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Children from the aboriginal communities in Australia including those who hail from the Torres Strait Islands, tend to be over-represented when it comes to both child protection as well as out of home protection and care in comparison to all the non indigenous children in the country. The reasons behind this are quite complex in character, with many of these being connected to colonial legal and past policies. Intergenerational trauma, discrimination, assimilation policies, poverty as well as the forceful removal of children have all ended up contributing to over-representation of Torres Strait Island children and aboriginal children when it comes to child protection and care services, as have the social cultural environment differences in family structure and child rearing practices in Australia. The child protection authorities in the country today will be asked to intervene only if children are at risk of any serious harm or danger or are currently being harmed by oppressive forces. This report identifies the common types of neglect and abuse prevalent among children from the aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities in Australia, discusses the way in which child maltreatment differs between non indigenous and indigenous children and elaborates on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle and its limitations. It also analyzes why aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children tend to be more neglected and subjugated when compared to white Australians, and finally, concludes with a discussion on the steps being taken by government and civil society to improve the child protection services for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Common Types of Neglect and Abuse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Children
There are four important types of child maltreatment that can be witnessed with regard to the aboriginal and Torres island strait children in Australia. These are sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect as well as emotional abuse. Indigenous children living in Australia are seen to suffer from such forms of abuse on a regular basis with little or nothing being done to provide them with relief and comfort in their time of need. The indigenous children are easy to victimize as they are not as conscious of their rights and privilege as children from the white Australian community and are therefore oppressed and subjugated very frequently.
Emotional abuse as well as neglect of the indigenous children refers to the failure on the part of parents and other adult members of the families to which these children belong, to care for them and provide for them in the manner that is desired. This includes the inability to provide them with the right amount of food that they need, in order to grow and develop like non indigenous children. Abuse takes place when the parents of these indigenous children or their care givers subject them to severe mental and emotional trauma, and make them feel fully responsible for the disadvantaged social and economic condition of their families.
Understanding how Child Maltreatment is Different for Non-Indigenous and Indigenous Children
Child maltreatment tends to be far more severe for the indigenous children in Australia than it is for children who hail from white Australian families. This is largely due to the fact that the indigenous children come from families that are socially and economically quite backward when it comes to their white Australian counterparts. The parents of indigenous children are often unable to give them the standard of life that white Australian children are provided by their parents, even for those who belong to a middle income background. Due to poverty and social inequality, parents tend to take out all their anger and their frustration on their children who consequently become victims of domestic violence. More often than not, incidents of domestic violence and abuse against indigenous children take place due to alcoholism in the family, which itself is triggered by adverse socio-economic situations like unemployment, lack of opportunities, denial of proper professional positions due to issues such as racism etc. Most of the indigenous children living in Australia are those who come from disadvantaged families and usually become a punching bag for their parents or care givers who end up torturing and abusing them to no end.
Since indigenous children living in Australia are not entirely aware of their rights and are also denied the privileges that are usually made available to white Australian children, they are not able to approach care givers or social workers with the confidence needed to resolve their terrible situations. While there are many non-profit organizations working actively to end violence meted out to children in prominent Australian cities and towns, the indigenous children are often unaware of such facilities and mechanisms and are not able to use these to their benefit in any way. The problem of racism is also something that keeps the indigenous children living in Australia from reaching out to care givers and helpers in their time of need. Racism is quite dominant in any parts of the country and indigenous children who suffer at the hands of their parents or immediate care givers feel that they are sure to be denied by white Australian social workers should they reach out to them and make their problem known. Hence for the most part, indigenous children who are victims of emotional and physical abuse at home tend to keep the trauma bottled up within themselves and do not end up sharing it with the concerned authorities to get the help they need. This is one of the major reasons why delinquency tends to be quite high among the indigenous children and young adults in Australia. They grow up in an environment that is devoid of care and affection, feel a natural hatred towards the white Australian community whom they find to be oppressive in character and consequently end up engaging in anti social activities because of the lack of proper guidance and care.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is one that has really been endorsed in policy and legislation in all Australian territories and states. What is stated by this principle is the preferred placement order for any aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child removed from his or her family of birth.
