Adopting, or Stealing Children?
photo: Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Old Parliament House, October 2008 – Photo, Gerry Georgatos
“We resolve, as a nation, to do all in our power to make sure these practices are never repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the importance of the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. said Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her recent National Apology for Forced Adoptions on Thursday 21 March 2013 http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/national-apology-forced-adoptions
Then on Monday 13 May 2013 we witnessed ‘Adoption an option for neglected Indigenous children’ making international headlines…
Paul Bleakley reported in The Australian Times UK that the Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has announced that he will remove neglected Aboriginal children from their homes and adopt them out if necessary, claiming that fears of a return to the Stolen Generation have put Indigenous children at serious risk in recent years. See the article below in its entirety:
NORTHERN Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has announced he will remove neglected Aboriginal children from their homes and adopt them out if necessary, claiming that fears of a return to the Stolen Generation have put Indigenous children at serious risk in recent years.
Mr Giles, who became the country’s first Indigenous state or territory leader earlier this year, said his government was committed to making parents take responsibility for their children. He said that if parents were unable to provide satisfactory conditions for their children that alternative solutions had to be considered, including putting neglected children up for adoption.
Mr Giles has told The Australian: “Whatever we do has to be about making parents take responsibility for their kids. And if they won’t, (we’re) prepared to provide alternative solutions. If that means those kids are loved and cared for by other parents, then so be it.”
The Howard Government introduced the Northern Territory National Emergency Response package in 2007, which was designed to address allegations of child abuse and neglect in the territory’s Indigenous communities. Mr Giles said despite ongoing commitment to improving quality of life for Northern Territory’s Aboriginal residents, only one Indigenous child had been removed from its home and adopted out in the past decade.
Mr Giles said: “There are situations in the Northern Territory where nobody has been prepared to support a permanent adoption of a child for fear of Stolen Generation. There is a lineup of families out there who say, ‘If you want help with children, we’ll be happy to foster a child, look after a child.’”
There are currently processes in place in the Northern Territory that allows for the adoption of a child that has been subjected to serious neglect or abuse, however Mr Giles claims that previous governments have hesitated to use adoption within Indigenous communities in an attempt to avoid comparisons with the Stolen Generation. He said that his government would not advocate a ‘mass grab’ of children, instead considering adoption as an option on a case-by-case basis.
Mr Giles said: “You mean to tell me when we’ve got all these alleged cases of chronic child sexual abuse, children running around on petrol, going on the streets at night sexualising themselves in some circumstances, and there’s only one permanent adoption, for fear of Stolen Generation? That is not standing up for kids.”
The Stolen Generation refers to the Indigenous children that were removed from their families by the Australian government between 1909 and 1969, in a policy intended to ‘civilise’ the country’s native population. There are no exact figures stating how many children were taken during this period, however it is believed that at least 100 000 Indigenous children were taken as a part of the Stolen Generation.
Mr Giles said: “If you’ve got kids who aren’t being looked after by their parents, there’s only so many times you can try and intervene to get that right. It’s not like we’re coming in to take kids, but where individual issues come up, we will take that decision. People were too scared of Stolen Generation. And I believe that’s why there’s a lot of kids out there with such social dysfunction.”
Mr Giles became Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in March after defeating fellow Country Liberal Party member Terry Mills in a leadership challenge. He is a former public housing manager for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and served on the Northern Territory’s Indigenous Economic Taskforce.
Mr Giles became Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in March 2013 after defeating fellow Country Liberal Party member Terry Mills in a leadership challenge. He is a former public housing manager for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and served on the Northern Territory’s Indigenous Economic Taskforce.
Understandably some Aboriginal advocates are horrified by a Northern Territory Governments proposal to put Aboriginal children up for adoption if they are victims of neglect.
Deputy Chief Minister Dave Tollner backs the plan, saying children are often moved from one foster carer to the next without giving them the chance of living with an adoptive family.
“It’s a frustrating thing when you see parents who will never have the capacity to care for a child … for a whole range of reasons, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, all of that,” he said.
He says he has seen first-hand the concerns that stop authorities from removing a child from a family due to fears about creating another Stolen Generation.
“We seem to think it’s okay to put that child into foster care, time after time, after time, after time,” he said.
“There are decent, loving people out there who want to adopt, who will raise that child in a loving environment.”
“I think it’s a terrible blight on our society that there are these sacred cows that we can’t go near.”
“It’s a frustrating thing when you see parents who will never have the capacity to care for a child” said Mr Tollner.
“Parents who will NEVER have the capacity to care for a child” he said.
