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Strategy needed for growing number of Aboriginal children in care

In February, the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos wrote an open letter to the Victorian community about the shocking increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, and the findings so far of the Taskforce 1000 project. Taskforce 1000 is focused on critically examining the experiences of Aboriginal children in care, in order to improve outcomes.

Some extracts from his letter include:

I distribute this letter to you in response to the rapidly increasing number of Victorian Aboriginal babies and children being removed from their families and placed in statutory care.

The 2015 Report on Government Services notes that the number of Aboriginal babies and children in Victorian being placed into statutory case rose by 42% in just the 12 months to 30 June 2014.

We cannot improve the lives of vulnerable Aboriginal children by applying a band-aid to the out-of-home care system. Without significant changes in practice and service provision, and based on current trajectories, I would expect this number to grow to around 1500 by July this year.

From the 250 children we have considered as part of Taskforce 1000, we know that male perpetrated family violence and alcohol and drug abuse are present in over 90 per cent of families where children have been removed. We have also seen significant system deficiencies in respect of cultural connections and relationships along with the application of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.

I am advocating for the development of a state-wide strategic response to improving the lives of vulnerable Aboriginal babies, children and young people with child protection, youth justice and child homelessness as well as children’s trauma and mental health at its core.

A strategy based on the principles of transparency, accountability, honesty and recognition of the role of the Aboriginal community is critical in the development and implementation of policies and programs to improve the lives of Aboriginal children.”

The full version of the letter and more information about the work of the Commission for Children and Young People is available on their website.

VCOSS supports the Commissioner’s call for a statewide, strategic approach to addressing the growing crisis of Aboriginal children in care. The VCOSS submission to the 2015-16 State Budget, Building a Victoria without poverty, highlights the fact Aboriginal children are now 16 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be in out-of-home care, and the rate of Aboriginal child removal in Victoria exceeds that at any time since white settlement.

VCOSS calls for a renewed focus on cross-sectoral approaches, early intervention and intensive family support, and an expansion of the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled organisations (ACCOs) to support vulnerable Aboriginal children and young people. A recent joint submission from ACCOs and community service organisations said that Department of Health and Human Services areas with well-established ACCOs were characterised by falling rates of Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care, clearly pointing to the potential benefits of a stronger role for ACCOs.

The VCOSS 2015-16 State Budget Submission also calls on the state government to implement section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, which enables the transfer of custody and guardianship responsibility from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to ACCOs.