Indigenous children overrepresented in foster care

Wanslea executive manager Stephen Lund.
Wanslea executive manager Stephen Lund.

Of the children Wanslea foster care service supports, about 47 per cent are Aboriginal even though they make up just 5 per cent of the population of children in WA.

This is reflected across WA with 49.5 per cent of all children aged 0-17 in out-of-home care Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Mr Lund said it saddened him that Wanslea, which has an office in Armadale, was not able to keep children with their families and support the families better rather than take children into foster care.

‘One of the main underlying issues is poverty and intergenerational trauma,’ he said.

‘Until these underlying issues are addressed, Aboriginal children will continue to be over represented in foster care.’

The main contributing factors for children put in foster care were neglect and emotional abuse.

‘These are often the result of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and/or domestic violence,’ he said.

‘We need to ensure that staff assessing parenting in the home take into account cultural considerations as child rearing practices are different depending on different cultures.

‘Having said that, abuse and neglect are not OK and children need to be kept safe until parents can demonstrate that they can provide a safe living environment.’

The comments came after a Family Matters – Kids Safe in Culture not Care forum was held in Perth by the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) last month.

SNAICC chairwoman Sharron Williams said the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out- of-home care had grown at an alarming rate in the past decade across Australia.

‘In Western Australia, the number of our children in care has tripled since 2003,’ she said.

‘This is a totally unacceptable situation. We need to take urgent action and consider different approaches based on greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation to arrest this worrying escalation in numbers.

‘We have a modern-day version of the Stolen Generations unfolding. The motives of authorities in removing children may be different, but the impact on children, families and communities is devastating all the same.’

Mr Lund said the Stolen Generations was the result of oppressive and racist government policies at the time and was a different scenario than the reason that children were removed in 2014.

‘I agree that children should be kept at home if at all possible, but children’s safety should be paramount and if this means removing them for a period of time, then this is sometimes necessary,’ he said.