Briefing: Reduce Child Removals in the ACT

The ACT has an above average rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removals in Australia. The Australian average is 57.2 per 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removals[1]. But 63.2 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children per 1,000 are removed in the ACT, compared to 5.5 per 1,000 non-Indigenous children. That’s 197 Indigenous children in out of home care (at the end of June 2023). It’s 11.5 times the proportion of non-Indigenous children removed from their families.

While some good things are happening, more needs to change in the ACT.

What do we want?

  • All the recommendations of the Our Booris: Our Way Reports implemented fully and government partnering effectively with Aboriginal people.
  • All Directorates to work with greater urgency, coordination and priority to reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander child removals.
  • Greater investment in preventing removals of Aboriginal children, such as stronger wrap-round supports for families at risk of having children removed.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle fully implemented with Aboriginal kin.
  • An independent merits review process for decisions to remove children, as recommended by the ACT Human Rights Commission.
  • The Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm fully operational as a residential facility to support parents who need healing.
  • Greater emphasis and urgency to implementing the 2009 Report ‘We Don’t Shoot our Wounded’ on family violence, and to developing Aboriginal-specific drug and alcohol programs. These measures could reduce the incidence of families at risk of child removals.
  • No child be removed due to family poverty – instead, government to assist the family to overcome poverty.

The Closing the Gap target is: By 2031, reduce the rate of overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (0–17 years old) in out-of-home care by 45%.

In the ACT, the rate of children in out of home care has dropped slightly since 2019 from 68.5 per 1000, but to achieve the target of 37.4 per 1000 by 2031 (45% decrease on 2019 rate) there should by now be only around 52 per 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care. So much more needs to be done.

Cost of Children in out of home care

Research by the Canberra Restorative Community Network in 2020 found that the cost of removing one child in the ACT into Out of Home Care was $154,000 over their lifetime. The figure includes very conservative estimates of costs to the health, education, welfare, housing and justice systems for those who have been in child protection. For just 197 children in one year, that amounts to over $30 million cost. They suggested that an annual investment of $5 million in restorative approaches in child protection, to help keep at least 50 children safe and out of the system, would deliver significant savings to the ACT community, and better outcomes for children.

Our Booris: Our Way Report

In 2017, Minister Stephen Smith announced a review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the ACT child protection system. That review, which reported in 2018 (interim report) and 2019 (final report) made many recommendations. Six monthly reviews have been published which detail each recommendation and progress made. However, the Aboriginal Chair of the Implementation Oversight Committee said in report for Jan – June 2023:

Unfortunately, progress is being stunted by a lack of impetus for a genuine and enduring partnership approaches and Aboriginal-led decision making. When our voices are not listened and responded to in true partnership our efforts over the last 6 years are diminished. There are parts of ACT Government who are not listening, or who think they are listening but who, at this point, don’t hear and understand what we are saying. They are holding us back.….. We need all Directorates to lift their weight if real and meaningful change is to really happen on the ground for our children, who are our future.

In the June to December 2023 Report, the Chair, acknowledging some improvements, said this:

… there are some parts of the ACT Government where we are still witnessing weak and ad-hoc tinkering in systems that are no longer fit for purpose. Whilst some Directorates really are doing some heavy lifting, our children and young people need a joined-up approach from the ACT Government to realise the benefits of growing up strong and thriving here on Ngunnawal Country. Our Committee has outlined how this can be done and continues to press for and drive the implementation of our recommendations.

Sadly, children raised in out of home care are more likely to end up in the justice system and in poor health. There is an urgency to reducing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families.

Further Reading:

To contact ANTAR ACT:   

Authorised by Janet Hunt on behalf of ANTAR ACT.

July 2024

[1] Source:  Productivity Commission Closing the Gap Data:

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