In June 2020 the Disability Royal Commission released an issues paper asking for information about the experiences of First Nations people with disability.
In November 2020, they held a public hearing on experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families who have had contact with child protection systems, and the extent to which culturally appropriate and accessible supports are provided. In September 2021 there was a follow-up hearing focusing on the experiences of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care. There was also a First Nations focus in some of the criminal justice system hearings.
There was a strong focus during both child protection hearings on the firsthand experiences of First Nations people with disability. The Commission alternated between interviewing people with disability (and the carers of children with disability) and questioning witnesses representing state and territory departments responsible for child protection systems. We also heard from some First Nations community controlled organisations and academic experts.
You can check out our twitter threads for both hearings:
You may also wish to look up some of the language used in these hearings in our Jargon Buster, particularly Child Protection terms.
We’ve featured several First Nations people with disability in our ongoing Our Voice blog series:
The Stolen Generation And The Disability Royal Commission, an interview with Lisa Zammit, CEO of Connecting Home.
First Nations children represent 37% of the total population of all children that have been removed from their parents (20,077 children) but represent only 6% of the total population of children in Australia.
Without urgent action, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is projected to double by 2029.
81% (16,287) of First Nations children in out-of-home care are living permanently away from their birth parents until the age of 18 years.
In 2018-19, there were 19 adoptions of First Nations children. Of these, 95% have been to non-Indigenous carers, and all occurred in New South Wales and Victoria.
Australia has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), but is significantly behind on implementing its requirements. Think about the stories you’ve heard during these hearings from First Nations families and children with disability, and read Article 23 – Respect for home and the family.
“States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to persons with disabilities in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities.”
“States Parties shall undertake to provide early and comprehensive information, services and support to children with disabilities and their families.”
“States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. In no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.
States Parties shall, where the immediate family is unable to care for a child with disabilities, undertake every effort to provide alternative care within the wider family, and failing that, within the community in a family setting.”
The Western Australian government has even created neat educational booklets to teach children about their rights. But it seems that respecting those rights in practice, especially when it might cost money, is still a work in progress.
A number of recent investigations into child protection systems have made relevant findings and recommendations on this topic. A few examples:
First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) put out a media release on hearing 8 which can be found here.
The “Family Matters Report 2020” looks at the disproportionate removal of First Nations children from the care of their parents.
Kelly Thompson, a witness from Hearing 16, is the author of a report on the general principles of secure care for children at risk of harming themselves or another person. You can download the report here.
SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) have done a guide to Understanding and applying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. You can find out more about SNAICC here.
QATSICPP are the peak body representing, advocating for and supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child protection and family support services sector in Queensland. You can find out more about them here.
AbSec is a not-for-profit incorporated Aboriginal controlled organisation and the NSW Aboriginal child and family peak organisation. You can find out more about them here.
Hearing 16 included witnesses from community-controlled legal services like North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia.
The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address the ongoing trauma caused by actions like the forced removal of children from their families. You can find out more about them here.
For more background, you can have a look at the Bringing Them Home Report from the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families.