There is a child protection “crisis” in Australia and it should force a change in adoption policies to allow more Indigenous children in care to be adopted, the federal Children’s Minister has said.
- Minister says there’s been a “reluctance to look at adoption as a solution to getting a good outcome for our children”
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up more than a third of all children removed from their families
- In most states, a majority of those children are placed within the Indigenous community
David Gillespie said he would push states and territories to consider more “open adoptions” for Indigenous children — where a child is able to have continued contact with his or her biological parents.
“I’ve observed that there is a reluctance to look at adoption as a solution to getting a good outcome for our children who rely on permanent, stable, loving, caring and stimulating environments,” he said.
“Open adoption — it’s not forced, it’s not hidden, the child knows where the parents are and the parents know where the children are, but they have a permanent, caring, stable environment in which to grow up, rather than cycling through foster care for years on end.”
Four Indigenous children were adopted last year, three by non-Indigenous families, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up more than a third of all children who have been removed from their families.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle — in place in every state and territory — aims to keep Indigenous children in care placed with relatives or Aboriginal foster carers, but is not always adhered to.
A large proportion of Indigenous children are placed in non-Indigenous homes, but Dr Gillespie said too many children were “rotating backwards and forwards” to multiple placements.
“We need to shake this reluctance about the fear of being accused of creating a Stolen Generation or another forgotten generation,” the Minister said.
“By following that reluctance we are creating an abandoned generation. We do have a crisis in this country, there are increasing numbers of children going into child protection services.”
Minister’s comments ‘incredibly offensive’
Dr Gillespie said he’d had his “eyes opened” in recent weeks after the rape of a two-year-old girl in Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory.
“I don’t want [children] recycled back into harm,” he was quoted as telling The Daily Telegraph newspaper.
His comments were “incredibly offensive”, said Tim Ireland, the chief executive of AbSec, the peak body for Aboriginal child protection in New South Wales.
“The comments are irresponsible and really don’t have any insight into how we, as a top priority, keep the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children at heart,” Mr Ireland said.
Mr Ireland said Aboriginal child-protection organisations opposed the adoption of Indigenous children because it took away safeguards to connect a child with their wider family and culture.
“Adoption becomes a final matter and shouldn’t be a blanket approach applied to Aboriginal children across the country,” he said.
‘Nothing is ever going to be forced’
Recent figures from the AIHW reveal at least 17,664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are living in out-of-home care.
In most states, a majority of those children are placed within the Indigenous community or with relatives, but in Tasmania and the Northern Territory more Aboriginal children are living in non-Indigenous homes.
“What I said is that if there’s a non-Indigenous carer that wants to look after an [Indigenous] child, I’ve got no problems with that,” Dr Gillespie said.
He said open adoption should also be considered for all Australian children, not just Indigenous children.
“Nothing is ever going to be forced,” Dr Gillespie said.
“Open adoption is an issue that I think we need that should be looked at seriously, and put on the table — this is Australia-wide, this is not an Indigenous policy.”
Renee Carter, chief executive of advocacy organisation Adopt Change, said it was time to “look for a new solution” for children in the out-of-home care system.
More than 32,000 of the 47,915 Australian children in out-of-home care have been in care for two or more years.
“There are barriers for all children — we’re not seeing many adoptions at all. The barriers are everything from red tape to attitudes about adoption,” Ms Carter said.
“It’s almost impossible for families to adopt children that have been in their care for many years.
“We’ve had Aboriginal families talk to us about the children in their care that they can’t adopt.”