The NSW Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Alister Henskens is facing accusations that he breached his duty of care after a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy spent over 300 days living alone in a flat under the state’s alternative care system.
The boy had to move into a flat by himself as an “emergency and temporary” situation. However, that “temporary” situation lasted roughly 10 months.
Failure to adequately care for children
The boy is one of 91 children living in alternative care. Alternative care is where authorities have failed to arrange any suitable foster carer, family member, or other care environment.
47% of those children are Indigenous.
Dr Paul Gray, who leads the Indigenous Child Protection Hub at University of Technology Sydney, said the long-standing use of alternative care is “deeply concerning”.
“When the state intervenes to remove children from their family, they have to be able to do better than isolating children in a hotel room,” he told NITV.
“The child protection system is broken, and Aboriginal children disproportionately suffer the consequences.”
Ending continued removal of Aboriginal children
Authorities are 11 times more likely to take Aboriginal children from their families than non-Aboriginal children. While most people believe the stolen generation finished decades ago, the reality is that families are still suffering.
In 2016, the NSW Government commissioned an Independent Review of Aboriginal Children and Young People in Out of Home Care. The review delivered the report in October 2019, entitled the Family is Culture report. However, the government refused to even consider any legislative reforms before 2024.
The report by First Nations legal expert Professor Megan Davies found widespread systemic failings in the child protection system. She made 126 recommendations for systemic reform.
“The government’s own report found alarming failings yet it is refusing to change the law, instead condemning another generation of First Nations children to trauma and suffering – this is worse than negligence because we know the lasting damage this is causing,” Greens MP David Shoebridge stated.
“Aboriginal communities know what is best for their children and they are determined to keep families together, to raise their children on Country and within culture. But the system is against them.”
Alternative care: “A system in crisis”
CEO of AbSec John Leha believes the continued use of alternate care shows the need for the redirection of the sector’s resources.
“There is a serious need for the focus of the system to shift from the crisis end of the spectrum to supporting families with early intervention and other necessary services.”
In conclusion, Mr Leha blamed a lack of accountability on the part of NSW’s child protection system.
“The government agrees that the rate that Aboriginal children are being removed from their families is unacceptably high, yet we are still waiting for them to come to the table and meaningfully engage with Aboriginal communities on the changes that are required to prevent this,” he said.
“The system is in crisis, and the sector is crying out for significant reform to focus on keeping Aboriginal children safe and connected to their culture, community and kin.
“If we keep going down this path, it will lead to worse outcomes for a generation of our kids.”