FORUM: In attendance at the SNAICC community meeting were (from left) local community leader Heather Shearer, SNAICC CEO Frank Hytten, Charles Jackson , SNAICC chairperson Sharron Williams and community member Margaret Stuart.A national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak body has called for an overhaul of the South Australian child protection system, following concerns Australia may be creating “a new Stolen Generation”.
The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Care (SNAICC) held an urgent community meeting in Port Augusta on Friday to discuss the serious over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
In SA, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (aged 0-17) make up 3.5 per cent of the child population, yet comprise 30 per cent of all children in out-of-home care.
The peak body declared the current situation ‘urgent’, calling upon both government and non-government groups to come together and devise initiatives for improvement.
SNAICC chief executive officer Frank Hytten said the “insane” system has fuelled the multi-generational destruction of families, forcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to live in the aftermath of this damage.
He said poverty was the most common reason behind the removal of children, because families are being judged on middle-class standards.
“In any poor household, you’re more likely to be wearing tattered and torn clothes, or worn clothes, you’re more likely to not have shoes, you’re more likely to have or not have access to running water,” Mr Hytten explained.
“All of those things are inhibitors, and people get removed for those kinds of reasons…which are around matters they can’t do anything about, and yet they wear the stigma of it.
“Removal of children is an object or an outcome, if you like, of deprivation, poverty and disintegration, destruction, not a solid base on which to stand – which is the family.”
Mr Hytten suggested we are now well into the third or fourth generation of destruction.
“The net effect is often very similar [to the Stolen Generation] – we’re still destroying children, and communities, and families, revisiting the trauma, the grief and the loss of the parents who are often removed themselves, and their parents were removed,” he said.
“You know the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results?
“Well, our system is insane.”
The result; a call for the overhaul of a system still operating on principles developed in the 1960s.
On Friday, the forum participants identified a strong need to shift focus from tertiary services to early prevention services, which would help strengthen the capacity of vulnerable families to keep children safe.
SNAICC chairperson Sharron Williams said it is imperative the system stops relying on removal practices, and instead harnesses kinship structures to keep children within their families.
“Children are always safer within family, within community, within culture,” she said.
“What we don’t do is look at the strengths of a family, we don’t look at how we can work with the family to protect children who are at home.
“For 200 years we’ve been doing business in the European, mainstream way of looking after children…we need to be listening to community on how we can do things differently and better.”
Mr Hytten emphasized that reform measures need to come directly from consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“We need to start listening to Aboriginal people, we need to start doing what Aboriginal people are suggesting we do,” he said.
“Our way of fixing it is to take their children away, which creates a much bigger problem in the next generation…we’ve got to stop doing that,” he said.
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