These submissions respond to topics 1–11 identified by the Royal Commission in its call for submissions on care and protection.
Evidence before the Commission clearly demonstrates that the Northern Territory’s child protection system is in crisis. The number of child protection notifications, substantiations and out of home care placements have doubled since 2007. Around half of all Aboriginal children have been the subject of at least one child protection notification by the age of 10, with one in four Aboriginal children the subject of a substantiated concern. 90 per cent of children in out of home care in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal. These staggering statistics should be cause for national concern and urgent action to address the gross over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.
Not only is the crisis-driven approach to child protection failing Aboriginal children and families, but it disempowers and alienates Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal decision-making processes and traditional protection systems steeped in cultural understandings have not been respected.The Commission has heard that there is a lack of trust between child protection services and Aboriginal people, and that this distrust is the most significant barrier to the provision of effective child services in communities.
Given that the overwhelming majority of families involved with child protection services are Aboriginal, the new paradigm must be Aboriginal-centric and Aboriginal-controlled at all levels. This necessitates wholesale change to governance and service delivery arrangements, with an increased emphasis on local decision-making.
- NAAJA recommends that the board of the statutory authority is chaired by an Aboriginal person and comprise three Aboriginal members as well as members with relevant expertise in areas such as youth justice, child protection, law, health and education
- Based on the Victorian model, two Aboriginal Child Care Agencies should be legislatively created to service the Top End and Central Australia, with delegations in relation to the delivery of early intervention and prevention services and out of home care services.
- The statutory authority should then partner with newly created Aboriginal child care agencies, Aboriginal entities, organisations and communities to deliver child and family and youth justice services in the Northern Territory.
- That the Northern Territory Government explore which government services (including those currently residing in other departments such as health and education) are most appropriately housed within the statutory authority, using a consultative and investigatory process akin to the Irish Taskforce on the Child and Family Support Agency.
- The Northern Territory Government and statutory authority needs to regionalise statutory child protection services, and consider the implementation of local area offices and local area committees, which would have localised control over intake, investigation and assessment processes.
NAAJA is conscious that the final organisational structure of the statutory authority will need to be subject to further consideration, consultation and design to ensure that it is appropriately adapted to the Northern Territory context.