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The heads of two major Aboriginal family violence legal services have accused the State Government of systemic discrimination against Aboriginal organisations and removing children from their families “at appalling rates under the guise of protecting them”.

An investigation by The West Australian last week revealed leaked internal reports from the Department of Communities found the organisation was plagued by “wide-scale and endemic racism” and was at a “crisis point in relation to providing services, programs and initiatives to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

A 2019 report to the department, by highly respected psychologist and former West Australian of the Year Dr Tracy Westerman, warned racism and cultural incompetence within the department was causing worker burnout and Indigenous staff to feel “less valued”.

In the report, a survey of 295 child protection staff found not one of them believed the organisation ensured a “culturally safe work environment”.

Just one of the staff members assessed under the Cultural Competency Profile — a tool developed by Dr Westerman to evaluate those working in child protection — was found to meet the cultural competence benchmark.

Another leaked report from consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2021 raised concerns that the 49 recommendations made by Dr Westerman had not been acted on by the department.

Last week, Southern Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Asha Bhat and Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA chief executive Corina Martin issued a joint response to the revelations.

Ms Bhat, who is based in Albany, said the department was failing to improve outcomes for Aboriginal families with its “inadequate cultural training and paternalistic ‘we know better’ approach”. “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 WA, and this is something we are seeing and experiencing the impacts of everyday,” she 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?”

Dr Westerman’s report revealed that during focus groups, child protection workers said “many” child removals “can easily be prevented” if staff had proper understanding of Aboriginal cultural norms.

“They don’t understand kinship and don’t consult and removal often occurs in the absence of these two things,” Dr Westerman’s notes from one focus group stated.

Ms Martin and Ms Bhat said the child removal issue was the most concerning aspect of the leaked reports.

“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,” Ms Martin said.

Ms Bhat said the same experiences were commonplace in the Great Southern and South West.

In a joint statement, they accused the State Government of “systemic discrimination” against Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

“The three Aboriginal community-controlled family violence prevention legal services in WA 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,” they said.

“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.”

Department of Communities assistant director-general for Aboriginal Outcomes Cheryl Smith said claims child removal rates were rising were not backed up by child protection.

“In the last reporting year there was a 2.8 per cent decrease in the total number of children in care, which included a 0.8 per cent decrease in the number of Aboriginal children in care,” she said.

“Significantly, this is the first end-of-year decrease in the total number of children in care since 1997, and almost all child protection districts recorded a reduction in the number of Aboriginal children in care.”

Ms Smith said there had been a 10 per cent reduction in the number of Aboriginal children in care in the Great Southern from 2017-2018 to 2020-2021.

“Communities remains committed to working more closely with Aboriginal people, organisations and communities to build stronger connection to family, culture and country for Aboriginal children in care,” she said.

She said the Department had made Aboriginal cultural appreciation a compulsory part of inductions, and was launching an Aboriginal cultural learning program for staff.

The Department also planned to establish an Aboriginal strategic advisory group, she said.



Led by Aboriginal Family Legal Service WA (AFLS), the community legal sector has today published its ‘Call for a dedicated Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People in Western Australia’.

Developed in response to the persistent and severe disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal children and young people in Western Australia, the report calls on the State Government to urgently create a separate, independent statutory position dedicated to the advocacy of Aboriginal children and young people.

AFLS CEO Corina Martin said the complex and systemic nature of the issues affecting Aboriginal children and young people across the state merited the establishment of such a role, which would be critical to improving the outcomes of Aboriginal children across the health, justice, education, and care and protection sectors, and to achieving outcomes under Closing the Gap.

“Aboriginal children and young people in Western Australia experience disadvantage at disproportionate levels” Ms. Martin said.

“They are 16.7 times more likely to be removed from their families by child protection services than non-Aboriginal children, 36 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children, and 17.8 times more likely to be subject to a community-based supervision order than non-Aboriginal children. They are also at higher risk of mental health problems than their non-Aboriginal peers, experience 3 times the incidence of developmental vulnerability upon entering primary school and have significantly lower school attendance than non-Aboriginal students.

