Ever since Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations, this week has been one of the bigger weeks in media and Government for discussion of Indigenous issues. Each year we hear updates on the Government’s Closing the Gap initiative, as well as the Close the Gap report. We hear discussions and reflections on the Apology, at the time called ‘The First Step’ in addressing our past and creating pathways to a better future.
One topic which is notably underrepresented during this increased focus on Indigenous issues is perhaps the most relevant to what the Apology was about, and that is the overwhelming number of Indigenous children who continue to be removed from their families. The rate of which is today higher than at any point in Australia’s history.
Larissa Behrendt, in an article for the Guardian Australia wrote: “But there is an important statistic missing from the Closing the Gap report and its absence masks one of the key areas of crisis facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families – the continuing removal of Indigenous children from their families.
The statistics from the year before the apology speech, from June 2007, showed that 9,070 Indigenous children were in out-of-home care; in June 2015 that number had risen to 15,455. In 2007, 45.3 per cent of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were placed with their own Indigenous family. Today that number has been reduced to 35.9 per cent. So more Indigenous children are being removed today than at any other time in Australian history – they are 10 times more likely to be in care than their non-Indigenous peers. Although they represent only 5.5 per cent of their age population, they make up 35 per cent of children in out-of-home care.
That the number of Indigenous children removed from their families is now higher than at the time of the apology raises serious concerns.”
This issue, when it does get discussed by non-Indigenous media and government, usually gets framed in stereotypical terms of ‘We shouldn’t leave kids in dysfunctional environments just because they are Aboriginal!”
This is of course true, nobody is arguing that child welfare is not the most important issue. What is often missing from this discussion is a critical examination of what is actually happening to prevent removal, particularly around resource allocation for family support and early interventions.
In 2012, Olga Havnen was sacked as the Coordinator General of Remote Services in the Northern territory when her report noted that nearly $80,000,000 was spent on the surveillance and removal of Aboriginal children while just over $500,000 was being spent on support measures for those same families. That is a discrepancy of 160:1 in terms of resource allocation for Child Protection and Out of Home Care vs Intensive Family Support Services.
Given more recent cuts to Indigenous Affairs it would be interesting to see what those same figures are now, 4 years on.
Instead of an open and transparent discussion of the factors involved in Aboriginal child removal and a critical media evaluation of these issues aimed at identifying possible means to reduce these numbers, what we have seen for well over a decade now is a few stories every year that ask “Are we at risk of another Stolen Generation?”. These stories usually do not provide a critical lens on government responses or great insight into recommendations within the reports, and are usually met with responses from the likes of Andrew Bolt arguing: Blah blah blah lefties, blah blah blah Keith Windschuttle, blah blah blah show me ten kids who were stolen during the so-called Stolen Generations… Rabble, rabble, rabble!!*
(*not an exact quote.)
It is heartening however, to see that groups like Grandmothers Against Removal calling on Governments to acknowledge that their policies are not working and are failing Aboriginal children, parents, and the wider community.
On Thursday, Grandmothers Against Removal marched in Canberra to bring light to this issue. One of the grandmothers who marched, Aunty Barb (last name withheld by request) agreed to share some of her story and her reflections 8 Years on from the Apology with IndigenousX.
“I feel very disappointed in the apology that Kevin Rudd made. Once you say sorry, you don’t do it again, but they are taking more of our kids than ever.
I was taken away by Native Welfare when I was 13 and was placed with many different institutions and carers. I ended up in the Fremantle Women’s prison, with no legal representation. No one knew where I was, I was cut off from my family. It’s affected me so much, it’s made it hard for me to connect with family and communicate with people. And now I see so many of our young Aboriginal children being taken away by welfare again.
This happened to my grand daughter. She was taken from my care, abducted from the school in Perth and flown to Queensland. I fought very hard to get her back and I won. Now my grand daughter has so much pain from what she has been through. I try my best, taking her to counselling. We need to stop this destruction of our families by the government. My dream is for strong Aboriginal healing places to help our children. Please support our campaign to end continuing stolen generations. Sign the petition here:
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