Indigenous leaders say Australia risks creating another stolen generation if it does not reduce the soaring number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
In 1997, when the Bringing Them Home report on the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families was tabled in Federal Parliament, 2785 indigenous children were in out-of-home care.
By June 2012, that figure had risen to 13,299.
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency chief executive Muriel Bamblett said early intervention measures to help families were insufficient, more work was needed to reunify children with their parents, and welfare agencies approached indigenous people differently.
”There is a tendency to be overly interventionist with Aboriginal families,” Professor Bamblett said.
”Rather than putting supports around the child, we say, ‘Let’s just remove them’.”
Professor Bamblett was one of six panellists at a forum at Federation Square on Friday, held by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, which is leading the push to halve the number of children in out-of-home care by 2018.
She warned that the current generation may one day grow up to say they, too, had been removed from their families.
”Now we have got a whole new wave. We haven’t been able to break that cycle.”
Oxfam chief executive Helen Szoke said: ”Maybe it is time for the Human Rights Commission to do another stolen generations report.”
Although child protection was a state responsibility, Dr Szoke said, the report could focus on whether Australia was meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, before the next UN inspection in 2018.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 4.2 per cent of the population but a third of all children in care.
The recently retired vice-chairwoman of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Marta Mauras-Perez, called for a nuanced approach to deciding what constituted ”neglect” in each community.
She gave the example of a mattress lying on a living room floor, which could reflect a culture of hospitality, instead used as grounds to remove indigenous children from their parents because there were too many people living in the house.
Professor Bamblett said children in care also needed to maintain a link with their local area.
The 2012 Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry found only 59 per cent of Koori children in care remained connected to their family and culture.
For stolen generations advocate Aunty Lorraine Peeters, Friday’s conversation was the same as 40 years ago.
”Our children are being removed at such a rate that I feel really sick in the stomach every time I look at the stats,” she said.
”Who is going to be there for those children in 18 years’ time when they enter into trauma and want to know where they come from or who their families are?”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.