Out-of-home care and child removals
When child protective services determine that a child is at unacceptable risk of abuse or neglect, they will often remove the child from their family and place them into out-of-home care (OOHC).
There are several types of out-of-home care in NSW, including foster care (where the child is placed with an unrelated foster parent), residential care (where the child is placed in a residential facility – an option usually used for children or young people with high needs), and kinship care (where the child is placed with a trusted relative or community member).
At AbSec, we advocate for Aboriginal children to remain at home with their families wherever possible. Early intervention and holistic family support should always be the first port of call. Where this fails to ensure the child’s protection, kinship care is the next best option, as it provides an environment where children can grow up with people they are close to, in a community and culture that is familiar to them.
It is not ideal for Aboriginal children to be placed into care; however, we accept that there may be times where an Aboriginal child is in need of alternate care arrangements. In these instances, it is important that out-of-home care agencies support Aboriginal children to remain connected to their birth families and communities, as these vital connections inform their sense of identity and belonging. The agencies best equipped to do this are accredited Aboriginal child and family services. AbSec works to support these agencies to meet the needs of our children and families across NSW.
In NSW, more than 6,600 Aboriginal children are in statutory out-of-home care as of 30 June 2020. This is an increase of approximately 1,100 Aboriginal children from 30 June 2016.
AbSec works to build an Aboriginal child and family system that is accountable to our communities by meeting the needs of our children, families and communities. Local Aboriginal organisations represent their communities and are underpinned by governing bodies that reflect their self-determination. The value of a robust Aboriginal child and family system would be self-evident in the improved outcomes for our children. We believe that a self-determining sector is vital in strengthening our families and communities and ensuring greater accountability and transparency of the system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is about safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children and young people, their families and communities within the statutory child protection system. It acknowledges the effects of decades of destructive government policies that tore apart Aboriginal families and recognises that Aboriginal people must be intimately involved in all aspects of child and family welfare to stop this damaging cycle from repeating.
The key goal of the Principle is the same as our goal at AbSec: to keep Aboriginal families together and to protect every Aboriginal child’s right to their community and culture. These are central to an Aboriginal child’s identity and have been shown to help them grow up strong and confident.
The Principle includes five core elements:
- Prevention: that governments actively support families to address risks, preventing harm and preserving families
- Partnership: that statutory authorities work with Aboriginal people and their organisations in the design and delivery of child and family systems with as much self-determination as possible
- Placement: where Aboriginal children require alternate care, placement must follow a hierarchy that prioritises their family and kin, their Aboriginal community, and the broader Aboriginal community before placements outside of their family and culture
- Participation: Aboriginal children and young people, their families and communities have the right to participate in all decisions that affect their lives, and the lives of their children
- Connection: all decisions must value every Aboriginal child’s right to be connected to their family, community, culture and Country, and support them to do so.
These elements are endorsed by the NSW Government and reflected in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act, but their application is a much more complicated matter. AbSec works to keep the Government accountable for enacting the Principle and supports the Department of Communities and Justice in finding the best solutions for Aboriginal children and young people.
Permanency Support Program
On 1 October 2017, the NSW Permanency Support Program commenced gradual implementation. This program represents significant changes to how accredited agencies work with children and young people, their families and kin, and the people who care for them so that more children and young people have loving, stable families and relationships.
AbSec is determined that any and all programs for Aboriginal children will empower them to be raised strong in culture and connected to community, giving them every opportunity to form a strong identity and sense of belonging. We are working with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) to embed the following safeguards into the Permanency Support Program:
- A move to new case management practices, including an Aboriginal Case Management Policy and Guidelines focused on holistic supports
- New permanency coordinators across NSW to promote collaboration and relationships based practice A central access unit to oversee and coordinate all residential care referrals
- Outcomes-based contracts to tailor approaches to support and focus on quality and outcomes for children and young people, and their families.
AbSec has been commissioned by DCJ to work with accredited Aboriginal child and family services in implementing these changes for Aboriginal children, young people, and families. We are undertaking the following work:
- Performing a needs analysis to identify gaps in services and explore where changes need to occur
- Developing a communications plan to ensure practitioners, agencies, families and communities are supported with easy-to-understand information
- Establishing an implementation plan that will ensure Aboriginal children, young people and families are supported through the change by our accredited Aboriginal child and family services
This work is only just commencing and will involve focus groups, interviews with key stakeholders and surveys. We will keep this page updated with information as it becomes available.
Guardianship and adoption
AbSec is opposed to the adoption of Aboriginal children, and this position will never change. In our view, adoption risks permanently removing an Aboriginal child from their family and culture, and further rupturing our communities with little chance for reunification.
As outlined in our 2015 position paper Guardianship orders for Aboriginal children and young people, we call for robust safeguards to be applied to ensure that our Aboriginal children remain connected to their culture and community. These safeguards are focused on the rights of each Aboriginal child to safety, dignity, identity and culture.
AbSec, through Commissioning, has developed an Aboriginal Guardianship Support Model based on safeguards put forward in our position paper. The Model is currently being rolled out in the Hunter and South West Sydney areas. Find out more about the Aboriginal Guardianship Support Model.
Cultural connection and engagement
For Aboriginal children and young people in care, access to their culture and engagement with their community is imperative to their identity formation and sense of belonging. Out-of-home care practitioners and key support people must ensure meaningful engagement with culture and community for Aboriginal children and young people when they are removed from the care of their families.
In 2017, AbSec worked to establish a meaningful workshop package with the aim to support practitioners and key support people in fulfilling these obligations. One-day workshops are now being held across NSW, providing the opportunity for key stakeholders to engage in a facilitated workshop focusing on:
- Creating and maintaining cultural connections for Aboriginal children and young people
- Creating meaningful connections and engagement with Aboriginal communities
- Developing first-hand knowledge of cultural support planning in practice
- Accessing advice and ongoing refresher programs to ensure ongoing, quality support for Aboriginal children and young people.