Families who need help get their children plunged into out-of-culture foster care

Frank Hytten, Aboriginal child welfare advocate July 2013

"... If the workers don't take time to actually talk to people (and they may be speaking different first languages) ... and understand and give credit to their explanations, then bad decisions are going to be being made.

"So we need to examine how children are being taken away and what they are being taken away for."


By Frank Hytten

Across the country, the rate of First Nations children needing care is 10 times that of non-Indigenous children and that gap is increasing every year.

Community breakdown, the loss of culture, the legacy of the Stolen Generations and poverty and addiction are all reasons why so many Aboriginal families are falling apart.

But Aboriginal child welfare advocate Frank Hytten says children are being removed from their families unnecessarily and over-zealous child protection workers are misinterpreting Aboriginal culture.

"I was recently told (about a child being removed) because they were playing barefoot in the street and that was called neglect," he said.

"Other examples are that there is not enough food in the fridge.

"In an Aboriginal community that may not be surprising because that child may habitually go to their grandmother's place to eat, so there wouldn't be necessarily much food in the fridge.

"Now if the workers don't take time to actually talk to people - and they may be speaking different first languages - to talk to people and to understand and give credit to their explanations then bad decisions are going to be being made.

"So we need to examine how children are being taken away and what they are being taken away for."

"High rates of First Nations imprisonment means that none of those people are going to be viewed favourably as carers of 'child placements' in years to come because they have a record.

"But if you look at what they've got a record for, it's often for things like not paying parking fines, or not turning up for court appearances over unregistered cars, things like that.

A roundtable of state and territory governments, Aboriginal service providers and Non Government Organisations found there are problems with implementing the Child Protection Policy in almost every state and territory.

Chief among these is the lack of suitable families, and the challenge of recruiting and training Indigenous people to become foster carers.

That is a problem Mr Hytten puts down to systemic hurdles.

"There are a number of the criteria that people have to meet to become carers that might seem legitimate, but when you start to unpack it there are things that seem to work against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," he said.

"For example, [high rates of Indigenous imprisonment mean] that none of those people are going to be viewed favourably as carers in years to come because they have a record.

"But if you look at what they've got a record for, it's often for things like not paying parking fines, or not turning up for court appearances over unregistered cars, things like that.

"These are issues not of crime but of poverty, or cultural misunderstandings both ways. Many of these things don't make a person unable to look after their children, or make their sister-in-law unable to raise children.

"We need to loosen the system."

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care will increase steadily.

That will make it even harder for governments and child welfare workers to put Indigenous children in Indigenous homes.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report feedback

Frank Hytten

ABC RN's Ben Schokman and Evelyn Tadros spoke with Frank Hytten, on his return from a UN Committee Briefing in Geneva in 2013. Frank is the CEO of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), the peak body for Aboriginal children in Australia. They spoke with Frank about his experience in Geneva and what needs to be done to ensure a better future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia.
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