The growing link between child protection and incarceration
Monday 22 June
Over the past few years, there has been a multitude of reviews and studies that have outlined the impact that the child protection system has had on increasing rates of juvenile detention and adult incarceration. These so-called “crossover kids” are children that have had involvement with both the child protection system and criminal justice system, and despite growing attention, the situation for these young people continues to worsen.
Aboriginal children are disproportionately impacted by the child protection system, with 40% of kids in out-of-home care in NSW identifying as Aboriginal despite only making up 5% of the children in NSW. These children are 11 times more likely to be taken from their families than non-Aboriginal children, and this has led to a staggering 50% of kids in the juvenile justice system being Aboriginal. These factors have had major implications for adult incarceration rates as recent studies have shown Aboriginal people to be the most imprisoned people in the world with a full 2.5% of the Aboriginal population in jails and the number of Aboriginal people locked up almost doubling over the last decade.
These statistics are not a coincidence as many of the studies and reviews have pointed to “care-criminalisation” being developed by the strong link between traumatic childhood events, mental health problems and offending. One such review by the Queensland Productivity Commission even determined the proportion of offenders that had previously been in the child protection system or hospital for a mental health episode in the state.
Offending, child protection and mental health: Queensland Productivity Commission
The child protection system is clearly failing Aboriginal children. The Family is Culture review detailed a range of cases of unwarranted child removals, including babies being removed at birth without any attempts at early intervention, traumatic removals involving a large number of police officers and children in out-of-home care suffering abuse at the hands of their carers. The failings of the child protection system were noted as:
- Widespread non-compliance with legislation and policy among Family and Community Services (now Department of Communities and Justice) caseworkers
- Lack of transparency and effective oversight within the child protection system
- Reported multiple instances of poor and unethical newborn removal practices
- Continued resonance of the current child protection system with historical practices used against Aboriginal communities
AbSec Project Officer Zeke Shaw has a background working in the justice system with over 13 years’ experience across a number of roles. On the link between the child protection system and criminal justice system he doesn’t point to specific policy examples but sees the drivers being the broader factors of systemic racism and intergenerational trauma. “The westernised system does not adequately cater for Aboriginal people and our way of life. The negative impact of this system is described by most Aboriginal people as systemic racism.”
Zeke believes that the systemic racism that influences the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care and the justice system stems from many non-Aboriginal community members still holding the belief that Aboriginal people are less than them. This, in turn, influences new generations that will potentially form leadership.
“We are led to believe that every human being has the right to an education that is free of discrimination. It is in these early years that systemic racism comes to the forefront as a major barrier Aboriginal people face with much difficulty. Such experiences of racism can also be aligned with other major government entities such as NSW Police, NSW Corrections, NSW Housing, the Department of Communities and Justice and others.”
“All of these systemic racist experiences shape Aboriginal people’s intergenerational trauma. This trauma is passed down through generations as learnt behaviours and attitudes and is a direct result of previous trauma not being dealt with and the healing process not being offered. So we go round and round, with no real attempt to empower Aboriginal people and achieve self-determination.”
On AbSec’s work and solving these problems in the future, Zeke takes a slightly more upbeat tone. He believes the importance of both protecting children and preventing future incarcerations lies in creating Aboriginal-led cultural solutions that keep Aboriginal people connected to self and Country.
“Solutions for Aboriginal people can only come directly from the communities themselves, with Aboriginal people in the driving seat. The Family is Culture review recommendations describe a number of things to be considered with great importance.”
“The Aboriginal-led child and family sector can only be developed from these recommendations. They are a true reflection of what needs to be done to provide healing for the intergenerational trauma, not only Aboriginal people but also the broader Australian community.”
On the outlook for the future, Zeke ends positively with, “Watch this space…”
AbSec has been advocating for the implementation of all 125 recommendations of the Family is Culture review and the creation of a more equitable child protection system. Aboriginal-led solutions, community participation and stronger early intervention and support measures will prevent children from entering into out-of-home care and stop the vicious cycle that sees so many ending up incarcerated.