Is there so little faith in our abilities as human beings who possess the enormous capacity for survival, resilience, change and most importantly LOVE, especially when provided with culturally appropriate ‘tools’ to encourage that capacity for positive change.
Neglect is being used to sweep a lot of issues under the rug and forcibly remove children regardless, a whole gamut of reasons including alcohol abuse, domestic violence, loss of income etc.
These articles hit the International arena and it is disturbing that the full picture is never truthfully told.
What has the Australian Government endorsed in terms of Policy?
And what, if any of the outcomes, that have been purported to improve the plight of our First Nations peoples, have actually been achieved?
Speaking with Sarina Jan, Western Australian Regional Manager for the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) we deliberated over these very questions.
“20 years ago approximately 250 Aboriginal Women Centres in remote Communities were defunded.” She said.
We saw the “Save the Children” Report catapult us into the current NT Intervention nightmare.
“The NT Intervention enacted for 5 years equated to an increase in police, NO rehabilitation centres, and safe houses erected in selected Aboriginal Communities.”
“The NT Intervention at the end of 2012 equated to no one, not one single person being prosecuted, and no changes whatsoever other than more houses in Communities.”
Over the next 10 years we will see the ‘Stronger Futures’ enacted which will replace the NT Intervention.
The Northern Territory Government in the change from Labor to Country Liberal saw the first Aboriginal Chief Minister come into office and the subsequent downgrades to the Department of Child Protection.
There have been downgrades and defunds aplenty, in particular to the Aboriginal Child Agency that was formed for the NT Intervention.
The Department of Youth now falls under the Department of Justice and the Department of Family and Children Services, under the Department of Education.
“Adding insult to injury the NT Stolen Generation go un-recognised with nil funding – in this, the 100 year anniversary of the Stolen Generation – to any sites in 2013.” said Ms Jan.
The Northern Territory Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation spokeswoman Vicki Lee Knowles is adamant that adoption should be the last resort and must be maintained within Aboriginal families and communities.
“Only where [there is] absolutely no other option, there is room for adoption [but] within an Aboriginal family because the loss of culture, land and language has a long-term impact on the social and emotional well-being of those children who are removed.”
Ms Knowles says long-term harm is caused by Aboriginal children being removed from their families.
“We are absolutely horrified that an Indigenous chief minister should start to have this conversation publicly in the way that he has and I think he’s misinformed about the consequences of the impacts of removing those children,” she said.
Northern Territory Children’s Commissioner Howard Bath says child protection in the Territory is at crisis point, but only a very small number of families would want to put their children up for adoption.
He says there needs to be an improvement in the services offered to Indigenous families.
“Why aren’t we supporting families? Why aren’t we providing the intense support for families so that the natural parents are given the skills and motivation to be able to look after and protect their own kids?” he asked.
I invited community members to comment – in their entirety to follow:
“As an Indigenous person from the Stolen Generations I have major concerns in regards to removing Indigenous children from their parents on the grounds of neglect.
In 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission published ‘Bringing them Home: Report on the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families’. This report traces the history of forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and documents the damaging effects forced separation and institutionalisation had, and continues to have on the well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
Removal from natural family has been associated with higher rates of emotional distress, depression, poorer physical health and higher rates of smoking and use of illicit substances. It has also been associated with lower educational and employment outcomes. These consequences of separation not only affect those who personally experience removal, but can be trans-generational, impacting on children, families and communities.
Overall, those who had been removed from their natural family were more likely to have experienced at least one stressor in the 12 months prior to interview (73% of people aged 15–39 years and 67% of adults 40 years and over who had been removed, compared with 57% and 56% of those not removed). Results from the 2008 NATSISS show that adults aged 40 years and over were around twice as likely to have experienced a mental illness or alcohol related problem (both 14%), compared with those who had not been separated (7% and 6% respectively). They were also more than twice as likely to have been treated badly or discriminated against (13% compared with 5% of those not removed) (graph 7.4).
People aged 15–39 years who had been removed from their family were more likely to have had trouble getting a job (20%, compared with 13% of those not removed) and almost four times as likely to have been treated badly or discriminated against (19% compared with 5%). They were also around twice as likely to have experienced a mental illness (15% compared with 6% of those not removed) or an alcohol related problem (11% compared with 6%) in the 12 months prior to interview (graph 7.3).
What I find myself asking is “have we not learned anything and are we to raise another generation of Indigenous people with stressors and not able to function in society?” What families need are support and services such as Well-Being Centres established that will assist the whole family in healing and supporting them. Also Children and Youth Safe Houses need to be established in order for the children to still have contact with other family members and their community, given the negative impact on an Indigenous child removed from community.
