Kinship care is the key to a better child protection system
Tuesday 21 August 2018
AbSec presented on Tuesday at the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) biennial conference, held in Sydney.
Following a keynote address from Dr Leland Ruwhiu and Dr Moana Eruera on Maori cultural frameworks and kinship models used in Aotearoa (New Zealand), our Practice Support Officer Olivia Cumpston, representing our CEO Tim Ireland, delivered a response on similar emerging approaches driven by Aboriginal communities here in Australia.
This is an abbreviated version of Ms Cumpston’s presentation. We gratefully acknowledge support from SNAICC in preparing this information.
Indigenous perspectives have an important role to play in informing systems for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of all children.
Historically, child protection systems have sought to manage risks to children’s wellbeing by transferring them to other households or families. This has done little to address the underlying causes of family dysfunction, and in many cases it has severed children’s family and community connections, essential for their identity and sense of belonging. Now, we see many systems looking to how to strengthen families, prevent harm and preserve connections, mobilising broader communities or networks of care. This has been a feature of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for thousands of generations.
This discussion around Aboriginal cultural frameworks and kinship care is timely given the overwhelming number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are in out-of-home care. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2018 Child Protection Report, 17,644 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were in out-of-home care at 30 June 2017. This is 10 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.
Reversing the high rate of removal of Aboriginal children from their homes is crucial, but the safety of children is always our primary concern. If this cannot be achieved in their primary home for some period, it is critical to draw on broader family, kin and community networks to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are placed in homes where they can maintain connections to their family, community, culture and country.
Disappointingly, “as of 2016, only 67 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia were placed with family, kin, or other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers…Notably the rate of placement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers (excluding non-Indigenous family and kin) has dropped even more steeply to 50.5 per cent” (Family Matters Report 2017). These statistics highlight that Australia is going backwards on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship at an alarming rate.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities continue to advocate for the inclusion of cultural frameworks into the very heart of child and family systems. Family Matters, a national community-led campaign for reform, identified that the building blocks for a better system include access to culturally safe universal and targeted services, delivered through and controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, supported by policy and practice that is culturally safe and responsive to our needs, with government and other services accountable to our communities. It recognises that these approaches must respect and uphold our children’s right to live in culture, and challenge the systemic racism and inequities present in the current system.
What is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship?
There is no one concrete definition of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander kinship. Some community-controlled organisations define Aboriginal kinship as “the biological bloodlines that have been passed on from generation to generation” (QATSICPP Position Statement for Aboriginal Kinship Care). Others define kinship as people related through the same language group, skin name, or other cultural identifiers.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship is diverse. It can be both genealogical and sociological. Having said that, a child’s kin is not simply any adult within the child’s community. Historically a wide definition of “kin” has been adopted by the authorities to identify placements for children without “meaningful mapping, identification, support and enabling of family members who have a legitimate cultural connection to the child” (QATSICPP Position Statement for Aboriginal Kinship Care).
Using an overly broad definition of “kin” adversely impacts children’s connection to culture in out-of-home care. Therefore, it is crucial to seek clarification of the specific kinship relationships that a child may have within their own community, following guidance from family members, community elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.
If a kinship system of care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families is to be optimised, governments must meaningfully partner with community-controlled organisations. Communities must have the primary role in designing and administering these systems, including carer identification, assessment and support.
A recent promising example of effective partnership is the Victorian Aboriginal Guardianship program, piloted in 2013. The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was authorised to take full responsibility for decision-making and the delivery of services and supports for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in Victoria, assuming the role of an Aboriginal Guardian for children in out-of-home care.
Though the pilot worked with only 13 children, the results are encouraging. Six of the children went ‘home’ from foster or residential care to their parents or another family member, despite being in out of home care for lengthy periods and despite being considered as having limited potential to ever return home (Project Evaluation Report). The program is continuing.
Further, like NSW, the Victorian Government has committed to transition the care and case management of all First Nations’ children in Victoria from government and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
Culturally safe and best practice
A crucial aspect of engaging kinship-based approaches is the routine and detailed mapping of each child’s kin, country and cultural connections to create comprehensive genograms and identify possible networks of care.
Best practice includes conducting mapping at the early stages of care proceedings and continuing to do so throughout the various stages; meeting with family and individuals with cultural authority for the child to accurately ascertain kinship relationships and potential carers; and recording strong family ties and dynamics. It is important that this work is conducted in a sensitive manner as mapping exercises can reveal traumatic experiences that may be overwhelming for the child and their family.
It is also important to assess carers and potential carers using assessment tools that are culturally safe and adapted, and/or assessment approaches that are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations. The Winangay carer assessment resources are a promising example of culturally appropriate kinship carer assessment tools.
In addition, AbSec’s Caring for Carers model is a carer support framework that outlines how to engage with and meet the needs of kinship networks, including Aboriginal kinship carers, to ensure they receive culturally safe and appropriate support to care for their children.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship is diverse and complex. It’s important to consult communities on their identification of kin, and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
- If Aboriginal children in the child protection system are to stay connected to community and culture, it is crucial that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are adequately funded to provide input to decision-making, and to provide services to Aboriginal families.
- We need to build the role and capacity of Aboriginal organisations in identifying and supporting kinship carers for our kids in care.
- More support (both financial and other kinds) needs to be provided to both informal and formal kinship carers looking after Aboriginal children.