Aboriginal children and young people continue to be over-represented in care and detention

The proportion of Aboriginal children and young people in care in South Australia has worsened in the last five years, with Aboriginal children and young people now making up 34.2% of all children in care.

Data from the 2020 Report on Government Services shows that this cohort continues to be drawn into the child protection system at an alarming rate. Worse still, many of these young people are likely to remain in care for extended periods of time, and only 62% are living with someone from their family, community or cultural background.

When it comes to youth detention, the over-representation is even worse.  In 2018-19, Aboriginal children and young people made up a daily average of 60.7% of all young people in detention in SA, despite Aboriginal children being detained at their lowest rate since 2014-15. (While the rate of detention of Aboriginal children fell, the detention rate for non-Aboriginal children declined even further.)

Every year the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People and Training Centre Visitor takes a ‘snapshot’ of the data from the Report on Government Services to see how it relates to South Australian Aboriginal children and young people in care and/or detention.

Four aspects of the data are particularly noteworthy.

Aboriginal children and young people are still seriously over-represented

  • Despite Aboriginal children and young people making up only 5% of the state’s total population of children and young people, they make up more than a third, 34.2%, of children and young people in care services (as at 30 June 2019).
  • Over four years (2014-15 and 2018-19) the rate of Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds in care services (per 1,000 children in the SA population) increased from 49 to 76.7%. This compares with an increase from 5.6 to 7.4% for non-Aboriginal 0 to 17 year olds.
  • 5% of Aboriginal children who are in care have been so for five or more years.

How do Aboriginal children’s placements reflect the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle? 

  • At 30 June 2019, only 62.7% of eligible children (854 of a possible 1,363) were placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has been a decline in the proportion of Aboriginal children and young people placed in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, in out-of-home care in both South Australia, and nationally.

Aboriginal children and young people in residential care

  • At 30 June 2019, 208 Aboriginal children and young people were living in residential care, making up 36.6% of all the children living in that care type. This was higher than the proportion of Aboriginal children living in care services overall (34.2%), meaning that Aboriginal children and young people are more likely to be placed in residential care than non-Aboriginal children.

Aboriginal children and young people in detention

  • 7% of the average daily population in detention in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were Aboriginal
  • Aboriginal children and young people are 32 times more likely to be in detention than non-Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia
  • South Australia spent less, on average, per child aged 10 to 17 years in the SA population, on detention-based youth justice services compared with the national average.
  • The number of Aboriginal 10 to 17 year olds in detention in South Australia during 2018-19 declined to its lowest rate in four years and was lower than the Australian average for the first time since 2014-15.

You can read our full report here.

If you missed our review of SA’s government spending on child protection services, check out our previous blog post.

Making the most of being at home these school holidays

So the school holidays are here, and while we will need to stay at home, there are plenty of ways to have fun and stay connected to our family and friends. It is important that we provide plenty of opportunities for children (especially those in care) to have fun and to just be kids in this stressful time. Staying in touch with family is also important for their mental health and wellbeing.

We have put together a few ideas on what you and the children in your care can do these school holidays: to laugh, connect and enjoy the small things.

The list is endless but here are a few of our favourites:

  • Ensure the child stays connected to their family and friends as much as possible by regular phone calls or video chats.
  • If a child is a clubCREATE member they could win a cool prize pack for sharing what they have been doing/making/creating by entering in CREATE’s Stuck at Home Competition. Entries close 16 April. Check out their website for details.
  • Connect with, or learn about the child’s culture. For Aboriginal children – don’t forget to share photos of connecting to culture with SNAICC on Facebook (include @SNAICC and use the hashtag #KidsConnectedToCulture).
  • Plant seeds or seedlings in a pot or garden and watch them grow. You can even take photos and measure their growth.
  • Have a cooking day (this is a great way to celebrate individual cultures in the house too).
  • Set up your own backyard Olympics – social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t get outside and run around.
  • Read books. A lot of libraries are offering ‘click and collect’ services, while some libraries are offering school holiday programs online – contact your local library for details.
  • Have an Easter egg hunt – we’re pretty sure Easter Bilby is immune to COVID-19 and will still be visiting!

