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NSW Government and Aboriginal communities working to improve safety and wellbeing for children

13-February-2024

The NSW Government has taken another step towards improving Aboriginal child safety and reforming the child protection system with the first meeting of the Ministerial Aboriginal Partnership Group (MAP Group).

The Government is partnering with Aboriginal stakeholders, leaders and community representatives as part of ongoing efforts to reform the NSW child protection system.

These reforms aim to reduce the unacceptably high number of Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care (OOHC) by supporting families and partnering with Aboriginal organisations to keep more kids safe.

The State Government and Aboriginal stakeholders agree that the existing child protection system isn’t working, with more than 14,000 children in OOHC across the state, 46 per cent of whom are Aboriginal.

Members of the inaugural MAP Group met for the first time in Sydney yesterday on the 16th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, with discussions centred around reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in OOHC.

The group was formed following a landmark forum in August last year, where more than 100 Aboriginal community representatives proposed measures to reform the system.

Based on these conversations, the NSW Labor Government has committed to a number of actions to keep more children and young people safe, including:

  • Establishing the new MAP Group with the Minister for Families and Communities, Aboriginal stakeholders and communities. The MAP Group will oversee reforms to the system and provide Aboriginal communities greater control of the future of their own children.
  • Setting up a restoration taskforce, to support Aboriginal children who can safely go home to do so. This taskforce will oversee the expansion of restoration-focused work in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations across NSW.
  • Formalising the leadership of Aboriginal people and communities in decisions concerning Aboriginal children and child protection.

These three measures have been agreed in accordance with the NSW Government’s Closing the Gap commitments.

The MAP Group will address critical issues outlined at the reform forum, with a particular focus on establishing governance and oversight to reduce the number of Aboriginal children needing to enter care, along with facilitating their return to families and communities, where safe to do so.

The NSW Government acknowledges that Aboriginal people must determine and drive desired outcomes, alongside and in partnership with government.

The meeting of the MAP Group will continue momentum of positive change for Aboriginal families, including last year’s commencement of provisions in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment (Family is Culture) Bill 2022.  

Under the changes the Department of Communities and Justice is required to present evidence to the Children’s Court to demonstrate that ‘Active Efforts’ were taken to keep families together, when it is safe to do so. This could include actively searching for extended family members who may be able to provide support or seeking out a culturally appropriate service to work with the family.

The MAP Group marks a crucial step in the ongoing effort to reform and enhance child safety and wellbeing for all communities in NSW. 

The MAP Group members include a cross-section of experienced Aboriginal child protection leaders, advocates and practitioners. AbSec and SNAICC were charged with creating an expression of interest (EOI) process that has seen the following appointments: John Leha (co-chair), BJ Newton, Zoe De Re, Dana Clarke, Michael Newman, Pamela Wells, Paul Gray, Heidi Bradshaw, Cheryl Jackson, Wendy Knight and Lily Miles.

 

Minister for Families and Communities Kate Washington said:

"The NSW Government is committed to reducing the over representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system, in partnership with Aboriginal leaders, stakeholders and communities.

"The establishment of the MAP Group will drive the reform process, oversee its implementation, and start changing the trajectory of outcomes for Aboriginal children.

“Status-quo is not an option. We have an opportunity to work across Government agencies and Aboriginal communities to improve the outcomes of Aboriginal children and their families.”

 

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty David Harris said:

“The current rates of Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care are not good enough.

“Reforming the system and putting Aboriginal children and communities at the heart of decision-making is essential to ensuring children know and connect with their family, culture, and community.

“The MAP Group and the restoration taskforce will play a vital role in Closing the Gap both through transforming government and empowering Aboriginal communities.”

 

CEO of AbSec and MAP Group co-chair John Leha said:

"This is a major step forward and it is fitting that it comes on the anniversary of the Apology. We are thrilled to be working hand-in-hand with the minister on this landmark reform partnership. It is gratifying to see that the Government has recognised that Aboriginal people and ACCOs know what their families and communities need.

"I accept the role of MAP Group co-chair with both pride and trepidation. It is a heavy responsibility that we now carry and we will be accountable to community. We need to make sure we do not simply create more of the same. We need to seize this opportunity to move further and faster away from the paternalistic and authoritarian history of the child protection system, to finally put Aboriginal people in control of our own destiny. Based on all the signs so far, I’m confident we will be able to.”



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