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Report finds Aboriginal children in South Australia are being unnecessarily removed from families and communities

This article is by Dechlan Brennan for National Indigenous Times on 6 June 2024.

An “institutionally racist” child protection system is trampling on First Nations children, according to a scathing report released by South Australia’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.

In the Holding on to Our Future report tabled in SA Parliament on Wednesday, Commissioner April Lawrie found in a single calendar year, one-in-two Aboriginal children are reported at least once to child protection authorities, whilst one-in-ten are placed in out-of-home care (OOHC).

“The Aboriginal community will no longer tolerate this cost to continue to be at the expense of our children and future generations,” Commissioner Lawrie said.

Furthermore, without meaningful change, SA will see 140 out of every 1000 Aboriginal children placed in state care by 2031, the report said. Currently, Aboriginal children and young people constitute approximately 5.5 per cent of the population of children under the age of 18, but 37.4 per cent of all children in OOHC.

The report has made 48 findings and 32 recommendations to reduce the number of First Nations children in the child protection system.

It found a need to involve Aboriginal people in decisions about Aboriginal children; unnecessary removals were disproportionate and only growing, causing long-term harm; and systemic racism and cultural bias in child removal and placement decisions.

Ms Lawrie said, in the majority of cases she examined, the underlying issues that led to families’ contact with the child protection service system “have not been about the intentional harm of children”.

“They are characterised by problems associated with poverty and intergenerational trauma, mental illness, domestic and family violence, homelessness and substance use,” the Commissioner said in the report. 

“In responding to these issues, removals should be a last resort, but often problems have been allowed to escalate to a point where removals become the first step taken when intervening with these families.”

Ms Lawrie said there needed to be an acknowledgment that a system had been built, “where the only option to respond to problems associated with disadvantage is to funnel families into child protection.”

“This has to change,” she said.