Indigenising Indigenous Child Welfare



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Indigenising Indigenous Child Welfare


by Terri Libesman

Introduction


Indigenous children remain significantly overrepresented in all child protection departments in Australia.1 Systemic problems which are closely tied to the history and current legacy of colonial relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and mainstream communities underpin this overrepresentation.2 One of the most destructive colonial policies, which has particular significance for child welfare departments, was the forced and unjustified removal of Indigenous children from their families.3 The trauma of this and other colonial policies is experienced intergenerationally by Indigenous communities.
This trauma is often compounded by current traumatic experiences including violence, sexual abuse and substance abuse both experienced and witnessed by many Indigenous children.4 Over the past year considerable publicity has focused on child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, particularly after the revelations of a public prosecutor, Nanette Rogers, in the Northern Territory (‘NT’).5 While these ‘revelations’ shocked many, the issues have been raised over a considerable period of time, often by Indigenous communities, with few effective responses.6
In Australia, Indigenous children are more likely to come into contact with child welfare departments as a result of neglect than abuse.7 Neglect is directly tied to poverty. Poverty and marginalisation from the mainstream economy is also a legacy of colonial relations. If child protection legislation is to be effective it needs to facilitate policy which addresses the underlying causes of Indigenous children’s overrepresentation in child protection systems.



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