How are you spending the school holidays? Share your photos on our Facebook page.

Don’t forget you can still contact our advocates if you or a child or young person has concerns about their rights and best interests. Call us on 8226 8570, 1800 275 664 (freecall for children and young people only) or email.

ANZCCG commends documentary ‘In My Blood It Runs’

An upcoming documentary that tells the story of Dujuan, a 10-year-old Arrernte/Garrwa boy, as he tries to overcome systemic injustices, has been given full support by the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ANZCCG).

As SA Guardian and Training Centre Visitor, Penny Wright is a member of this peak body, which is made up of those entrusted with safeguarding the rights and interests of children and young people in Australia and New Zealand. After watching an advanced screening of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ earlier this year, the ANZCCG have issued a joint statement commending the documentary and highlighting the ‘value and importance of listening to and understanding children’s voices and experiences from their own perspective’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ follows the charismatic young ‘healer,’ Dujuan, and his family as they share their experiences trying to prevent Dujuan from entering the criminal justice system. After becoming increasingly disengaged from school, Dujuan soon comes under the watchful eye of the police and welfare agencies. But through the love and support of his family and community, Dujuan has been able to avoid falling into the justice system and has begun a powerful campaign to raise the awareness of addressing systemic racism that young Aboriginal children too often face.

Dujuan travelled to Geneva earlier this month and gained significant media coverage when he became one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. He shared his experiences about the youth justice system to build support for Aboriginal-led education models that would help prevent youth offending and support their connection to their culture and language. You can watch his speech here.

The ANZCCG encourages all Australians to watch this film and to share its message of ‘children having access to culturally safe, inclusive schools; addressing systemic racism in all our institutions; and preventing the criminalisation of young children like Dujuan, including reforms to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility’.

‘In My Blood It Runs’ will be in cinemas in February 2020.

Read the full ANZCCG statement.

Connect to Culture Children’s Day

Last Friday staff from the Office of the Guardian joined in the celebrations of this year’s national Children’s Day at the Aboriginal Family Support Services’ Connect to Culture Children’s Day event.

Now in its third year, the event, which was held at the Parafield Gardens Recreation Centre, was a great way to celebrate the culture and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and learn about the importance of culture, family and community in their lives.

There were a number of activities for children and adults alike, including weaving, painting, boomerang making, face painting, balloon twisting, jumping castles and live music.

To the delight of the children (and adults), Oog also made a surprise appearance and even busted out a few moves on the dance floor.


Aboriginal Family Support Services Cultural Advisor, Barbara Falla organised the third Connect to Culture event.

The government promises to do better for Aboriginal children in care

16 May 2017

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Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in the care system. They comprise about one third of children in care, and the trend points to further increases. As well as the trauma and dislocation felt by all children coming into care, they face the extra risk of removal from, or loss of access to, their culture, language and community.

Commissioner Nyland’s October 2016 report recommended widespread changes to how child protection services related to Aboriginal children and communities and the Government’s response in December 2016 accepted most of those recommendations.

The Government undertook to:

