White adop­tions won’t re­peat stolen gen­er­a­tion

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - JEREMY SAM­MUT Jeremy Sam­mut is a se­nior re­search fel­low at The Cen­tre for In­de­pen­dent Stud­ies and au­thor of The Mad­ness of Aus­tralian Child Pro­tec­tion

There has been pre­dictable whinge­ing that fed­eral Chil­dren’s Min­is­ter David Gille­spie says indige­nous kids should be adopted by white fam­i­lies be­cause he is a “racist critic of indige­nous par­ent­ing”.

But Gille­spie is right: the only way to prop­erly pro­tect abused indige­nous chil­dren — and stop them be­ing re­cy­cled back into harm — is to al­low adop­tion by non-indige­nous fam­i­lies.

Trag­i­cally, the ever-grow­ing num­ber of indige­nous chil­dren re­moved from their fam­i­lies re­flects wors­en­ing dys­func­tion in some com­mu­ni­ties.

At the start of the cen­tury, 4000 indige­nous chil­dren na­tion­wide — 2 per cent of the to­tal indige­nous child pop­u­la­tion — had been taken into “out of home care”. In 2017, al­most 18,000 indige­nous kids were in care; or 6 per cent of all indige­nous chil­dren.

The Abo­rig­i­nal Child Place­ment Prin­ci­ple (ACPP), embed­ded in leg­is­la­tion in all states and ter­ri­to­ries, obliges child pro­tec­tion au­thor­i­ties to try to place indige­nous chil­dren into “kin­ship care” with rel­a­tives or lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers.

The good in­ten­tion is to en­sure these chil­dren con­tinue to have con­nec­tions with tra­di­tional cul­ture, and avoid the neg­a­tive im­pact that sep­a­ra­tion from fam­i­lies had on the iden­tity of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions.

But in prac­tice, com­pli­ance with the ACPP can lead to “cul­ture” trump­ing child wel­fare. The so­cial prob­lems in ru­ral and re­mote indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties — com­bined with high birth rates, high-adult mor­tal­ity, and high adult to child ra­tios — have cre­ated a short­age of safe kin­ship car­ers.

Hence only around 50 per cent of re­moved indige­nous chil­dren are kin­ship placed. But this does not mean that all kin­ship place­ments are safe and suit­able.

In the name of main­tain­ing cul­ture, some indige­nous chil­dren are placed back in harm’s way in kin­ship place­ments that do not meet ba­sic stan­dards and into which non-indige­nous chil­dren would not be placed.

For ex­am­ple, the two-year-old girl al­legedly raped in a no­to­ri­ous town camp out­side Ten­nant Creek was liv­ing in the “cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate” kin­ship care of rel­a­tives who were sup­pos­edly look­ing af­ter her at the time.

In re­sponse, many politi­cians and indige­nous spokes­peo­ple have in­sisted that cul­ture should never be al­lowed to take prece­dence over well­be­ing.

But putting this sound prin­ci­ple into ef­fect won’t be pos­si­ble un­less there are suf­fi­cient safe, per­ma­nent homes avail­able for all the indige­nous chil­dren who need to be res­cued. Break­ing the taboo around adop­tion by “white” fam­i­lies would stop indige­nous chil­dren be­ing re­moved from the fry­ing pan of fam­ily dys­func­tion only to end up ex­posed to the fire of wider com­mu­nity dys­func­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, some sec­tions of the indige­nous lobby are cam­paign­ing hard to re­duce the num­ber of child re­movals and in­crease com­pli­ance with the ACPP. How­ever, indige­nous adop­tion would not cre­ate the “new Stolen Gen­er­a­tion”, these crit­ics falsely claim.

The rhetoric about “steal­ing” chil­dren again ig­nores that we are not talk­ing about re­mov­ing chil­dren based on their race, but based on proven abuse and ne­glect and demon­stra­ble fam­ily and com­mu­nity dys­func­tion.

More­over, it ig­nores the way mod­ern adop­tion prac­tices bal­ance chil­dren’s cul­tural and wel­fare needs.

When over­seas chil­dren are adopted, we don’t for­get about their her­itage. Rather, we main­tain and nur­ture their cul­tural iden­tity by vis­its back to their birth coun­try, by en­rol­ment at a school with chil­dren from the same back­ground, and by en­gage­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion in lo­cal eth­nic com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties.

There is no rea­son why the same model — which en­sures that all the chil­dren’s needs, in­clud­ing cul­tural needs, are para­mount — can­not ap­ply to indige­nous adop­tion.

“Cul­tural sup­port plans” are al­ready a stan­dard part of child pro­tec­tion prac­tice, to con­nect indige­nous chil­dren to their cul­ture when they are un­able to be placed with kin.

Hence there is no need to ob­sess about “match­ing” — en­sur­ing indige­nous kids are adopted only by indige­nous fam­i­lies — given how this ob­ses­sion has led to black chil­dren wait­ing longer for adop­tion, or not be­ing adopted at all, in the UK.

Un­der a “colour-blind” ap­proach to adop­tion, indige­nous or­gan­i­sa­tions could also be funded to run post-adop­tion cul­tural sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams for chil­dren and their new fam­i­lies. This would not only safely rec­on­cile cul­ture and iden­tity with child wel­fare — and avoid any ques­tion of a re­peat of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions — but it would also end Aus­tralia’s “apartheid” child pro­tec­tion regime that treats indige­nous chil­dren dif­fer­ently based on race.

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