I do not support any child/children being removed on the grounds of neglect and one has to question can the NT Government respond? Given NSW re-evaluated it’s response to children at risk, perhaps the NT Government needs to look at other States responses in regards to the well-being of children.
The Federal Government should ensure that it honours it’s agreement in accepting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people as a framework to work upon and ensure that they do protect the rights of Indigenous people as set out in Article 7 and Indigenous specific rights under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, ensuring that they will intervene if States and Territories are implementing laws or policies that will deny Indigenous peoples their rights as a people.
May I also suggest the recommendations from the Human Rights Commission, Preventing Crime and Promoting Rights for Indigenous Young People with Cognitive Disabilities and Mental Health Issues Part 3″, Stories from the field: A life course approach to Indigenous young people with cognitive disabilities and mental health issues, that identified participants suggested a holistic model of service to assist all Indigenous young people, including those with cognitive disabilities and/ or mental health issues. Associate Professor Helen Milroy, an Indigenous child and adolescent psychiatrist, outlined this approach, encompassing physical, psychological, social and spiritual/ cultural needs. Below is Professor Milroy’s assessment of what is particularly relevant for all Indigenous young people including those with cognitive disabilities and/or mental health problems at risk of juvenile justice involvement.
- Physical: Screening for chronic diseases such as rheumatic fever, kidney damage, anaemia, blood sugar levels. Screening and assessment of any development delay, indicating cognitive disability.
- Psychological/ Emotional: Consideration of experiences of trauma, loss, identity issues. An assessment of coping styles, autonomy and emotional regulation, as well as awareness that most young people with cognitive disabilities do not have emotional language so may be acting out to express themselves.
- Social: Understanding of family and where the young person fits in society. This requires Indigenous mentors and role models to help young people find their place in their communities. We need to help young people understand the story of Indigenous people, so that young people don’t keep thinking that the problems in communities are due to fact that they are simply ‘bad’. Instead, need to help them understand the history and turn negatives around to instil pride in their identity.
- Spiritual/ Cultural: Need to validate culture and experiences and promote connection to ancestry through healing and culture camps.
These principles should act as a checklist for all services for Indigenous young people and have guided the selection of our case studies.
Holistic service delivery for Indigenous people is not a new idea and has long been part of Indigenous health policy. However, according to Professor Milroy, there are few programs that actually meet all of these needs. Indigenous programs tend to meet social and spiritual/cultural needs well. Mainstream services deal better with physical and psychological/ emotional needs but neither seems to be able to balance all of these areas of concern.
Holistic service delivery also means an interagency, whole of government approach. The complex needs of Indigenous young people with cognitive disabilities or mental health problems means that they are likely to be involved with a range of government and non-government services. Despite a whole raft of policy documents and guidelines extolling the importance of inter-agency cooperation, our consultations found that this is rarely the case on the ground.
At every stage, assessment and identification of children and young people with cognitive disabilities and/or mental health issues is crucial. Without identification, children and young people are likely to have their needs ignored or misinterpreted. This in turn, leads to poor outcomes. Despite the importance of early identification of special needs, consultations suggested that for Indigenous young people with cognitive disabilities and/or mental health issues slipping through the gaps was the norm, rather than the exception.
Consistent with the literature review, there were real concerns about the cultural bias in psychological assessments for cognitive disabilities and/or mental health issues. Although there is greater validity for visual tests, according to workers from the Disability Services Commission in Western Australia, ‘you may as well throw away the tests when you are working with remote communities.’ Instead, workers ask parents or caregivers to compare the child or young person to others the same age to get a sense of appropriate development. Assessment is less clinical and ‘really a series of educated guesses’.
Low confidence in assessment tools, continuing cultural bias, low expectations of Indigenous children and low recognition amongst Indigenous families and communities about possible cognitive and mental health problems all lead to fewer assessments. Assessment is the gate keeping process so fewer assessments equal lower levels of service provision.
To be eligible for disability support services a young person must have an IQ less than 70. This knocks out a large group in the borderline intellectually disabled range. Further, there was a belief amongst those we consulted that this is an arbitrary line. Many young people with higher IQs may be functionally well below the diagnostic mark. This is because any cognitive deficits are compounded by living in disadvantaged environments.
Mental health assessments also function poorly with Indigenous young people. Mental health assessments do not contextualise behaviour and symptoms within an awareness of Indigenous history and experience. The magnitude of trauma in the Indigenous community suggests that we need to seriously consider child and adolescent behaviour in this context. Across the board, experts, workers and community members felt that trauma and pain was at the root cause of most mental health issues.