  • Develop an Aboriginal recruitment and retention strategy in the Department for Child Protection (DCP) as part of the workforce strategy (R 30) to increase the numbers of  and support for Aboriginal staff (R 187 and 188) and non-Aboriginal staff working with Aboriginal children (R 222).
  • Place Aboriginal staff in the Child Abuse Report Line call centre to assist with the assessment of Aboriginal families at the point of notification (R 34).
  • Make reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system a priority in the work of the planned Early Intervention Research Directorate (R 50).
  • Incorporate the particular needs of Aboriginal children in kinship care when developing the new leaving care model (R 163).
  • Review the selection, training and supervision of kinship carers and placements. (Aboriginal children are highly represented in kinship care and we discussed this reform in detail in our post on home based care from January this year).
  • Ensure that a recognised Aboriginal agency is consulted on all placement decisions involving Aboriginal children (R 189).
  • Set up a a dedicated scoping unit within the DCP to research family connections and prepare genograms (R 190).
  • Provide all practitioners with training, support and clinical supervision to give them the knowledge, skills and techniques to work effectively with Aboriginal children and families (R191).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families (R 192).
  • Commission not-for-profit agencies to develop service models that can respond to higher-risk Aboriginal families with multiple, complex needs (R 194).
  • Develop assessment tools to be used in the new child and family assessment and referral networks that specifically consider the needs of Aboriginal children and families and consult with the local Aboriginal community and service providers (R 196).
  • Ensure that at least one Principal Aboriginal Consultant in the DCP has experience and expertise in remote Aboriginal communities (R 202).
  • Implement the Education Dashboard to provide access to information about schools and school students that can be viewed and accessed by staff both in DECD and the DCP  (R 210).
  • Identify evidence-based service models for early intervention that meet the needs of Aboriginal children and families and develop a best practice evaluation framework for existing early intervention and prevention programs R212).
  • Create an early intervention service for families in remote communities who could benefit from support to prevent escalation of issues (R 212).
  • Upgrade facilities at Mimili and Yalata to provide for playgroups, preschools and other services that visit those communities (R 213).
  • Develop and deliver training programs and tools for staff and carers to promote culturally informed practice (R 235).
  • Identify performance indicators on the cultural competency of the agency’s workforce, and regularly review the effect of these recommendations on that competency (R 237).

There is more information about the numbers of Aboriginal children in care in last week’s post Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16 .

Watch out for the next posts in this series which set out the Government’s response to the Nyland report in the areas of education and collaboration.

 

 

 

Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

22 November, 2016

Themes from Nyland  #12

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report1.  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first eleven in the series are available.2 We will post the rest over the next few weeks. 3 

Commissioner Nyland noted that families from cultural and linguistic backgrounds that are different to the mainstream are prone to be in circumstances that can give rise to child protection issues. These include trauma, social and cultural isolation, discrimination, language barriers and poverty associated with poor employment opportunities. 

She noted:

It appears that the Agency currently knows very little about the population of culturally and linguistically diverse families who might need a child protection response. Data about the origin of children reported to the system has been inconsistently recorded and retained, and is not likely to be reliable. 

She recommended that information about the cultural background of children coming into contact with the child protection system be recorded in the electronic case management system and that this data be aggregated to inform a system-wide response.

She recommended a qualitative review of the capacity of the current Multicultural Community Engagement Team to provide the necessary state-wide response and that this review should include input from all stakeholders with special emphasis on the views of children.

She observed that, although current practice guides emphasised the importance of respecting and nurturing children’s cultural and linguistic heritage, there existed very little information and support for staff to work in that way.  The Commissioner made recommendations that organisations support and develop the cultural competence of all staff and carers by setting cultural competency targets for the organisation and by developing training and practice guides.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:

  • comprehensive recording of cultural and linguistic information about children coming into contact with the child protection system
  • analysis of emerging trends from that data to inform planning and resourcing
  • a review of the current Multicultural Community Engagement Team service’s capacity and suitability for the task with an emphasis on hearing the views of children
  • development of the DCP’s cultural competency by setting cultural competency targets and the developing training programs  and practice guides
  • every child in care with a diverse cultural heritage having a comprehensive cultural connection plan

Please join the discussion on child protection reform via the reply box below.

1 Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

2 See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care Home-based care, Therapeutic care, Aboriginal childrenEducationResponding to abused or neglected children and Children with disabilities. ***

3 This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Residential Care 2015

1 November, 2016

One of the areas of interest for the Guardian’s Office in its 2014-15 monitoring was the extent to which residential care supported the connection to culture and community of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents. 

Although there was interest and some enthusiasm shown by both workers and residents, examples of where this was done comprehensively were hard to find. There were few Aboriginal residential care workers and workers often lacked the confidence and the cultural competency to embark on that work.

Residential care workers observed that there had frequently been little background done on developing cultural connection prior to the resident arriving and it was not uncommon to have little information on a new resident’s cultural connections at the time they arrived. Some observed that they lacked the time to undertake the work without external support.

