Journal article

Glimmers of hope in a broken child protection system

1 Mar 2015

This article describes some of the work that North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency does when representing parents and families to assist them to overcome the trend towards removal.


The Northern Territory is a place of extremes: extreme heat, extreme beauty, extreme poverty as well as rich cultural diversity. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory constitute 30 per cent of the population compared to around 5 per cent or less in all other states and territories. The Northern Territory is one of the most linguistically diverse areas of the world, with over 32 living Aboriginal languages and many Aboriginal people speaking English as their second, third or fourth language. The Aboriginal population lives mainly outside the cities with 79 per cent living in remote to very remote areas.

In the Northern Territory, 86 per cent of the children in out-of-home care are Aboriginal.4 Of these, 58.3 per cent are placed with non-Indigenous carers. This is significant because it means that children are not being placed with people who will necessarily know about, or have the commitment to support that child’s connection with their family and culture.
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency is the Aboriginal Legal Service for the Top End of the Northern Territory. It is an Aboriginal organisation committed to ‘true justice, respect and dignity for Aboriginal people’. In the area of child protection this means recognising that Aboriginal people and communities are best placed to make decisions about their children; that maintaining a connection to culture and family is an important aspect of a child’s development; and that disrupting or severing a child’s connection to their cultural heritage is a form of spiritual harm.

Nationally, child protection authorities are overwhelmed. Even though neglect and family violence are the predominant child protection concerns, over 80 per cent of funding goes into child protection services and out-of-home care, rather than preventative measures such as family support. This skews the system towards removal of children and is exacerbated for some Aboriginal families in the NT8 where the interaction between the social context of poverty, the demographic realities described above, the limitations in the relevant legislation, and  the remote service delivery context increases the chances of removal.

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