From a clinical point of view, Professor Milroy suggested that there is a gross under diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Indigenous communities. PTSD is a psychological condition following exposure to a stressful or traumatic experience. It has been recognised as a particular issue for indigenous peoples around the world as:
the common experiences of childhood and adult trauma, removal of children from families, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, and early death all result in generations of people more likely to suffer from PTSD.
Most of what I have said has relied on evidence and reports that have indicated that removal of Indigenous children from their families creates long term social and emotional problems, not only on the child/children but also on the community as a whole. https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/preventing-crime-and-promoting-rights-indigenous-young-people-cognitive-disabilities-3#fn158
1. Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person.
2. Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.
It certainly is very disappointing that an Indigenous Minister or any Minister would be advocating this kind of response. I really do wish that I had more time, given the negative implication of removing Indigenous children based on ignorance and ill-informed information.” – Cleonie Quayle
“I feel that as the Indigenous leader in the NT, he should be talking more with the community before he run off like all other bureaucrat before him, we have already had one big liar come out of the NT by a Canberra bias bureaucrat, we don’t need a NT bureaucrat doing the same.” – Pat Lock
“It demonstrates a paucity of thinking and the remnant dogmatic stereotypes that are shovelled down our throats by various origin-of-thinking that arose from within historical privilege and which has carried in effect uninterrupted contemporaneously. Yes, it is the Stolen Generations and social engineering when Adam Giles argues in the ways he has. Adam’s arguments demonstrate a lack of understanding of the psychosocial and his disregard of the volumes of evidence that bespeak the answer and remedies.
He has inadvertently manipulated symptoms as causal rather than seek out the underlying issues and the subsequent remedies where permissible.
You should never remove children from their families on the premise of neglect arising from poverty. Keeping families together should be an underlying principle wherever possible – this is redemptive, restorative and bridges humanity. The Stolen Generations is not just about the removal of children on the premise of social engineering, it is about callous ignorance. The Stolen Generations should not only be remembered as an attempt to wipe out colour but also for the evidence that removing children from their parents ensures often irreparable damage to the psyche, and damage to one’s form and content, thus hindering their development. Such damage mangles, and often renders impotent, the functions and operations of family and ones understanding of family. Removal of a child from their family predisposes situational trauma, continuing stress disorders and anxieties, and a complexity of multiple traumas that one spends a lifetime trying to disassociate or heal from – with the worst outcomes, incarceration and suicide.
Australia is one of the few nations in the world that outrageously removes children from their families because they are impoverished or perceivably neglected because of the stressors of that matter of fact poverty. If we look at our regional neighbour, Indonesia, which endures acute poverty, they do not go about removing the children from poverty stricken families whose parents have to work all day or who are not able to provide them what privileged families are able to. Similarly so with most nations. Australia has a rogue mindset borne of its maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples that it can continue on with convictions that arose in Australia’s own era of Apartheid.
Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy and it is about time its Governments prioritised the most vulnerable with the spend from the gross domestic product that they have the capacity to allocate.
Adam Giles should be focused on assisting impoverished communities, in assisting struggling and perceivably dysfunctional families, in providing to these communities and families the full suite of infrastructure and social equity which is available to most of the rest of Australia. In Western Australia, one in every 14 Aboriginal children is in the care of the State, this is a disgrace. Where Governments do not eliminate the divide between impoverished Aboriginal communities and peoples and the rest of Australia then this is actually the neglect, a criminal neglect. The neglect of these children does not emanate from the families but from the Government. This Government neglect lays on the stressors and preconditions which deny opportunity and equality from the beginning of life.
There are no ifs and buts.” – Gerry Georgatos, PhD researcher
“If you look back through the various apologies made in the Parliaments of this country a common theme was “we must never let this happen again”. Clearly Mr Giles has not read these speeches.” – Linda Burney
“This is shocking! This threatening talk goes against the current climate that is the forced adoptions apology. I must say I’m amazed by the statement that there are lots of potential foster parents out there – I was under the impression that there is a massive shortage. I guess you’ve seen the Senate Committee Report on Former forced adoption policies and practices (Feb. 2012)? The following national apology unfortunately didn’t get the media attention it should have due to the ridiculous leadership spill on the same day. Are we going to have yet again another set of rules for them and us?
