The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle ("the Principle") was developed in recognition of the devastating effects of forced separation of Indigenous children from families, communities and culture. The Principle exists in legislation and policy in all Australian jurisdictions, and while its importance is recognised in many boards of inquiry and reviews into child protection and justice systems, there are significant concerns about the implementation of the Principle. Recent estimates suggest the Principle has been fully applied in as few as 13% of child protection cases involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The purpose of this paper is to explore the contemporary understanding of the Principle, and review the multiple and complex barriers at the policy and practice levels which are impeding its implementation. Promising approaches that might address these barriers are also examined.
- The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle was developed in response to the trauma experienced by individuals, families and communities from government policies that involved the widespread removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
- The fundamental goal of the Principle is to enhance and preserve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s connection to family and community, and sense of identity and culture.
- The Principle is often conceptualised as the “placement hierarchy”, in which placement choices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children start with family and kin networks, then Indigenous non-related carers in the child’s community, then carers in another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. If no other suitable placement with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander carers can be sought, children are placed with non-Indigenous carers as a last resort, provided they are able to maintain the child’s connections to their family, community and cultural identity.