For those of you who thought the Stolen Generation was a thing of the past - think again.
The annual Family Matters report - issued this week - shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are about 9.7 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. There are more than 20,000 Indigenous children in out-of-home care. This over-representation has increased every year over the past 10 years in every state and territory.
In another disturbing trend, 81 per cent of Indigenous children are in state care to the age of 18. The report says those children are "at serious risk of permanent separation from their families, cultures and communities". In NSW, the use of permanent care orders is twice the national average.
Distinguished legal academic, Indigenous rights advocate and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year, Professor Larissa Behrendt AO, spoke on this topic recently at Newcastle's third annual Margaret Henry Memorial lecture.
Professor Behrendt said that, while the Black Lives Matter movement had appropriately focused attention on incarceration rates and deaths in custody, an equally important issue was keeping Aboriginal children with their families. She said the rate of Indigenous child removal had almost doubled since the Stolen Generation Apology in 2008.
Much of Professor Behrendt's work is campaigning for those Aboriginal children who are considered to have been appropriately removed from their parents, but have not been placed with extended family. More than half of Indigenous children are living without an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carer. The issue here is lack of connection to culture.
Reunifying a child with their family or extended family should always be the goal of any care and protection system. Only 26 per cent of Indigenous children in out-of-home care were identified for possible reunification compared with 37 per cent of non-Indigenous children. Of those children, only 19 per cent of Indigenous children were reunified compared with 28 per cent of non-Indigenous children. Putting children in permanent care or adoption, particularly with non-Aboriginal carers, takes the child off the government's hands, but often has devastating consequences.
Aligned with the views of Professor Behrendt, the Family Matters report concludes that self-determination and putting the voices of Indigenous people at the centre of this issue is the way forward.