Data tracks progress of First Nations kids over-represented in care19 January 2023
The Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC) has released data for 2021–22 that reports on the rates of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Queensland’s child protection system.
QFCC Commissioner and Gamilaraay woman Natalie Lewis said over-representation was monitored by comparing Queensland-wide and region-specific annual data showing the numbers of First Nations children entering and exiting the child protection system and the length of time they were in care.
“Our approach clearly identifies the points in Queensland’s system where we are and aren’t seeing progress, which is key to informing solutions,” Ms Lewis said.
“To reduce over-representation, we need to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children exiting care than entering, a reduction in the time a child spends in care, and more effort on reunifications with family.
“While the rate of over-representation grew in Queensland, consistent with the national trend, our monitoring approach identified pockets of positive change across the state, led largely by the work of community-controlled organisations and new specialised teams within Child Safety focussing on kinship care.
“We are seeing more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children successfully reunified with their families, increasing from 172 children in 2020–21 to 193 children in 2021–22.
“The Sunshine Coast and Central Queensland region reunified 48 children with their families, the highest in the state, attributed to a new program that authorises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations to lead decisions about a child in out-of-home care, in partnership with families and in culturally safe ways.
“Continued connection to family, community and culture is critical to nurturing the wellbeing a First Nations child, which is why we were encouraged to see the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children placed with kin increase across the state, from 1228 in 2020–21 to 1331 in 2021–22.
“New teams within Child Safety that are dedicated to working with community-controlled organisations to locate kin carers for children have contributed significantly to this positive change, delivering better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
“Despite these positive changes, concerningly, we did see an increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children placed in residential care homes across Queensland, increasing from 482 in 2019–20 and 587 in 2020–21 to 704 children in 2021–22.
“This is an alarming trend, given residential care homes don’t honour a child’s right to be raised in their own culture, families, kinship networks and communities, which is critical to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”
Ms Lewis said this data helped to identify the actions and initiatives that were making an impact in communities across Queensland, which could guide solutions in other communities.
“Our monitoring approach provides evidence about strategies that are working in particular communities, and if we apply the learnings from these successes elsewhere in Queensland or across Australia, we will start to see a reduction in the over-representation of First Nations children in child protection systems.”
Release of the data follows the first ever meeting of Australian First Nations children’s commissioners and guardians last week in Brisbane, which was an opportunity to explore strategies that would improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families across the country.
Ms Lewis said reducing Australia’s growing over-representation of First Nations children in statutory child protection systems was a key focus of the discussions.
“The National Agreement on Closing the Gap includes a target to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031,” Ms Lewis said.
“However, rates aren’t moving in the right direction, with SNAICC’s Family Matters Report 2022 showing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10.4 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children, an increase from 10 times in 2019–20.
“This trend is persistent across all Australian states and territories, underscoring an urgent need for a national approach to monitoring over-representation.
“A collaborative national approach would deliver consistency in data across states and territories, allowing us to learn from others’ successes in processes, practices and outcomes and enable us to direct our coordinated efforts towards areas in greatest need of attention.
“If we are serious about reversing this trend, we need a sense of urgency around investing in family support to address the underlying causes of families’ involvement with child protection systems—including homelessness, housing instability, poverty, mental health, substance dependency, and systemic inequity—which can be achieved only through coordinated action across agencies and in partnership with community-controlled organisations.
“I look forward to continuing discussions with the commissioners and guardians about a national monitoring approach that can deliver rich insights to shape better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families across Australia.”
The over-representation snapshots for 2021–22 can be viewed at www.qfcc.qld.gov.au
For media information contact:
Kirstine O’Donnell | Queensland Family and Child Commission
Phone: 0404 971 164