In 1997 the Bringing them Home Report documented the enormous suffering endured by Indigenous families as children were removed from their parents and kin. The Report showed that at the time 1 in 5 children in out of home care were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. In 1997, 20% of children removed by child protection authorities were Indigenous. In 2015, this percentage had increased to 35%. In 2019, 1 in 3 children in care were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Despite significant evidence of the severe trauma created by the removal of children from their families there has been little progress in this area. The intergenerational impact and cultural loss created by such removal is well documented and needs to be of great concern to all Australians.
On this Sorry Day, the Australian community needs to commit itself to ensuring the wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Its concerns for their wellbeing need to go beyond words. Its efforts to improve Aboriginal lives must be founded on the recognition that much of the suffering experienced, both in the past and in the present, by Indigenous individuals and communities is caused by attitudes that demean and dismiss Indigenous culture and peoples.
Much of the disadvantage in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children live is caused by poverty. The impact on mental and physical health of long-term, childhood poverty is well known. If Aboriginal children are to grow up healthy, happy and safe then efforts to minimise poverty and create stable, culturally safe environments are essential. Whereas billions are spent for out of home care, far less is expended on services that assist Indigenous families to create a better environment and opportunities for their children. This must change.
There are too many talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children not maximising their potential. Such a loss is a tragedy for them, their families and Australia as whole. Australia can do much better than it has done so far to recognise the beauty and true value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.