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Issue #1650      August 6, 2014

Fears held for our kids’ future

The head of the peak body looking after Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children believes that until responsibility for Indigenous programs is in Indigenous hands, we are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past. Frank Hytten, chief executive officer of the Secretariat for Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), said last month’s release by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) of a report into child protection contained heart-breaking statistics regarding Indigenous children.

But, he told the Koori Mail, unfortunately, he was not surprised.

“Until we as society get serious about acknowledging the history of this country, until we start to rectify the mistakes of the past and make amends for the incredible damage caused to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by colonisation, we won’t be able to even start to reverse these statistics,” Mr Hytten said.

“This continued practice of blaming the victim, blaming Indigenous people, only makes the situation worse.Colonisation hasn’t stopped, assimilation continues in a variety of ways, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt.”

The AIHW report found that in 2012-13, Indigenous children were eight times more likely (45.3 per 1,000) to be the subject of a child protection order, where a report has been made to state or territory authorities and substantiated.

Mr Hytten said there were three main reasons that Indigenous children were over-represented. “The obvious one is that Aboriginal families aren’t coping with the situations in which they live,” he said.

“The second is that many Aboriginal people live in inter-generational poverty, have been dislocated, marginalised, and have to deal with the detrimental effects of racism. There are some causal issues that have to be dealt with, otherwise these numbers will continue to grow.

“And the third possible explanation is that there has been inadequate support to rectify 200 years of disadvantage. Many Aboriginal people don’t want to talk about that; they want to talk about moving forward, but the analogy I like to use is with a car. No-one can move forward if their car’s tyres are flat and if the tyres keep being punctured by government decisions then that will continue to disadvantage Aboriginal people.”

The report found that the most common type of substantiated abuse for Indigenous children was neglect (40% of substantiations), followed by emotional abuse (34%).

Across all jurisdictions, sexual abuse was the least common type of substantiation for Indigenous children (9%). Nationally, the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care has increased since 2009, from 44.8 to 57.1 per 1,000 children. At June 30 last year, there were 13,952 Indigenous children in out-of-home care, ranging from 22.2 per 1,000 in the NT to 85.5 per 1,000 in NSW.

Nationally, the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care was 10.6 times the rate for other children. In all jurisdictions, the rate of Indigenous children in out-of-home care was higher than for other children, with rate ratios ranging from 3.9 in Tasmania to 16.1 in Western Australia.

Across all children, 42% who were the subjects of substantiations were from the areas of lowest socioeconomic status. Mr Hytten said the only way to get better results for Aboriginal children was to follow the Aboriginal-controlled health model, and put decision-making power and capacity in Indigenous hands.

“We’ll keep fighting,” he said.

“It’s very frustrating that we don’t get traction. All these reports don’t seem to make any impression on bureaucracy. It’s not about human rights at the moment, but it should be. Human rights have to be the bedrock of everything we do for Aboriginal children.”

Koori Mail

Next article – “State sanctioned child abuse”

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