Call for a Royal Commission - world's highest escalating child removal rates

Call for a Royal Commission - world's highest escalating child removal rates

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One in 32 of Australia’s children have come to the attention of child protection authorities - the world’s highest rate.

Presently, 60,000 Australian children are in out-of-home care, of who 23,000 are First Nations children; more than one in three. World's highest rates.

Something must be wrong. There must be a Royal Commission.

There is a cumulative swell of concern about an amendment Bill to the Western Australian Parliament proposing more powers to the Children and Community Services Act 2019. The proposed powers may affect all of Australia’s children who come to the attention of child protection authorities but in effect enable more removal powers on First Nations children, and then thereafter on Culturally and Language Diverse (CALD) migrant children. 

The proposed amendment to Section 81 of the Bill will allow for child protection authorities to remove a First Nations child from their parents or carers, and similarly so for CALD children, following consultation, unbelievably with only one of the child’s family members. This is a further erosion of robust scrutiny and corroboration. Western Australia has the nation’s highest representation of First Nations children in out-of-home care; 56% of children removed to out-of-home care in Western Australia are First Nations. It is our contention that for effectively two decades, governments right across this nation have been strengthening legislative powers to remove children.

In 1997, the year of the Bringing Them Home Report, there were just over 2,000 First Nations children removed from their homes by child protection authorities. Eleven years later, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered The Apology to the Stolen Generations. At the time there were over 8,000 First Nations children removed. Presently, twelve years later, over 23,000 First Nations children removed.

It is our view that there is an urgent need for a Royal Commission. We work with many children who are in the care of the State but who have fled the State’s arrangements. Many of these children are homeless. It is our view, that despite the lives of many children that have been improved by child protection authorities, there are thousands of young lives that have in effect fallen by the wayside.

"A Royal Commission can shine the light. I walk into far too many homes shattered by children having been removed and I am devastated for them when I clearly see that all they needed was a little help," Megan Krakouer, Director, National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.

We need departments of social services to replace the departments of child protection, who by their very title, Child Protection, appear to be some type of policing entity rather than armies of social workers and counsellors intensely psychosocially supporting through a whole of family approach.

Nationally, funding to child protection authorities exceeds $6 billion but overall, it is estimated, State and Territory governments spend only 17% of the funding on family support services. It should be the other way around.

Marianne Mackay, mother of seven and law student, "There needs to be more focus on family support rather than just removing children."

When we have a crisis of the magnitude of 60,000 children removed, 23,000 of them First Nations children, and 1 in 32 of Australia’s children in coming to the attention of child protection authorities, and all these numbers year in year out increasing, do we showpiece arguments on an amendment or do we call for the whole system to be dragged, whether kicking and screaming, before a Royal Commission?

Teresa Miller, CEO Beeliar Therapeutic Solutions, "Thus far overall it's been a destroying of families and communities. We need more family and therapeutic support services."

Governments may not want a Royal Commission, but we must insist. Governments must take responsibility for the catastrophic failure of child protection overall, for it is our governments that have legislated the litany of removal powers, one after another, since the late 1990s while all the while reducing social services.

"In only two decades, we have seen more children than ever before removed, not just First Nations, but of all creeds. If we do not speak up about a crisis, that in terms of numbers, has outstripped past generations, the future will condemn our generation as we condemn the past... It breaks my heart, the suicides of children who fled out-of-home care, of the many out-of-home care children street present homeless," Gerry Georgatos, Coordinator, National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project.

We are only a decade away of more than 100,000 children removed and with near half expected to be First Nations children.

It is our view that until a Royal Commission can hear the thousands of untold stories from children failed, from the voices of the families, from social workers within child protection authorities - and from the outside, of social workers, psychologists and counsellors working to the bone to repair broken lives that additional funding asks by child protection authorities should be put on hold. Furthermore, till the Royal Commission, no further enabling powers to child protection authorities should be considered.

NSW Parliamentarian and Barrister, Dr David Shoebridge, "There is nothing more precious in my life than my children and partner... What disturbs me is that no one can take my house, my car, my phone without reasonable evidence that I contest but people can come tomorrow and take my children based on a rumour."

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