Child protection groups want Indigenous commissioner

A​ new alliance of child protection agencies is calling for an independent national commissioner for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Allies for Children includes some of the country's largest child and family organisations including OzChild, Key Assets, Life Without Barriers, Barnardo’s, MacKillop and the Benevolent Society.

Alliance spokesperson and Life Without Barriers chief executive Claire Robbs said the group backed First Nations organisation SNAICC - National Voice for Our Children, which is hosting a national conference in Darwin.

“The need for a national commissioner has been at the forefront of SNAICC’s work for decades and now we have government representatives and advocates joining their call for this position because they recognise how vital this role is for the future of First Nations young people," she said.

SNAICC chair Muriel Bamblett, who is also the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, told AAP outcomes were better for First Nations children when Indigenous people and organisations were involved.

“The evidence is clear that when we are partners in the decision-making, running the services and developing the policy, it works,” Professor Bamblett said.

"We bring voices of the community and issues into the government arena. 

"And we are expressions of self determination because we fight for the rights of our families to get help, justice, family violence, housing, homeless and the broadest range of programs for our people."

In an address at the SNAICC conference to more than 1600 people involved in education, care and child protection for First Nations children, Ms Robbs called for non-Indigenous organisations to step away from providing out-of-home care to Aboriginal children.

“We must openly identify parts of this system that are built on discriminatory ideas and practices and we must challenge and change these together,” she said.

“We must prioritise every decision around the right for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to grow up strong in identity and with belonging.

“To achieve that, organisations like Life Without Barriers have to step out of the way and encourage the direct investment of resources towards community control."

In 2020 Life Without Barriers came under fire in a report by former NT children's commissioner Colleen Gwynne that found 12 Aboriginal children in care were subjected to sexual and physical abuse by two carers.

The report found Life Without Barriers, which recruited the foster carers, did not keep proper records, failed to meet adequate standards and placed children at potential risk.

Prof Bamblett said in Victoria there were too many Aboriginal children who had been in out of home care for too long.

"The department's rate getting some of those children home at the moment is about 12 per cent and what we're finding in our organisation, is it's 24 to 25 per cent," she said.

"So if we had more investment and the authority to be able to make decisions for our families we'd be able to reunite more children with their parents."

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