The out of home care system in the Northern Territory is failing Aboriginal children and families by not adequately resourcing kinship care, Tangentyere Council CEO Walter Shaw told an Alice Springs forum today.
Mr Shaw said the NT Government’s failure to operate under the principles of its own legislation was leading to more Aboriginal children being take into care.
Mr Shaw said despite the NT Care and Protection of Children Act giving priority to kinship care placements, the NT seriously lagged behind the rest of the country.
“Children deserve to be safe. It is an unfortunate fact that there are times when children and young people need to be removed from their family home due to child protection concerns,” Mr Shaw said.
“Kinship care is acknowledged as the preferred placement option for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“Despite this, in the NT rates of Aboriginal children being placed into out of home care are disturbingly high and kinship care placements disturbingly low.”
Nationally, 47 per cent of children in out of home care are in formal relative/kinship care placements. In the NT, kinship care accounts for only 3 per cent of children placed in out of home care.
Tangentyere is currently the only provider of culturally safe and appropriate kinship care arrangements in the Northern Territory through their Safe House program.
Mr Shaw tabled Tangentyere Council’s recently finalised kinship care model at yesterday’s forum. He called on both sides of politics to commit to properly resourcing kinship care and support families in kinship care arrangements.
“Strengthening kinship care and supporting extended families to care for their children will lead to a reduction of children living at risk or moving into the welfare and youth justice systems.
“It’s a sad irony that as Tangentyere’s kinship care model is being recognised nationally by Aboriginal child care organisations, the NT Government is trying to hold us to ransom over funding for our Safe House.
“The Department of Children and Families is trying to force changes to the way the Aboriginal-contro crisis in care.
“The Tangentyere Safe House provides a safe and culturally appropriate environment for Aboriginal children aged from 5-12 years, particularly siblings, in care.
“We have been operating this model which supports young people through the provision of a physically, emotionally and culturally appropriate family environment for many years.
“But now the NT Department of Children and Families are wanting to force substantial changes to the way the Safe House operates, which could be to the detriment of Aboriginal children and families.”
Mr Shaw said the NT’s crisis in the care system had led to pressure being applied to Tangentyere to accept babies and toddlers into the Safe House.
“Providing care to babies and young children up to the age of four years old would mean a completely new approach by the Safe House.
“Tangentyere fully supports the right of every Aboriginal child to live in safety but very young children in out of home care require intensive support and specialist care we just aren’t funded or have the capacity to deliver.
“But the NT Government is trying to hold us to ransom, tying recurrent funding to the Safe House program to providing care to the 0 to four age group.
“To use the Minister’s own words, he is trying to put the organisation on the bones of our arse.
“We are being asked to sacrifice a program that is providing care to vulnerable children to meet the tsunami of need in the child protection system that has in part been created by the NT Government.
“The bulk of the Growing Them Strong, Together recommendations from 2010 were not implemented and Aboriginal children in the NT continue to be removed from their families at an unacceptable rate.
“Tangentyere calls on the Department of Children and Families to accept our decision around babies in out of home care, release recurrent funding for the Safe House and support kinship care arrangements that develop the capacity of the extended family to provide care to vulnerable children.”
*Northern Territory Care and Protection of Children Act 2014 (‘The Act’), and specifically Part 1.3 Section 12. This section, known as the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP), clearly outlines the preferred hierarchy of placement options for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the NT. According to the Act, where Aboriginal children have been removed from their immediate family clear legislative priority is made to Kinship care placements, by placing such children with a member of their family or an Aboriginal person within their community.