It has been 25 years since the Australian Government recognised every child's rights to survival, protection and healthy development.
By signing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia committed to protect and support even the most disadvantaged and marginalised children - a promise which, 25 years later, is yet to be realised for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
CRC25: Australian Child Rights Progress Report shows astounding gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are:
- more than twice as likely to be born with a low birthweight;
- nine times as likely to be living away from their families in out of home care; and
- a staggering 26 times as likely to be in detained in the justice system.
Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are separated from their families, with one in five living in alternative care. One third of these children are placed with non-indigenous carers.
When we listen to young Aboriginal people, they explain why this is such a problem. They say that to fulfill their rights, the government must keep them strong in their culture and identity. That means staying connected to their family and community: the people who will support them as they grow into adults and forge the future of their communities.
Reflections from a young Aboriginal woman
Melinda, 20, shares her experience.
My childhood was very unstable. My family moved around a lot. I went to around four schools before Year One. This unstable life was a result of my parents abusing drugs and alcohol. Police were present often, which led to my dad being incarcerated most of my life. When I was five the State removed me and my siblings. We were lucky enough to have a grandmother and aunties who sacrificed so much to raise us so we wouldn’t disappear into foster care and grow up not knowing each other.
As a young adult I now know why I couldn’t stay at home, but throughout my childhood I wanted to know, which is why I returned home at 13. Living with my parents was not easy as it was when I was younger. Eventually after a year I returned to my aunty and she helped me finish school. My family stuck by me as I worked out who I was.
"Family and community are so important to who I am, to who we are as Aboriginal people. Removing children from their parents and family should only ever be a last resort"
I would like to see more done to help keep Aboriginal children including those with disabilities, keep their identity and sense of belonging to their family and community. It is important to keep our children strong in their culture, something I am passing onto my own children.
It is also important, particularly for Aboriginal children, that family are able to participate in decisions about their care and upbringing. This is also essential for children just like me. I would like to see children have more involvement in what’s happening with their lives, and for adults to listen to them and take them seriously.
Lastly, I would also like to see more support for families to stay together, particularly for parents to get back on track, so that children are able to return home to where we belong.
Where to now?
As governments work to realise the rights of Aboriginal and Torrres Straight Islander children, they should draw on communities' cultural strengths in caring for their own families. Investment must heal and strengthen families and it should empower communities to determine their own ways forward.
The CRC25 report offers state, territory and Commonwealth governments a path to addressing the over-representaiton of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care:
- Invest in reuniting families when appropriate.
- Involve children and young people in the decision-making process and embed Indigenous decision-making throughout all phases of the child protection system.
- Build on the resilience and culturally strong practice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to protect children. This would include:
- Increased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community- lead child protection mechanisms and systems.
- Community lead holistic service supports for families based on local knowledge.
- Access to culturally, strong, intensive family support services.
- Universal access to Aboriginal and Family Decision-making process.
- Embed healing informed practice in service delivery.
- Engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in all discussions and decisions that impact their communities and provide for meaningful participation.
UNICEF Australia supports the work of community organisations like SNAICC, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, to advance these critical reforms.
After 25 years of children's rights, it's time for Australia to fulfill it's promise of a fair chance for every child.
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