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Family Matters Report 2018

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CELA is a supporter of Family Matters and a signatory to the Family Matters Statement of Commitment

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As a national community of voters, educators, parents and carers, many of us remain sadly ignorant of the crisis continuing in removal of Indigenous children from their families.

While the Stolen Generations holds their uniquely brutal place in our history, the dislocation of Indigenous children continues in our time. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are now 10.1 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be removed from their families.

Many of us also remain vague or ignorant about the research-backed evidence that support for kinship ties, genuine connections to culture through related family groups, are essential to reversing the removal of children from families. Including kin in decision making is also vital to maintain safe and successful out of home care (OOHC) for Indigenous children if they are removed from their immediate family.

Family Matters Report 2018

The Family Matters Report 2018, released at the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide Conference in Sydney last week, described the rate at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being removed from their families as an escalating national crisis.

The report, released by Natalie Lewis, Chair of Family Matters, finds that fewer than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers.

This follows a steep decline of Indigenous OOHC carers over the last 10 years, which places more children at serious risk of being permanently disconnected from their families, communities and cultures.

Causes

Poverty is a major factor in children losing contact with their families. The report found that 25 per cent of clients accessing homelessness services were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, and most disturbingly, of those clients, one in four was a child under the age of 10.

Family violence was also highlighted in the report. In 2016-17, emotional abuse, which can include exposure to family violence, was the most common child protection concern for Indigenous children.

A third driver of over-representation is intergenerational trauma. Direct descendants of the Stolen Generations are 30 per cent more likely to have poor mental health than other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

All these factors contribute to the 10.1 times greater risk of Indigenous children entering the child protection system compared to non-Indigenous children.

Solutions focused

Family Matters, an initiative of the SNAICC organisation, says the 2018 report is solutions-focussed, highlighting the way forward for positive change.

Its approach is shifting reactive to proactive, calling for all governments to invest heavily in solutions, and involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in decision-making about their own children.

At present, the investment of Australian governments at national and state level is skewed heavily towards reacting to problems that have already occurred in Indigenous families, rather than in trying to proactively prevent the situations that lead to child removals.

Of the pool of spending for child protection funding only 17% is allocated to support services for children and their families. Most child protection funding (83%) is reactive: spent on child protection services and out-of-home care

Flip the solution

The report calls for a significant funding boost for culturally safe preventative and early intervention measures. This, it says, is needed to urgently put a stop to high rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removals.

But, the pace of investment and action in prevention and early intervention is slow.

Efforts to address broader community and social issues that contribute to risk for our children across areas such as housing, justice, violence and poverty, remain vastly inadequate and lack coordination…Â

 This year’s Family Matters Report puts a spotlight on primary prevention measures in the early years of children’s lives – the years that matter most to changing the storyline for our families.

– Natalie Lewis, Chair of Family Matters

Early years alignment

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander five-year-olds are 2.5 times more likely to be developmentally delayed than non-Indigenous children, yet attend early childhood education and care at half the rate of non-Indigenous children.

This was a major sticking point for the sector when the Australian Government introduced its Jobs For Families (now known as New Child Care) package and systemically disadvantaged young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families with reduced subsidies for the most disadvantaged children.

As the report says:

[for] those exempted from the activity test who manage to secure a place in a service, access will be reduced from 48 hours to 24 hours per fortnight, or one full day of subsidised early learning and care per week. This low-level attendance is unlikely to enable the formation of secure, trusting relationships that are central to successful early learning.

Good news

There is some good news for early learning in the report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s attendance at preschool has increased sharply in recent years and is now on a par with non-Indigenous children.

The Universal Access funding that ensures all Australian children can attend one year of preschool before school has successfully included Indigenous children too, and closed the gap in preschool attendance.

Key finding in ECEC

The report presents several key findings, including this one affecting the sector:

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE

The formative years of a child’s life are a critical predictor of their successful transition to school and life-long education, health, wellbeing and employment outcomes (Fox et al., 2015).

While all children benefit from high-quality early learning programs, the benefits are greater for children experiencing vulnerability (Pascoe & Brenan, 2018). As of 2016-17, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are now as likely to attend preschool as their non-Indigenous peers. However, we have no reliable data about the duration and intensity of children’s engagement with preschool. There are still striking disparities in access to Commonwealth funded services such as long day care, family day care and out of school hours care. In 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children attended these services at less than half the rate (49 per cent) of their non-Indigenous peers.

Expert analysis has identified that the newly introduced childcare subsidy system, with its focus on parental workforce participation, is likely to exacerbate inequality, and runs counter to international research and best practice which points to the provision of low-cost and easily accessible services focused on child needs.

Priority access

The report also raises questions about the end of priority of access guidelines that formerly granted some priority to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families for places in early childhood services.

Under the new arrangements, each approved provider can decide which children and families receive priority.

“Providers are asked to consider giving priority to children at serious risk of abuse or neglect and children of sole parents who satisfy the activity test through paid employment but they are not required to do so. No longer is there any priority given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

Another form of priority access has also come to an end with significant cuts to Budget Based Funded (BBF) services funding stream under the new system.

The report focuses particularly on the loss of innovative practices that some BBF services demonstrated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, attracting inspiring teachers, linking with local schools, and supporting workforce development, leadership and empowerment.

These practices – through which other services could learn and improve their own approaches – support Indigenous children and families’ engagement in early childhood education and build community and kinship connections.

“We call on all Australian Governments
 to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their representatives over the
 coming year and beyond to implement the evidence based strategies for change that this report shows are desperately needed.

We hope that, as a result, next year’s report will show a changing story. The choices that we make now go to the very heart of our shared obligation to heal our nation’s fractured past and secure our children’s future.”

– Natalie Lewis, Chair of Family Matters

 

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