A preliminary response to the Australian Government's proposals
The following proposals to protect children in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities have been developed by the Combined Aboriginal Organisations (representing Aboriginal organisations in Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine) and community sector organisations from across the country.
A comprehensive approach to child protection in an emergency context gives priority to protection from immediate physical or emotional harm, but must go further. It should also address community safety and access to essential services including housing, health care and education. A failure to also commit to addressing these underlying issues will ensure the current risk factors contributing to existing child abuse and neglect will remain.
We propose a two stage response to the problems of child abuse in remote Aboriginal communities:
1. An emergency response over the next 3-6 months, on which agreement can be reached quickly between Governments and community leaders.
2. A more comprehensive plan and costed financial commitment that addresses the underlying issues within specific timeframes and has bi partisan political support. This plan would include specific objectives, timeframes and mechanisms that ensure transparency and ongoing independent rigorous evaluation. The performance of both governments and Aboriginal organisations would be included. This would also involve thorough planning and negotiation to ensure that the correct strategies are adopted, the substantial resources required are efficiently used, and funding is stable and predictable over the longer term. This plan should be developed and negotiated under a partnership approach with the targeted communities during the current emergency response phase and be implemented as soon as is practicable.
These stages are not mutually exclusive. During the emergency response phase, the emphasis must shift from immediate child endangerment goals to the underlying and wider child protection goals of health, housing, education and ongoing community safety. Funding must be organised so that short term needs are met and long term development funding is also available. In these ways the emergency measures provide a foundation for stable long term investment that results in longer term solutions. Otherwise it is likely that the emergency measures will have little or no long term impact.
The response must be informed and led by local Aboriginal communities. It is only by strengthening the capacity of families and communities to protect and nurture children that the problems will be resolved. Aboriginal ownership and control of land and access to communities are important in this regard.
The response should build on the knowledge base already available to Government, starting with the recommendations of the Little children are sacred