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