By Ross Womersley, CEO of The South Australian Council of Social Service
In light of the heartbreaking alleged rape of a toddler in Tennant Creek the kneejerk reaction –including in a prominent column in The Advertiser today – has been to call for even more Aboriginal children to be removed from their parents.
This reaction is simplistic and offensive. It completely ignores the terrible consequences of our recent history of decades of forced removals. And we also know there are much more effective ways to help kids and families in trouble.
While we recognise that many Aboriginal families and children in SA and in the NT are doing well, an unfortunate reality is that we continue to remove Aboriginal children in larger numbers and at higher rates. We are now removing Aboriginal children from their homes at double the rate we were a decade ago, and Aboriginal children are now 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be living in out of home care.
It’s an approach that clearly isn’t working and there is another way.
We were delighted late last year when the Liberal Party announced that if elected a Liberal Government would establish a Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People. This is an idea that has long been advocated by the Greens, and just recently Minister Maher announced that a re-elected Labor Government would also commit to establishing a Commissioner.
The Commissioner will certainly have their work cut out for them
SACOSS applauds the Liberals, Labor and Greens for making this important commitment. And now that the establishment of a Commissioner is almost certain to go ahead, we can turn out attention to how best to help children and families against the backdrop of a myriad of complex social problems.
To prevent child abuse and reduce its incidence, an effective system must include initiatives aimed at child, parent, family and community wellbeing more broadly. This means supporting parents to address the social problems they face, and reducing the stressors on families as soon as they can be identified. Examples would include improved access to mental health services, interventions to help address family violence, drug and alcohol addictions, safe and good quality housing, as well as healing and trauma counselling for parents, children and young people and whole families.
We also know that in the case of the family of the toddler concerned, that they were frightened for the child’s safety and child protection workers and police knew of risks. Now the community is rightly angry at themselves and others that the horrific incident was not prevented.
Long term investments in supportive initiatives must be funded by our governments but equally, they must be designed and implemented by Aboriginal people with their communities to ensure they will work. A good place to start is the Family Matters: Strong Communities, Strong Culture, Strong Children Campaign led by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.
They have developed a roadmap to address overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home-care with detailed building blocks about how to get there.
Prevention and early intervention is going to be the key and it’s for this reason that SACOSS are asking all parties at this election to commit to new funding for prevention and early intervention activities to support all families across SA to provide better outcomes for children’s wellbeing. Let’s use this dreadful set of circumstances to agree that we’ll all work relentlessly to make SA a genuinely child-friendly state.