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SA looks interstate to improve care for Aboriginal children

National

Child protection experts from across the country have been asked to help South Australia improve outcomes for Aboriginal children, after a report revealed a decline in the number of young people being placed in culturally appropriate care.

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An annual report documenting the state of Aboriginal children in care, by Guardian for Children and Young People Penny Wright, shows in June last year only 62.7 per cent of South Australian Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care were living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

That is compared to the previous year’s figure of 64.1 per cent and the 2009 rate of 76.4 per cent.

Aboriginal children who enter the state’s child protection system are placed in accordance with a Federal Government-endorsed Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, which aims to preserve Aboriginal children’s connection to culture by ensuring authorities first consider a child’s extended family as potential foster parents.

If a child’s extended family is unable to provide care, a member of the child’s community or carers in another Aboriginal community are considered.

Currently, South Australia’s uptake of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle falls just short of the national average of 64.3 per cent.

Wright has previously told InDaily that South Australia’s declining uptake of the principle was “of serious concern”, while Opposition child protection spokesperson Jayne Stinson described it as “simply not good enough”.

The Department for Child Protection has set a goal to increase the number of eligible Aboriginal children placed in accordance with the principle to 70 per cent by the end of this year in its Aboriginal Action Plan.

A spokesperson said this afternoon that the target, which is above the national average, “will require an ongoing and concerted effort and will take longer than a year to achieve”.

To help reach that goal, it has engaged a group of child protection experts from across Australia to advise on how South Australia can place Aboriginal children in more culturally-appropriate care.

The advisory committee, which will meet for the first time today, includes representatives from Victoria and Queensland, as well as local experts including SA Aboriginal Children and Young People Commissioner April Lawrie and Aboriginal Family Support Services chief executive Sharron Williams.

The Department’s chief executive Cathy Taylor said the group had been tasked with finding “genuine and positive ways to strengthen our approach to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle”.  

“There is strong evidence that when Aboriginal children and young people in care remain connected to their family, community and culture this leads to better life outcomes,” she said.

“As part of our efforts we really want to explore how we can better support these connections.”

According to Wright’s report, the proportion of Aboriginal children in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal young people now making up 34.2 per cent of all children in care, despite representing just five per cent of the state’s total child population.

Taylor said reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in care was a “key priority” for the Government.

“We are working hard to change this in partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations,” she said.

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