The Report identified four imperatives if residential care were to improve significantly in this area:

  • Build the capacity and confidence of organisations that provide residential care to engage with and prioritise cultural connection.
  • Require Families SA (now known as the Department for Child Protection) to elicit and record information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people’s family and cultural connections and to inform residential care staff prior to their placement.
  • Build the understanding of residential care workers and residents of the importance of cultural connection and their capacity to facilitate it.
  • Improve the availability of in-house resources and external support in order to give effect to cultural connection.

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Please join the discussion via the reply box leaving a name and an email address in the spaces provided.  We will remove them from the published post if you request in your reply.

Poster of rights for Aboriginal young people in care

18 October, 2016

Our Office’s experience talking with Aboriginal children and young people was confirmed in a consultation with young people earlier this year. They told us that the same messages and artwork that appeal to other young people may not connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

‘ hand drawn images – they are made by heart, computer generated images are made by nothing’

Aboriginal young person at the
Tandanya consultation in January 2016

Charter of Rights coordinator Nicole Pilkington said, ‘We wanted to create something that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander young people, all Aboriginal people, would not only read but would be happy to have on their walls.

‘We were fortunate to connect with Ramindjeri/Ngarrindjeri artist Teresa Walker.

‘Teresa’s work has strong cultural influences and also has a modern vibrancy and energy that makes it stand out.

‘The messages about the rights of children and young people in care will be essentially the same but tailored to the culture and aesthetics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.’

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Teresa’s work will form the basis of a large poster that talks about four main rights that will also be available in smaller sizes. She will be working closely with designers Sue and Chris from SD Design who produced the new booklets and posters for the 2016 re-launch of the Charter of Rights.

The posters will be published in October and will be available to agencies that have endorsed the Charter of Rights via the Guardian’s materials ordering page.

This story was first published in the Guardian’s August 2016 Newsletter.

Download the August 2016 Guardian’s Newsletter in PDF now.

We’d love to publish your comment – please use the reply space below.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Themes from Nyland  #7

The team from the Guardian’s office have analysed the 850 pages and 260 recommendations from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report[1].  We have extracted some themes and priorities to allow us to critique the government’s response, judge the improvements over time and to shape our own work.  Following is a description of the issues and a short list of things to watch for in the reform process.  The first six in the series are available.[2] We will post the rest over the next few weeks. [3] 

Aboriginal children[4] are disproportionately represented in the care system.  They comprise about one third, and the trend points to further increases.  As well as the trauma and dislocation felt by all children coming into care, they face the extra risk of removal from,or loss of access to, their culture, language and community.

Greater effort is needed on specific issues for Aboriginal families both in helping them to care safely for children, and helping Aboriginal children in care retain or develop connections to their community and culture.

Children from remote communities who come into care with limited access to local foster care and no residential care are faced with the prospect of removal to a regional centre or even the metropolitan area with a resultant severing of family, cultural and language connections.  One response has been increasingly to place children with kinship carers but Commissioner Nyland pointed out that the administration of kinship care for all children, itself has serious problems. (See the post on home-based care for her critique of current kinship care arrangements.)

Placing Aboriginal children in culturally appropriate environments has not proven easy.

The Agency continues to be challenged by its ability to comply with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle (ATSICPP).  In some cases suitable Aboriginal carers are not located for children until well after their placement into care.

Commissioner Nyland recommends the setting up of a family scoping unit to collect and coordinate information to quickly identify safe and appropriate placements.

Commissioner Nyland also stresses the importance of building genuine partnerships with Aboriginal-led organisations.

The Agency has not always embraced this obligation.  It needs renewed focus on consulting with prescribed agencies as required by the Children’s Protection Act.

Even so, not all Aboriginal children will be able to be placed with Aboriginal carers.

Better support for non-Aboriginal carers should include help in attending to the cultural needs of Aboriginal children in their care.

Commissioner Nyland notes that agency collaboration has not been a strong feature of work with Aboriginal families and children.

…new agencies [ engaged in early intervention should] take advantage of referral pathways from existing credible services, especially those that are led by the health sector and those that have contact with Aboriginal parents in the prenatal period.

