The Family Matters report released by SNAICC, the peak Indigenous child welfare services lobby group, is a recipe for perpetuating indigenous child abuse and disadvantage.
‘Exclusive’ coverage of the report, timed to coincide with — and possibly swamp the launch of — National Adoption Awareness Week, is in The Australian today.
It is ludicrous to claim — given the intensity of feeling around the ‘Stolen Generations’ issue — that Australian child protection services aren’t sufficiently ‘culturally aware’.
Ever since the release of the Bringing Them Home report 20 years ago, child protection case workers have bent over backwards to keep Indigenous children in their family — often making ‘cultural’ excuses for poor Indigenous parenting and overlooking the chronic neglect of Indigenous children’s basic needs.
The real tragedy of contemporary indigenous Australia is that more than 15,000 Indigenous children — and probably many thousands more — need to be removed from their families because the social problems in some Indigenous communities, especially in rural areas and the remote ‘homelands’, are so catastrophic.
Family Matters falsely claims the problem with the child protection system is that not enough is done to support families whose children are removed.
The reports highlights the proportion of government funding expended on ‘family support services’ ($700 million). But it is only superficially significant to compare this figure to spending on the rest of the system — statutory investigation services and out-of-home care ($3.5 billion).
Much of the spending on ‘family preservation’ support services for parents has the perverse effect of increasing costs across the rest of the system.
Children are left in dysfunctional homes they should be removed from leading to re-repeat reports of safety concerns and increased demand for costly statutory investigations.
Children left in these homes are damaged by prolonged exposure to maltreatment. When they are finally removed, they then enter care with ‘high needs’ — abuse and neglect-related developmental, behavioural and other problems — that require expensive therapeutic services to treat.
Appallingly, these kinds of very high cost services include ‘secure’ residential care facilities — similar to Don Dale — for the most disturbed and anti-social children.
This is why advocates of adoption (including myself) argue that many children would be better off being removed earlier — before they are damaged — and finding new and safe adoptive families.
Under an ‘open’ Indigenous adoption model, based on the successful international adoption model, Indigenous child welfare could be reconciled with the important need for children to remain connected to their culture to maintain their Indigenous identity.
Ironically, the Indigenous organisations that back the Family Matters report are staffed by members of the prosperous and growing, tertiary-educated Indigenous middle class.
They are supporting a flawed approach to Indigenous child protection that will leave the most vulnerable kids in appalling circumstances, and deny these kids the opportunities in life that most Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians take for granted.
Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies
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