MEDIA RELEASE 19.01.22: Alarming insights on racism and cultural incompetence in the Department of
Aboriginal Family Legal Service WA (AFLS) and Southern Aboriginal Corporation (SAC), two key legal assistance providers delivering family violence and care and protection services to Aboriginal families across ten regional locations in Western Australia, have expressed significant concern over reports in the West Australian today that the Department of Communities is plagued by “wide scale and endemic racism within the organisation”.
The exposé by the West, based on leaked internal documents from the Department of Communities including reports by Dr Tracey Westerman and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), revealed that:
• Of 295 child protection staff surveyed by Dr Westerman, not one of them believed the Department ensured a culturally safe work environment.
• There was a clear and strong perception that there was a lack of respect for the skills and clinical qualifications of Aboriginal workers.
• There was an overall perception that Aboriginal staff were of less value than non-Aboriginal staff, and this was most pronounced at management levels limiting the promotion of Aboriginal people into those roles and in high-risk regions.
• There was a lack of cultural capability and competency within the Department which was impacting upon service delivery and ultimately outcomes for Aboriginal people.
• Outcomes for Aboriginal people in Western Australia were expected to remain the same, or worsen, should the Department continue to do things in the same way.
Most concerning for AFLS and SAC was the revelation that child protection workers said many child removals occurred in the absence of staff understanding kinship and consulting appropriately, and that child removals could be easily prevented if staff had proper understandings of Aboriginal cultural norms.
“The Department removes Aboriginal children from their families and their communities at appalling rates under the guise of protecting them, yet these findings show that inadequate effort is going into trying to keep children safe in their homes to start with,” AFLS CEO Corina Martin said. “AFLS staff are telling me that the Department either derides our clients and there are feelings of covert racism, or that caseworkers are politically correct about things like Aboriginal Placement Principles and On Country, but without any practicality or cultural knowledge behind it they just ignore what our clients and families want to or can do.”
SAC CEO Asha Bhat said that the same experiences were commonplace in the Southwest and Great Southern regions, where inadequate cultural training and a paternalistic ‘we know better’ approach by the Department was failing to contribute to improved outcomes for Aboriginal children and families.
“The PWC report has described the Department as being at a crisis point in relation to providing services, programs and initiatives to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people in Western Australia,
and this is something we are seeing and experiencing the impacts of everyday” Ms. Bhat said. “Aboriginal children and families are being left behind by a system that is supposed to be supporting
and strengthening them. How can this be an experience that is just accepted?” she continued.
Ms. Martin and Ms. Bhat expressed additional concern over their experiences of the State Government’s systemic discrimination against Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, emphasizing points from the PWC report that described the Department of Communities as extremely siloed, without an appetite to drive change:
“The three Aboriginal Community Controlled Family Violence Prevention Legal Services in Western Australia are in a particularly strong and unique position to drive systemic change and make a
significant impact for Aboriginal people, yet we have been consistently underfunded and under resourced by the State Government. The siloed nature of funding means we are provided with no sustainability for our services, yet they expect us to share our data, shape their strategies and engage in their reference groups. This is disheartening and shows just how committed the State Government is to achieving outcomes under Closing the Gap. It also represents an apparent distrust of Aboriginal organisations to manage services for Aboriginal people.”
Ms. Martin and Ms. Bhat urged the Department to take immediate action to address the findings of Dr Westerman and the PWC report. “We must ensure that we support our Aboriginal children and families who are among the highest need and most vulnerable in Western Australia, and our Aboriginal staff who are critical components of a safe service system.”
Media Contact – Laney Gould, 9355 1502
MEDIA RELEASE 15.10.21: AFLS welcomes passing of child safety laws which will improve connection to family, culture and Country for Aboriginal children in care
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (AFLS), a key legal assistance provider in the Pilbara, Kimberley, Mid-West Gascoyne and Goldfields regions, welcomes the announcement that the Children and Community Services Amendment Bill 2021 passed State Parliament yesterday, making legislative improvements to ensure the continued connection to family, culture and Country of Aboriginal children in care.
Under the amended legislation, the Department of Communities must:
- Prioritise placements of Aboriginal children in closer proximity to their community if placement with family or an Aboriginal person in the child’s community cannot be achieved.
- Consult with members of the child’s family, relevant Aboriginal staff of the Department, and an Aboriginal representative organisation.
- Give the relevant Aboriginal representative organisation the opportunity to participate in the preparation and annual review of a child’s cultural support plan.
- Provide cultural support plans in written proposals to the Children’s Court, as well as information on arrangements for placing the child in accordance with the Child Placement Principle.
Additionally, before making a Special Guardianship Order for an Aboriginal child with only non-Aboriginal carers, the court must consider a report from certain Aboriginal agencies or persons about whether the Order should be made.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that Aboriginal children are taken into care by the State at appalling and disproportionate rates, and that the legislation was the least the State could do to ensure the cultural safety of Aboriginal children who are removed from their families.
“Aboriginal children comprised 56.1% of children in the care of the Department of Communities in 2019-20,1 despite making up only 6.8% of the total population of children and young people in Western Australia.2 They are also more likely to be in care for a longer period of time, with 1,408 Aboriginal children in care for 5 or more years in 2019-20, compared to 985 non-Aboriginal children.3 These new legislative amendments are a necessary first step by the Government towards ensuring that the experiences of Aboriginal children in the child protection system are culturally safe, and that they are not further disadvantaged by what has historically been an entrenched racism towards Aboriginal families and Aboriginal organisations caring for Aboriginal children in their communities,” Ms. Martin said.
AFLS commended the legislation for finally reflecting the reality for many Aboriginal families with children in care that without a legislative requirement, connection to culture and identity may be lost when children are placed with non-Aboriginal families, leading children and young people to become further displaced.
“Adequately addressing the culture and identity of an Aboriginal child in their care planning means that there is less chance for these vulnerable young children to lose their connection to their community, and will be a driving factor in ensuring their strength and resilience throughout their time in the child protection system.”
Ms. Martin expressed that the State now has the opportunity to capitalise on the momentum created by the legislative amendments and make further, lasting and systemic change within the child protection jurisdiction.
“The child protection system, and its staff in particular, must have a better understanding of the needs and actions of children, Aboriginal or otherwise, with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and of parents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, to ensure that those children are adequately placed and cared for when they come into contact with child protection. We also need to adequately support Aboriginal parents who are themselves often in an unhealthy cycle of abuse, driven largely by the lasting impacts of colonisation, intergenerational trauma, socioeconomic disadvantage, and discrimination.”
AFLS said that Western Australia should now take the opportunity to follow the lead of South Australia, Victoria and Queensland in establishing a dedicated Commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people and ensure the safety of Aboriginal children in the child protection system. AFLS said the role should be entrenched in legislation and establish an independent body created solely for the purpose of promoting the rights, development, and wellbeing of Aboriginal children across the State.
“Establishing an independent Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner is the necessary next step for this State to take, to ensure Aboriginal children in care can access an independent person who will listen their experiences and concerns, take quick action to mitigate risks, and ensure that the Department of Communities is held accountable for their out-of-home care practices,” Ms. Martin said. “There is an urgent demand for a dedicated focus on the rights and needs of Aboriginal children and young people in Western Australia. Now is the time to act.”
Media Contact – Laney Gould, 9355 1502