Indigenous children are still being forcibly removed, and right now it’s happening at an alarming rate. Statistics show that indigenous children are at a far greater risk of ending up in out-of-home care and figures are on the rise. This raises the question – how far have we, as a nation, really come since the Stolen Generation? The Singleton Argus explores how such issues are affecting families in the Hunter region.
“Don’t let them take me.” This is not an echo from the Stolen Generation, the darkest chapter in Australian history. These are the words a four-year-old indigenous child screamed as she was ripped from her grandmothers arms just last month. Don’t let them take me. These are the words that continue to torment the indigenous family forced to watch the child be removed from their care.
Four-year-old Sarah* had only one day to comprehend that she would be taken away from her grandparents’ home in the Hunter region where she had been permanently living for the past four months. It was a familiar environment for her and one where she could live with her other siblings who were also under the care of her grandparents. It was a place where she could continue to connect with her culture.
Too young to be at school yet old enough to understand the prospect of being sent away, Sarah spent that morning hiding behind a lounge chair. Her grandparents tried to console her but ultimately knew the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) would soon arrive and there was nothing they could do.
FACS arrived at 10am and what unfolded is what Sarah’s grandparents describe as “the most traumatic experience” of their life to date.
“I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Sarah’s visibly shaken grandfather says.
“Sarah just kept screaming ‘don’t let them take me’ and she was clinging to me with all of her strength,” Sarah’s grandmother adds.
“She had her arms wrapped around my neck and her legs around my waist. She was so frightened.”
Though according to Sarah’s grandparent’s, her fear, confusion and obvious distress were not met with compassion or understanding. Instead, they say her fear was met with a “total neglect for her feelings” and a brash “need for authority”.
“Sarah was literally ripped from my arms and the way they grabbed her would have hurt her,” Sarah’s grandmother says.
“Once they had a hold of her, they threw her into the back of a vehicle.
“They didn’t even put her into her car seat. She was left lying on the floor of the car and they sped off without even closing her car door.”
Sarah’s grandparents have been foster-carers to Sarah’s other siblings for close to ten years, as well as having fostered indigenous children from outside of the family. Throughout their fostering history, they’ve never had an issue - until now. Despite their good record, they were denied the right to continue caring for Sarah and her 18-month-old sibling, Maddy*.
Instead the sisters were sent to live with non-indigenous carers who reside outside of the Hunter region.
“Sarah was taken from us, taken from her indigenous home and taken off country,” Sarah’s grandmother says.
“Now she is living away from her family and her culture.”
If this scenario sounds shocking, it should. But unfortunately, such allegations aren’t isolated. Similar alleged stories of forced removal of indigenous children and the fracturing of their cultural connection have been told before. Activists groups such as Grandmothers against Removals have rallied and protested for this very reason.
Such stories raise an ugly and confronting question - just how far has Australia really come from its murky past?
According to government reports, Indigenous children are almost ten times more likely to end up in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.
From 2012 to 2016, the rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken away from their family homes also saw a significant increase.
As well as this, 33.8 per cent of indigenous children in out-of-home care as of June 2016 were placed with non-indigenous foster parents, despite this scenario being the last option on the preferred order of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies ‘Child Protection - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’ report, the varying reasons for “the over representation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care” include:
- The legacy of past policies of forced removal and cultural assimilation;
- Intergenerational effects of forced removal; and
- Cultural differences in child rearing.
It seems that past policies have caused traumatic effects so severe they’ve resulted in intergenerational forced removal. Yet, the government continues to follow the very system they’ve reported as a major starting point for this vicious cycle.
In response to recent allegations, an independent Review chaired by Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous at University of NSW has been commissioned. The Review will investigate current systems and policies regarding forced removals and assess their effectiveness.
NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Hon. Sarah Mitchell says she is working with Ministerial colleagues to continue to address the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.
“The safety and well-being our kids are too important to ignore and addressing issues that lead to children ending up in out of home care is a priority of mine,” she says.
*The child’s name has been changed for legal purposes.