- Victoria is the first state in the country to enshrine in law the requirement for decision-makers to consider the impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma on vulnerable Aboriginal families.
- The Coalition and the Greens support the bill, but have urged the government to bring on debate on another piece of critical legislation that was dumped over fears of a law and order scare campaign in the lead up to November.
- Advocates say the new legislation will lead to fewer Aboriginal children being removed from their families and end the cycle of family violence.
Judges, social workers and bureaucrats assessing child protection cases will be required to weigh up the impact colonisation and intergenerational trauma has had on vulnerable Aboriginal families under legislation being debated in the Victorian parliament.
Under the proposed law, fewer Aboriginal children will be separated from their families – and for shorter periods of time – while Indigenous organisations, such as the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, will be empowered to manage cases.
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency chief executive Muriel Bamblett said the new laws will end the cycle of child removals from Aboriginal families. Credit:Jason South
“This bill will enable us to not just stop the cycle of child removal but hopefully stop the cycle of family violence, mainly by non-Indigenous men against Aboriginal women and their children,” the agency’s chief executive, Muriel Bamblett, said.
“Strengthening the whole family is the only way forward.”
The Greens and the opposition welcomed the new bill but excoriated the government over its failure to deal with a separate piece of legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable Aboriginal children because, they say, Premier Daniel Andrews fears a law-and-order scare campaign in the lead up to the November state election.
Earlier this month, The Age revealed the government had dumped plans to introduce long-awaited youth offending legislation into parliament this year and stalled the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021 after the Greens introduced an amendment to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
To avoid a debate on raising the age, the government instead drafted the Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition and Other Matters) Bill 2022 to address Aboriginal child protection. It is expected to pass the lower house on Thursday.
“We know Aboriginal people are best placed to lead and inform responses for Aboriginal children and their families,” a government spokeswoman said.
“The proposed legislation promotes Aboriginal self-determination by enabling Aboriginal-led decision-making for their own community. It is a landmark step to meet the Closing the Gap National Agreement target to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal children in a way that is culturally safe and promotes the best interests of the child.”
An Auditor-General’s report, tabled in parliament on Wednesday, criticised the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing’s for putting the most vulnerable children in care at risk. It found gaps in the department’s handling of Aboriginal children, leading to them being placed in homes that were not culturally appropriate.
Opposition child protection spokesman Matt Bach said the Coalition “wholeheartedly” supported the new bill, but called on the government to deal with another critical piece of legislation. Credit:Wayne Taylor
“A 2019 evaluation of the Aboriginal Kinship Finding program, which DFFH commissioned, found that around 56 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in [out of home care] in Victoria are placed with a non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carer,” the report stated.
“Over 50 per cent are separated from their siblings and 56 per cent have no cultural support plan. This can lead to children experiencing a lack of connection with their culture and family.”
Bamblett said the new legislation enshrines self-determination with binding principles that ensure judges, child protection workers and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing must consider Indigenous children’s trauma and the lasting effects of colonisation and intergenerational trauma when dealing with cases.
Victoria is the first state to put in law a statement of recognition that forces decision-makers to consider the cultural needs of Aboriginal children and families.
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency is also pushing the government to enshrine in the since-delayed youth legislation bill a statement of recognition that will require the judiciary to consider effects of colonisation on Aboriginal youth offenders.
The agency will also be given powers to investigate child protection cases, and intervene much sooner, leading to fewer Aboriginal children being removed from their families. Bamblett said Aboriginal organisations that support children in child protection cases are much more likely to reunite families.
“We know this will protect more children through strengthening the Aboriginal child placement principle, preservation of families and higher reunification rates where Aboriginal children need to be removed,” Bamblett said.
“Children that stay in their Aboriginal families, stay connected to their culture and are strong in their cultural identity have better health, mental health and education outcomes. Knowing who you are, who your Aboriginal people are, having good relationships to family, kin and elders are all known protective factors against risk and poor outcomes.”
Opposition child protection spokesman Matt Bach said the Coalition “wholeheartedly” supported the proposed legislation, but urged the government to stop stymying debate on the Children, Youth and Families Amendment Bill introduced to the upper house 250 days ago.
“Ever since this bill was introduced, the Liberals and Nationals have stood ready to work in a bipartisan way,” Bach said.
Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said it was a “sad reflection of this government” that the reform was held back because of opposition to her amendments proposing to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
“This is a welcome bill, but it’s disappointing that other important reforms have seemingly been shelved,” she said.
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