The Closing the Gap Jurisdictional Implementation Plan for Western Australia from September 2021 reveals that Outcome 4 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children thrive in their early years), Outcome 6 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students reach their full potential) and Outcome 12 (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not overrepresented in the child protection system) are all considered by the State Government to be ‘highly aspirational’. There is a clear need for assistance from a Commissioner dedicated to Aboriginal children and young people to enable these outcomes to become achievable.”

The report calls for the Commissioner for Children and Young People Act 2006 to be amended to:

  • Include the appointment and selection of a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People by the Governor by commission under the Public Seal of the State on the recommendation of the Premier.
  • Specify that the appointment must involve an Aboriginal Reference Group and Aboriginal children and young people in the selection process.
  • Include that the remuneration and allowances of the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People must be the same as the remuneration and allowances of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, subject to the Salaries and Allowances Act 1975.
  • Specify that the Commissioner must be an Aboriginal Person with an adequate understanding of the various Aboriginal cultural groups, languages and respective protocols across Western Australia, and their own obligations to adhere to those cultural protocols when undertaking their functions in respect to any Aboriginal child or young person.
  • Specify that the Commissioner has, at a minimum, statutorily entrenched equitable functions and powers with the current Commissioner for Children and Young People.
  • Specify that the Commissioner is independent of the Government of Western Australia.

Ms. Martin said the recent appointment of an Aboriginal woman to the Commissioner for Children and Young People role in Western Australia was a good first step, but the requirements for the Commissioner to represent the best interests of all of Western Australia’s children and young people meant that a more dedicated focus was required.

Ms. Martin urged the State Government to follow the lead of South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and New South Wales in establishing dedicated Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner roles and said it was the obvious next step for a government genuinely committed to improving the lives of its Aboriginal children and young people.

Media Contact – Laney Gould, 9355 1502

Help stop the spread of COVID-19

We can’t see COVID-19 but it effects everybody.

We are still providing legal services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence in regional Western Australia amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But our procedures have changed to keep everyone healthy and safe.
From Monday 18 May our Doors will be open for face to face appointments.


We support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors of family and sexual violence through community education, early intervention and legal advocacy.


We provide legal and support services for all Aboriginal people who have experienced family violence or sexual assault.

Family Law

We can assist people with their family law matters when there are children involved. We represent clients in the Family Court WA, and help clients work out parenting agreements. We focus on what is best for the children.

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Child Protection

We assist people dealing with the Department of Child Protection and Family Support in childcare and protection matters. We can help you to talk to the Department about children remaining safely in your care.

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Criminal Injury Compensation

Eligibility advice for criminal injuries compensation, including for injuries, medical expenses and lost income. We assist with applications, and helping to obtain documents such as medical reports.

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Family Violence Restraining Orders

We help people who have been hurt by partners or family members. We can assist in applications for Family Violence Restraining Orders (FVROs) and will apply to the Court for an interim restraining order.

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Non-Legal Support

We provide non-legal support and case management in the form of community education and engagement, crisis intervention and client referrals. We can advocate for clients, and help in safety planning for families.

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Social Support

Our social workers provide culturally-safe and trauma-informed approaches. They help clients through the demands of their legal process, develop safety strategies, and build social and emotional wellbeing.

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“Thank you AFLS for your presentation to our nursing team. We continue to use your valuable resources and look forward to working with you again.”


Stronger Together

We encourage all Aboriginal people concerned about Family Violence to join our organisation. Our members are drawn from the six regions in which we operate, and also include Perth. You need to be at least 18 years of age to become a member.

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Ochre Ribbon

Violence within Aboriginal communities against women, children and men has increased to alarming levels. The Ochre Ribbon Campaign highlights the need to stop this violence, and works to strengthen advances in prevention initiatives from other agencies and campaigns.

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