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
AFLS Media Statement 16.09.21 – Sly Grogging
Aboriginal Family Legal Services WA (ALFS), a key legal assistance provider in East and West Kimberley regions, has expressed serious concern over the announcement by the State Government today that it will introduce new regulations to combat the practice of ‘sly grogging’ this week.
AFLS CEO Corina Martin said that while it was positive to see the Government thinking about how to limit liquor supply in the Kimberley, where consumption is often a driver of family and domestic violence, the approach taken by the Government was not transparent and was discriminatory towards Aboriginal people in the region.
“Under these new regulations, WA Police will have the discretion to seize and dispose of illegal alcohol on the spot, with the purpose of stamping out sly grogging in regional and remote communities. The historical relationship between Aboriginal people and the police, which is characterised by mistrust and prejudice, does not tend towards a fair assessment of vehicles which will be stopped under these new regulations. In fact, the exemptions to these carriage limits which apply to tourists, pastoralists, station owners and operators of remote work sites, only reinforces the racist intent of this legislation.”
Ms. Martin said that contemporary police responses to family violence, which continue to be affected by an overarching history of poor police responses, including the historical role of police in child removals and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody, set the tone for the application of the new regulations and police decision making about the purpose of the use of liquor.
“Today, poor police responses and practices contribute to stereotyping and often result in the misidentification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as offenders, rather than victims of crime. I am concerned that the new section of the Liquor Control Act will disproportionately affect Aboriginal people in the same way. Minister Whitby says it is up to police to use their good, common sense in making determinations as to whether a vehicle is carrying alcohol for the purposes of sly grogging, or if they’re going out on a camping or fishing trip. That common sense has only contributed to the disempowerment of and discrimination against Aboriginal people in the past.”
Ms. Martin expressed further concern over the lack of consultation on the legislative changes and said that the consultation which did occur was inadequate, given that it was with the main cause of the problem, the liquor industry. Failures to consult adequately and appropriately with the affected community would only have negative implications.
“There are real, critical problems in the Kimberley that require a joint response from community, service providers, and Government together. This top-down approach being enforced by the Government through the WA Police is discriminatory and will fail to improve the social and health outcomes of the community, when it is being thrown upon them,” Ms. Martin said.
Media Contact – Laney Gould, 9355 1502