The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is the national non government peak body in Australia representing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
SNAICC was formally established in 1981 after the creation of such a body was proposed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the ‘First Aboriginal Child Survival Seminar’ held in Melbourne in 1979. The organisation elected its first national executive in 1982 and has received Federal Government funding support from 1983.
SNAICC has a membership base of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based child care agencies, Multi-functional Aboriginal Children’s Services, creches, long day care child care services, pre schools, early childhood education services, early childhood support organisations, family support services, foster care agencies, link up and family reunification services, family group homes, community groups and voluntary associations, and services for young people at risk.
SNAICC also has a network and subscriber base of over 1400 organisations and individuals, mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but also significant numbers of other community based services and individuals and state and federal agencies with an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children.
Stop the Creation of Another Stolen Generation! – Melbourne forum on children in out-of-home care
DATE: 25 JUN 2013
“Stop the Creation of Another Stolen Generation! It is time to step up for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children”
SNAICC held a forum in Melbourne on 14 June at which Aboriginal leaders, national figures and an international expert on child rights discussed issues around the soaring number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
Attended by 240 people, the forum at Federation Square was chaired by Professor Kerry Arabena from the University of Melbourne, with the participation of:
- Professor Muriel Bamblett, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
- Aunty Lorraine Peeters, Stolen Generations advocate and founder of Marumali
- Eva Jo Edwards, Case Manager and Programs Officer, Connecting Home
- Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner, and
- Dr Helen Szoke, Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia.
Another panel member was Marta Mauras Perez, former vice president of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. In a critical report on Australia in June 2012, the UN committee expressed concerns at “the serious and widespread discrimination” faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, as well as their high numbers in out-of-home care and juvenile justice systems.
Ms Perez visited Australia in June 2013 as a guest of SNAICC to assess developments in the past 12 months.
The forum was told Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be removed from their families at alarming rates. Today, over one third of the 39,621 children in out-of-home care in Australia are Indigenous — even though Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represent only 4.6 of the child population.
The causes of this over-representation are complex and centre on poverty, the legacy of past policies of forced removals, intergenerational effects of separation from family and culture, and cultural differences in child rearing practices.
A lack of early intervention measures and support for at-risk Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are also leading to the high removal rates — at great human cost to children, their families and communities.
Muriel Bamblett told the forum that the primary focus had to be on prevention measures — keeping children with their families — and “not at the bottom of the cliff picking up children and families.”
Aunty Lorraine Peeters, herself removed from her family as a child, said she was “sick in the stomach” at the high numbers of children and youth in out-of-home care and in juvenile justice — and a feeling Australia was repeating the misguided practices of the past.
“Who is going to be there for those children in 18 years’ time when they enter into trauma and want to know where they come from or who their families are?” she asked.
“The cycle needs to be broken…We have to stop our children being taken.”
Speakers raised the persistently high rates of removal on the grounds of neglect, which expose poverty at the heart of the issue, and the continued imposition of an ill-equipped mainstream system that discriminates on the basis of culture. Professor Bamblett reinforced “children’s rights are eroded everyday in the Northern Territory. There is a chronic neglect of a people. We all have a responsibility.”
Eva Jo Edwards said it was time to invest more resources into prevention programs, giving greater support to parents, as well as supporting children in out-of-home care.
“We need to heal children that are coming out of the system before they become parents,” Ms Edwards said.
She said Australia as a whole needed to take responsibility for the over-representation of children, pointing out that only a handful of the 54 recommendations of the 1997 Bringing them Home report into the Stolen Generations had been implemented.
Helen Szoke said the National Children’s Commissioner should consider another national inquiry to investigate the causes and consequences of the high numbers of Indigenous children in out-of-home care. She highlighted the importance of a political, legal and societal solution to the removal of these children.
Megan Mitchell put children’s participation at the centre of the debate, calling for strong mechanisms to assist children to have a meaningful role in these significant decisions impacting them. She reiterated the importance of early intervention family support services and called for exploration of a “care reinvestment” strategy, similar to the current “justice reinvestment” models currently being debated. Dr. Szoke underlined the cost benefit imperative of investing in prevention – “this case clearly needs to be better made and used.”
Echoing Professor Bamblett’s comments, Ms Perez said there was a need to improve prevention of children being taken away. She said solutions lay in improving living conditions and work opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, more focus on early childhood development needs, and greater support for parents.
She said programs and services needed to be culturally-sensitive and under the control of Indigenous families and organisations.
SNAICC is very grateful to the time and commitment of all of the panellists and to the adept and powerful facilitator, Professor Arabena. We were honoured to have Professor Arabena’s leadership and support around this critical issue, and the generosity of Melbourne University for her contribution.
This event marked the beginning of a National Initiative on the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care, launched by SNAICC at the SNAICC National Conference in Cairns on 6 June 2013.
Stay tuned for next steps of the campaign.