The Prime Minister clearly stated in the apology that: “We resolve, as a nation, to do all in our power to make sure these practices are never repeated. In facing future challenges, we will remember the lessons of family separation. Our focus will be on protecting the fundamental rights of children and on the importance of the child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.” – Name Withheld
“This is a disastrous policy change in the nurture and care of our children…again. What the Minister needs to remember is the fact that this policy choice has the hallmarks of a failure to take seriously, the high levels of poverty among our people and the lack of innovative approaches to family enhancement programs which would resolve many of the issues our families face in the NT.” – In the struggle…Pastor Ray Minniecon
“From my view point does the article in issue have some credibility as my experience shows that the press has this illogical way of embellishing their own aspect of looking at matters, and in particular the Indigenous issues in our country, especially coming from an Indigenous person who should be aware of the historical events of the past and the damage that it caused.” – Sonny Morey
“Well, well, the NT government led (for the first time ever in Australia) by a black man is proposing the adoption of indigenous children who are neglected. There is soooo much I could say about this but I will say only this ‘Stockholm Syndrome’… even if it’s only a way out for the policy makers. We mustn’t let it happen again.” – Name Withheld
“Lots of scary implications with this one. They can only carry out adoptions with the consent of the mother, but I wouldn’t put it past them to get women to sign things they don’t understand. Bush Mob would never give up their children for adoption. They have a good foster care system; they need to take better care of the foster parents.” – Name Withheld
“And which Aboriginal advocates were they? Can’t be anyone who knows what’s really going on up there. Cos the abuse & neglect isn’t just coming from home, it’s entrenched in the racist every day views of society, some aspects of the intervention & history of neglect in general. KIDS HAVE A BASIC Human RIGHT” – Name Withheld
“This is bloody scary” – Name Withheld
“History repeats itself. One must query why this solution is being presented where its known its not in the best interest of the child. At times we must realise that not every thing that seems foolish is done by mistake. At times we must not be fooled into thoughts of innocents. Those who present this proven failed policy have an agenda. One must understand & or question their agenda.” – Name Withheld
“Even after the Bringing Them Home Report, the Apology by Kevin Rudd Prime Minister of Australia and the recent review of adoption. In the last welve months thousands of Aboriginal Children in Queensland have been snatched from their parents, community and extended families, I have witnessed in the last six months just in St George, approximately ten children were ripped away from their parents, Aboriginal children who were in school were dragged out of class, a child who went down shopping for her mother could hear the crying of her little brother locked in a car at the BP station when she went to investigate she was pushed into the back seat and was taken by Queensland Children Services and Queensland Police. Yes the Police are involved to prevent the parents resisting the snatching of their children, the [four] 4 children were removed from St George that evening by the time they got to Tara 2 [and a] half hours east of St George they were ordered to return the children, around midnight the children were dumped at the front fence of their home no one escorted them in to the house or to the parent and there was no explanation given. Within a fortnight Children Services returned again to the children’s home with police and snatched them again and transported them, [the children], to Dalby [three] 3 hours east of St George and placed them with other people the children are not familiar with. During the first week the young boy about 3 years old was bitten by the people’s dog, this is an absolute disgrace, morally wrong and absolutely despicable, for they are creating another Stolen Generation and a violation of the Rights of the Child. It is also racist when another group think they know what is best and right for you, but what do they say still “WE COULDN’T BE FAIRER”, I SAY GENOCIDE IS STILL GENOCIDE AND STILL A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY.” – Bob Weatherall
“Do not think these practices of forced adoption and permanencies planning are the way of the future. One of the most sickening sights I ever saw was in Katherine. A Jaowyn elder had invited me to the RSL for dinner with his wife. First thing I noticed was there were no other Aboriginal adults in the club. Second thing I noticed was a long table of youngish, non-Aboriginal parents all sitting up there with a mix of young non-Aboriginal children and Aboriginal babies. Each one of these adult couples had an Aboriginal baby in their care, all dressed up like Shirley Temples. There were about 10 Aboriginal babies in this group that night. I was so upset by this – it was a ‘support group’. Obviously up there it is fashionable for the non-Aboriginal middle class to have a dark-skinned, cute, accessory.” – Lynette Hughes
Taking these points of view into account it would seem the community is urging the Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles to listen, listen to the communities, listen to your people, listen to your elders, support sovereignty and self-determination, and assert the solutions rather than following the assimilationist bureaucratic status quo into repeating history, to further a debilitating demise for our First Nations peoples.
Dr Brian Steels, director of the Asia Pacific Forum for Restorative Justice says “families require support to nurture them and to educate them and to be able to evidence to them that there is potential for a real future.”