A working group should be established to promote collaborative practice between the South Australian, Western Australian and Northern Territory child protection agencies in the tri-border region including working towards an across-border legislative scheme for child protection in the three jurisdictions.

As reform progresses we look forward to seeing:[5]

  • Consultation and engagement with remote communities and other Aboriginal bodies at the start of, and continuing through, the reform of Aboriginal child protection.
  • An overhaul of the conduct of kinship care (as described in the post on home-based care.)
  • A strengthening of the training, support, resourcing and supervision of staff to better work with, and support, the culture of Aboriginal children in all forms of out-of-home care.
  • The provision of foster care or residential care placements in locations close to the APY Lands.
  • Increase in the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal workers in the child protection workforce.
  • Adoption of a culturally appropriate tool to assess foster and kinship carers in remote and other communities.
  • Review of remuneration, work conditions and support arrangements to secure core permanent child protection workers in the APY Lands.
  • A working group established to promote collaborative practice between the South Australian, Western Australian and Northern Territory child protection agencies in the tri-border region.
  • Renewed focus on the ATSICPP as the basis for culturally appropriate placement of Aboriginal children in state care.

Please join the discussion via the reply box leaving a name and an email address in the spaces provided.  We will remove them from the published post if you request in your reply.

[1] Unless otherwise noted all quotes are from The life they deserve: Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report,

[2] See also posts on Coordination and Collaboration, The voice of the child , Emergency care , Residential care, Home-based care and Therapeutic care – everywhere.

[3] This is not intended to be a précis of Commissioner Nyland’s report which provides a very clear and readable summary.  Because of the Guardian’s mandate, this analysis will tend to focus on issues for children in out-of-home-care.

4 We follow the same convention as Commissioner Nyland’s report in this post, using the term Aboriginal to include both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

5 The Aboriginal community is currently considering its response to the Nyland Commission recommendations and we look forward to reviewing our position in the light of that response.

Honouring connection to culture and community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in residential care

1 March 2016

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – Article 30

Almost 30 per cent of young people in State care in South Australia are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent, more than ten times the rate of their representation in the general community.  The multiple disadvantages faced by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community translates into particular challenges for providers of residential care and supporting strong cultural and community connections offers a way forward for young people and the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community as a whole.

Focussing on these challenges, the Guardian’s Office recently released the Literature Review – Residential Care for Aboriginal Children and Young People (August 2015).  This flagged the need for a set of qualitative performance indicators to help monitor and evaluate how the care provided supports the right of the young residents to participate in and benefit from their Aboriginal culture and community.

The Guardian’s Office is developing those culture and community indicators now.

The new indicators will help Advocates monitor how residential care services support the right of the young residents to participate in and benefit from their Aboriginal culture and community connections.  They will complement the Office’s current monitoring practice.

They will also be useful for house managers and staff, complementing in a practical way existing policies and activities such as Aboriginal Identity Planning and other standard practices such as annual case reviews.

What the Guardian’s Office and residential care staff learn from applying the new indicators will be included in the reports we provide to houses and Families SA and to advocate for policy and practice developments.

The new Indicators will focus on how a residential service:

  • helps the young person to understand their current situation and supports their involvement in making decisions about their life
  • supports access to their culture and community
  • uses culturally appropriate tools and service methodologies and
  • involves a range of carers and other service providers in meeting the young person’s needs.

Applying the indicators, Advocates will ask young people directly about their contact with culture and community.  They will look at how the house applies the culturally relevant policy and operational expectations of that service provider and the residential care system and they will assess cultural aspects of the house’s physical and social environment.

Focussing on the situation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in this way will help the Guardian to meet her statutory obligation to ‘promote the best interests of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister, and in particular those in alternative care.’

The Office is discussing aspects of the new indicators with a variety of stakeholders.

The indicators will be included as a part of the information package that accompanies the Residential Care Self-evaluation Survey in June 2016.

For further information about the development of the new Culture and Community Indicators, please contact Alan Fairley, GCYP Senior Policy Officer, at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter.

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