.
Both NASA and GMAR are demanding Aboriginal communities be given the primary role for making decisions about the future and care of their children. Everyone recognises that children at risk must be protected, abuse and neglect can never be tolerated. But far too many Aboriginal children are being taken from families, and from country. Far too many viable Aboriginal carers from within families are being ignored altogether when removals occur.
Since the Bringing them Home report in 1997 the number of Aboriginal child removals has increased five-fold in NSW. Since the national apology in 2007 Aboriginal child removals have increased by almost 40%. For Aboriginal families who see their children taken this apology is very hollow. Sorry is meant to mean you don’t do it again.
On Wednesday, David and GMAR sat down with the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) in Tamworth to discuss the impact of child removals on families. Discussion centered on GMAR’s proposal for an Aboriginal Expert Committee to empower the community to work with FACS to support families before children are removed. If children must be removed, the the expert committee would work to ensure the children are cared for within the extended family and on-country.
FACS committed to establishing the Expert Committee but gave no formal response to the structure proposed by GMAR. Discussions are ongoing including with regards FACS’ review of five instances of child removal brought to the Department’s attention by GMAR where FACs has now admitted “poor practice”.
David and GMAR also supported a Moree family who met with FACS to demand answers to why their 8 children were removed by FACS and police in riot squad gear in January this year. The children have since been returned to the family but, astoundingly, FACS is yet to tell the parents why their children were removed and why police in riot squad were used for removal. FACS committed to providing the family with written answers to these central questions within 14 days. We will all be watching this closely.
The next Day of Action against removals will be on the 10th November 2014 and then an Australia-wide day of action will occur on 13 February 2015. Reporting on the Tamworth meeting and GMAR is below.