The Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People April Lawrie has today released Holding on to Our Future, the final report of the Inquiry into the removal and placement of Aboriginal children in South Australia.

The Inquiry, which commenced in mid-2022, has been examining how the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is applied in the removal and placement of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

The principle was designed to recognise the importance of safe care for Aboriginal children within family and culture.

Holding on to Our Future provides 48 findings and 32 recommendations for addressing how the principle is applied to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in the child protection system and ensure Aboriginal children grow up safe and strong within family, community and culture.

The report makes six headline findings concerning:

  1. No accountability and oversight for improving outcomes or performance monitoring.
  2. Insufficient funding to meet demand for early intervention.
  3. Unnecessary removals that are disproportionate and growing, causing long-term harm.
  4. Taking the Principle out of the hands of the Aboriginal community.
  5. A need to involve Aboriginal people in decisions about Aboriginal children.
  6. Systemic racism and cultural bias in child removal and placement decisions.

Holding on to Our Future is the first South Australian child protection inquiry to be led by an empowered Aboriginal person to privilege and preference the voices and experiences of Aboriginal children, their families and communities.

The Inquiry heard from more than 400 Aboriginal children, young people, families, carers, community members and workforce and more than 500 sector stakeholders. Nearly 900 documents and 30 case files were reviewed. Nineteen public hearings were held.

Commissioner Lawrie called on the State Government to act with urgency.

“The government has been told before that investment in early intervention and support is insufficient.

“Failure to act means that struggling, vulnerable families will continue to encounter the child protection service system at increasing rates, and that Aboriginal children being removed from their families will mean the government will pay the cost one way or another, for matters that are preventable.

“The Aboriginal community will no longer tolerate this cost to continue to be at the expense of our children and future generations.”

Facts regarding Aboriginal children and young people in South Australia’s child protection system

  • One in 10 Aboriginal children in South Australia are in state care.
  • If nothing changes, in South Australia, 140 in every 1000 Aboriginal children will be in state care by 2031.
  • In South Australia, Aboriginal children and young people constitute approximately 5.5% of the population of children under 18 but represent 37.4% of all children in Out-Of Home care.
  • For all Aboriginal children in Out-Of-Home Care, only 38% are being cared for by their Aboriginal kin or a member of the Aboriginal community.
  • BetterStart provided data to the Inquiry that showed 1 in 48 Aboriginal children who turned 10 years old in 2001 were placed on a Guardianship to 18 years order, fast forward two decades and this had increased to 1 in 11 Aboriginal children.
  • Further, 1 in 70 Aboriginal children born in 2010 were placed on a Guardianship to 18 years order before their 1st birthday, fast forward 10 years and this has increased to 1 in 24 Aboriginal children.
  • During 2022-2023, a third of all babies statutorily removed from within birthing hospitals were Aboriginal.
  • South Australia has seen a 116.3% increase in Aboriginal children in care between 2011 to 2021 and it has the second highest rate of Aboriginal children on long term guardianship orders and the second lowest rate of reunification for Aboriginal children when compared with all other Australian states and territories.

Holding on to Our Future headline findings (in full)

  1. The Department for Child Protection has no defined strategy to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people, or a culturally appropriate accountability and oversight mechanism for monitoring its performance in the application of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. As such, the cultural responsiveness of the Department is severely lacking.
  2. There is insufficient funding to meet the demand identified for culturally appropriate, early intervention services for vulnerable Aboriginal children and their families.
  3. The State is unnecessarily removing disproportionate and growing numbers of Aboriginal children from their families and communities, causing long term harm to their health, wellbeing and life chances, when they could be responding in a more child-family centred and culturally responsive way.
  4. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle has been taken out of the hands of the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal community voices were not included or deemed necessary in the drafting of the Principle in the current legislation and in policy.
  5. The way decisions are managed and made regarding Aboriginal children’s best interests needs to change. Better outcomes for Aboriginal children are achieved when Aboriginal people, families and communities lead decision-making.
  6. Systemic racism and cultural bias contribute to the disproportionate rates of Aboriginal child removals and placement into non-Aboriginal care.