NSW Government must commit to Aboriginal-led reform to fix a failing child protection system

The landmark, Aboriginal-led Family is Culture (FIC) Review was commissioned by the NSW Government to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and families. It examined in detail the increasing and disproportionate number of Aboriginal children removed by the Government into out-of-home care (OOHC) and set out a clear pathway for change.

But three years after the release of the Report, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in OOHC remains a crisis and the NSW Government does not look set to meet its own Closing the Gap Target of reducing the rate of removals by 45% by 2031. According to the latest government data, the rate has reduced by less than 1% since 2019.

On the third anniversary of the FIC Review, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) and AbSec have released a Community Report Card to provide an independent, Aboriginal community perspective on how the NSW Government is tracking on implementation of the FIC recommendations.

PIAC has been supporting the ALS and AbSec, alongside UTS Jumbunna, to monitor progress against the FIC recommendations.

The Report Card shows a lack of any meaningful progress, with piecemeal implementation and a focus instead on the Government’s own reform priorities. It finds the 126 recommendations from the FIC Review for meaningful legislative and policy change have either been ‘sidelined, overlooked, or watered down’.

AbSec and the ALS have particularly called out the Government’s failure to adequately engage and empower Aboriginal communities and stakeholders to partner as key decision-makers in the FIC Report’s implementation.

‘The Government gave a public commitment to building a child protection system that is more responsive to the needs of Aboriginal children, families and communities,’ says PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor. ‘Three years on from the landmark FIC Review and we are still waiting, while Aboriginal communities bear the brunt of a system that is failing.’

‘The FIC Review laid out the pathway to meaningful reform. But its call for real change has gone unanswered – while hundreds more Aboriginal kids have been removed from their families and potentially exposed to lifelong trauma.’

‘We know reform can only be successful if Aboriginal people and communities are involved in making the decisions that affect outcomes for Aboriginal children and their families. It is beyond time for the Government to follow the advice it sought and work in partnership with Aboriginal communities and organisations to properly implement the FIC recommendations.’

While the Government has recently brought forward the timeline for implementing some legislative reforms included in the FIC Report’s recommendations, this is a small first step towards the transformational reform needed.

PIAC joins AbSec and the ALS in calling on the NSW Government to commit to a mutually agreed overarching FIC implementation plan, a community stakeholder and strategic engagement plan and a monitoring and quality assurance process.

Taking these critical steps will be a demonstration of the Government’s political will to genuinely partner with Aboriginal people to address this crisis.

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Towards Truth is a partnership between PIAC and UNSW Indigenous Law Centre.
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