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The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle: improving compliance and ongoing connection to culture

Connection to community, family and culture is fundamental to wellbeing of Aboriginal people. However, approximately 70 per cent of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in Victoria in 2013-14 were placed with non-Aboriginal carers. About 81 per cent of Aboriginal children do not have a cultural support plan to maintain and nurture their connection to culture and community.[1]

“For many Aboriginal children, being removed from the family home also means loss and disconnection from their local community, from their culture and land. This sense of loss of identity and culture, dispossession and separation from local community is the same as those experienced by the Stolen Generations.”[2]

In recent advocacy, VCOSS has called for an expansion of the capacity of Aboriginal community controlled organisations (ACCOs) so they can further support vulnerable Aboriginal children and young people, a renewed focus on cross-sectoral approaches, and increased funding for early intervention and intensive family support.

The Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) is now inquiring into compliance with the intent of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP). The CCYP’s discussion paper states:

The rationale for the establishment of the ACPP appears to be two-fold. Firstly, to ensure that the destructive impact of prior assimilationist welfare policies are not repeated, and secondly, to ensure placements support Aboriginal children’s emotional, physical and cultural wellbeing given that Aboriginal children are over represented in the child protection system…. The ACPP is based on the value that every Aboriginal child has the right to be raised within their own culture and community. It recognises the critical importance of cultural identity and connectedness to development and wellbeing: Aboriginal children and young people do better if they remain connected to their culture, community and country.

In its submission to the CCYP’s inquiry, VCOSS recommends that beyond identifying a suitable placement, compliance with the ACPP include:

  • Ensuring Aboriginal kinship carers are well-supported. VCOSS members report many carers of Aboriginal children report they do not feel well supported. This is especially the case among related family members caring for children, who often take on the carer role with little preparation and can struggle to meet the financial, emotional and other needs of a vulnerable child.
  • Reflecting the principles of self-determination; including Aboriginal participation in decision making that effects Aboriginal children and families. Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making is one strategy to include family members, children, community members and respected Elders in the decision-making process for Aboriginal children. However, often Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making conferences are being delayed or not organised for months or years. A more timely response is needed. Similarly, the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS) program, which encourages Aboriginal consultation and participation in decision making, is constrained by a resource base that has not grown to match the increasing number of child protection notifications and children in care.
  • Ensuring ongoing compliance with cultural support plans. VCOSS has heard reports that even where Aboriginal children who are placed with non-Aboriginal carers have cultural support plans in place there is little or no long-term monitoring for compliance with these plans. Over time these children can lose their connection to community and culture. In addition, plans are not always given proper consideration and as a result they may be less thoughtful or meaningful than they could be and therefore less effective in nurturing and maintaining the child’s connection to culture.

Improved compliance with the ACPP also requires increased resourcing for ACCOs and improved cultural competence of child protection workers in DHHS and community organisations. Knowledge and understanding about the ACPP and Aboriginal community and culture is inconsistent across departmental and judicial staff members. Additional training and education is needed to improve cultural respect and awareness for all workers in the child protection system.

Another way to improve cultural connectedness is to increase the number of Aboriginal children case managed by Aboriginal organisations. VCOSS also supports the transfer of guardianship of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal organisations by implementation of section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. 

Finally, unlike foster carers, kinship carers do not receive increased reimbursement to support children with more intense and complex needs. This means there is a difference of about $25,000 between the annual general allowance most kinship carers receive, and the highest allowance a foster carer can receive. As a result more than half of Victoria’s current kinship carers report experiencing financial stress. Children in kinship care should be funded at the same differential rate as children in foster care. Increasing kinship carer reimbursement rates would also support more family members to take on kinship caring roles, potentially encouraging compliance with the ACPP.

More information about the inquiry and the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is available on the Commission’s website.

[1] Victorian Auditor General’s Office, Residential Care Services for Children, 2014, p. 18.

[2] Aunty Sue Blacklock, Media Release: Aboriginal Elder becomes first ACCP Ambassador for Children, Australian Centre for Child Protection, 28 January 2014.