1. The extended family of the child
2. The indigenous community to which the child belongs
3. Carers who are aboriginal or from the Torres Strait Island
4. Non-indigenous carers
An important acknowledgement is provided by this principle in the sense that it agrees that all the previous policies caused suffering for aboriginal people and people from the Torres Island. The rights of people of the indigenous communities in Australia, to raise their young ones within their community service, is also something that gets reflected in the principle.
Understanding why Children are not Likely to be Placed in Accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Child Placement Principle
There are a number of important barriers that keep certain children belonging to the indigenous community in Australia from being placed with caregivers in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Child Placement Principle. These include
1. Shortage of indigenous kinship and foster carers
2. Poor identification as well as an assessment of the carers
3. Increasing over-representation of the aboriginal children as well as children from the Torres Strait Island in statutory child protection systems in the country.
4. Deficiencies in cultural care provision as well as deficiencies in connection to community and culture
5. Systemic and practice issues that affect the operationof child care agencies that are working towards the welfare of the indigenous children
6. Inconsistent quantification, monitoring and measuring of this principle across a wide range of jurisdictions
7. Inconsistent support for and involvement of indigenous organizations and people when it comes to decision-makingmatters with regard to childcare.
A major factor that is responsible for the principle not being implemented adequately enough is the dearth of indigenous kinship and care workers. The recruitment, as well as the retention of care givers, is something that seems to be hugely problematic in sectors of both non indigenous as well as indigenous carers. There are of course a number of other important factors that play a role in preventing the child placement principle for aboriginal children and children from the Torres Strait Island from being implemented well enough. These are as follows
1. Carer burnout
2. Mistrust and fear of child welfare systems in some indigenous families
3. Inadequate methods for the identification of kinship relationships as well as for the assessment of carers
4. Eligibility criteria thatexcludessome carers
5. Imbalance in youth dependency ratio owing to the very high numbers of the indigenous children to that of indigenous adults
In spite of the willingness that has been shown by people belonging to the aboriginal community and from the Torres Strait Island to provide care for children in need there is a reduced capacity on their part to do so because of the many different forms of disadvantage that are experienced by the indigenous people overall. When children are placed with caring families or care givers in accordance with the principle, there is also the possibility of them becoming disconnected entirely from their indigenous culture. Something like this is more than likely to happen if the indigenous people are placed in the care of a family or a care giver who comes from a non indigenous or white Australian background. Such a person will not belong to the same cultural group as that of the child and will not be able to raise the child with the cultural values that are intrinsic to the indigenous group that he or she was born into.
Understanding why the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Children more likely to be Neglected and Abused
A few of the underlying causes behind the very poor outcome that is experienced by the aboriginal people and Torres Strait Island people as well as the over representation of the indigenous Australian children in child protection and care services are as follows:
Intergenerational effects of forceful removals
The cultural differences that exist between the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the child protection agencies in Australia that affects their understanding of indigenous child rearing practices
The legacy of cultural assimilation, forceful child removals from their families and parents, and past policies on child protection in Australia
Measures being undertaken to Control the Situation of Indigenous Child Maltreatment in Australia
A national framework for the protection of children in Australia has been drawn up by the Australian government. The framework is to be implemented from 2009 to 2020. The aim of this framework is to bring about a reduction in the maltreatment of children belonging to all Australian communities but it specifically mentions the needs and the requirements of aboriginal children and Torres Strait Islander children. Public health initiatives form an important part of this framework and are directed towards improving the outcome for indigenous children by recognizing as well as promoting family, strengthening community and culture, and using community wide strategies for the addressing of specific risk factors like substance abuse and alcohol abuse and even domestic violence. A Third Party Action Plan has been drawn up for implementation between 2015 and 2018 for achieving the objectives of the framework with the focus area of the action plan being the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as well as their families. A sustained commitment is called upon, by the Third Party Action Plan. This commitment will ensure that all the five different domains of the child placement principle, namely, placement, prevention, participation, connection and partnership are applied when implementing actions and strategies across the other focus areas. A number of national campaigns have also been held aiming at the elimination of over-representation of indigenous children living in the out of home care facilities by the year 2040.
While initiatives have been undertaken and are continuing to be taken in areas of legislation and policy, to improve the situation of indigenous children in Australia, more collaborative efforts are needed between the government and the civil society to achieve this end. Non-profit organization behaviour needs to come together with local government bodies and agencies to identify indigenous children in need of proper care and assistance and proceed to rehabilitate these children in the right homes and facilities where they can be raised in a caring and nurturing environment.