Spike in Aboriginal child removals spark call for action

A study confirming Aboriginal children are 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be placed in out-of-home care has prompted an urgent call for action to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Associate Professor Stephanie Taplin from ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies was a co-author on the study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

It found the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care increased by 21 per cent from 2012 to 2017, while the number­ of Aboriginal infants less than a year old in out-of-home care increased 17 per cent between 2013 and 2016.

Nationally, 56.6 per 1000 Aborig­inal children were in out-of-home care in 2016, compared with 46.6 per 1000 in 2012. By contras­t, 5.8 per 1000 non-Aborig­inal children were in out-of-home care in 2016, up only slightly from the 2012 rate of 5.4 per 1000.

Researchers reviewed national data after­ anecdotal accounts about increases in state removal of Aboriginal ­infants from their families from the Aboriginal community.

Substance abuse and mental health issues – well-recognised legacies of the intergenerational trauma brought about by the forced removal of children in the past – were identified as factors in Aboriginal children being placed into out-of-home care, along with living in the most remote disadvantaged communities.

The researchers said the findings clearly showed that rates of Aboriginal child removals - and the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children - was getting worse and would continue to do so unless urgent action was taken to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

“More needs to be done to prevent the need for removal of children from their families so they can safely remain in their communities,” Associate Professor Taplin said.

She worked with a team of researchers including former Australian of the Year and Telethon Kids Institute ­patron, Professor Fiona Stanley, Dr Melissa O’Donnell from Telethon Kids, and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Research at Murdoc­h University’s Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, Professor Rhonda Marriott.

Professor Stanley expressed concern that Aboriginal children were still being removed in high numbers, with some people referring to this remova­l as ‘another Stolen Generation.

“Infants and children need to be removed from situations where their safety is at risk, (but) the current system is failing to address the pathways that result in those dangerous situations,” she said.

“If you look at it in the context of how traumatic the Stolen Generation was – the parenting, substance abuse and mental health problems that resulted and are still present three generations down the track – it is urgent that we now ensure that Aboriginal children who are removed are not further traumatised by this, and their children and grandchildren don’t have a similar pathway.“

Media Contact: Elisabeth Tarica, Australian Catholic University on 0418 756 941 or elisabeth.tarica@acu.edu.au

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