In a powerful speech on November 20, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar called for government at all levels in Australia to “flip the system from crisis to prevention investment”.
The keynote speech, delivered at the AbSec Biennial Conference, draws attention to the direct and cyclical link between high rates of removal of Indigenous children into out-of-home care and poor outcomes for Indigenous communities across Australia.
“The removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families is one of Australia’s most serious human rights concerns,” said Commissioner June Oscar.
“Of the 99 deaths in custody investigated in 1991 in the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, it was found that almost half had previously been removed from their parents. We have to call out these systemic failings, where the overrepresentation of children in care, driven and compounded by poverty, makes unimaginable crisis all the more likely in our communities.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families and placed in out-of-home care are 16 times more likely to be in youth justice supervision than those who are not.
“If we fail to change the course, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care will more than triple over the next 20 years,” said Commissioner June Oscar.
“The numbers must be reversed. For this to happen we have to know the lives, the stories and histories that sit behind the statistics. This data cannot remain faceless it has to be told through our words and our experiences, our strengths and resilience, and our hope commitment and determination for a different future.
“A system that is siloed, operating free of our lived realities and contexts, segments our families across service sectors and institutions. When it comes to the protection, care and support of our children this approach is disastrous as there is limited focus on the systemic interconnected issues that need to be resolved for children to remain at home, and the vital supports that our parents and families need to keep children with them.
“For this to happen, Governments at all levels must change ways of working so that processes, policies, programs and services are community-led, strengths-based and trauma-informed.
“To effectively respond to the systemic issues we have to break the cycle of inequality and interventions.
“Changing this system is the responsibility of all Australians. Insisting that governments invest in prevention is about developing a national narrative of equality where everyone is given the best start in life and has the chance to succeed. To be all of who they are without fear of being dispossessed, taken away, condemned and discriminated against.
“The Australia we want is one that embraces, includes and celebrates our diversity. That is the society our children have belonged to since time began and it is the Australia they deserve and have a right to.”
You can read the full text of Commissioner June Oscar’s speech to the AbSec Biennale Conference here