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Closing the gap on child removal

28 February 2017, Action for Change

Monday 13 February marked the ninth anniversary of the apology to Stolen Generations.

The day prompted plenty of discussion about the current over-representation of Indigenous children being removed from family and from culture. 

On February 14, the Prime Minister tabled the ninth Closing the Gap report in Parliament. 

The report was bleak. It showed that very little – if any – progress is being made towards meeting targets aimed at improving the health, education or employment prospects of the First Australians. 

The day previous marked nine years since former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, made his historic apology to the Stolen Generations. 

Rudd used the occasion to suggest the government add a new target to help close the gap. He believes we should be working towards 100% of Indigenous children being placed with their extended family or community if they need to be removed from home. 

“What I am sure of is that we cannot simply stand back and let the numbers of Indigenous children being removed grow year by year,” he said. “We do not want another generation of young Aboriginal children unnecessarily separated from their culture.” 

Shifting the trend 

Two decades since the Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generations was released, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children sleeping away from their homes every night has increased from 20% to 35%. 

That's almost ten times more than non-Indigenous kids. 

A recent report has predicted these numbers will almost triple by 2035 if current trends continue. 

Save the Children is working to shift this trend, both through our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in community, and through our role as a key partner on the Family Matters: Strong Communities. Strong Culture. Stronger Children campaign. 

The campaign is committed to breaking the current cycle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removal, and to improving outcomes for these kids through early intervention programs, family support and community empowerment. 

Positive outcomes 

Save the Children Australia Chief Executive Officer, Paul Ronalds, has seen first-hand how support early on can dramatically change the trajectory of a young person’s life. 

“I had the privilege of going to Rockhole, a small Aboriginal Community 25 kilometres outside of Katherine in the Northern Territory. I met with Community Elders, kids and their parents, and I visited our early childhood program, Play2Learn." 

Play2Learn is an 'intensive supported playgroup' for kids 0-5 years old and their families. But, it's much more than just a playgroup. It assists with school readiness, develops parenting skills, promotes a connection to community and culture, and provides access to community services. 

This was highlighted when I met two-and-half year-old Jack* and his mum Melissa*, both regular attendees of the Rockhole mobile playgroup. When Jack first arrived from a remote community seven hours' drive away, he was suffering very poor health and on the verge of being removed from his family. 

Jack is lactose intolerant – a problem exacerbated when lactose-free foods are not easily available. So when Jack and his mum arrived in Rockhole 10 months ago, Jack had a range of chronic health problems. These included Impetigo – a highly contagious and boil-like condition that caused him to itch until his skin bled – as well as very poor hearing and eyesight related to ongoing infections. 

It's truly amazing how, in the relatively short time attending Play2Learn, Jack's overall health, communication and socialisation skills have improved. And how this kid – who was very nearly removed by the child protection system – is now thriving. 

And Melissa's knowledge about treating her son's condition has also strengthened through attending Play2Learn. She says quite genuinely, "Play2Learn is responsible for Jack being alive today".

Momentum building 

This year, we’ll continue to work actively with governments, communities and community leaders to address the issue of children being unnecessarily relocated too far from home. 

Our partnership with SNAICC, one of the nation’s key advocates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, continues to strengthen, building on our capacity to reach more children and families with the support they need. 

Save the Children stand with Family Matters to change this story. Visit Family Matters to become a supporter of the campaign or keep an eye on latest developments.

*Names changed to protect identity

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