Family Matters Week of Action: Australia must protect First Nations children

May 24, 2019

Australia is in the midst of an unacceptable crisis: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are being removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home care at incredibly high rates 11 times that of non-Indigenous children. This week, Family Matters is running a national Week of Action to highlight issues in out-of-home care for First Nations children, with an ultimate goal to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 2040. The Family Matters campaign is Australia’s national campaign to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture.

In November 2018 the Family Matters Report, found that the rate of First Nations children removed from their families is projected to triple in the next 20 years if urgent action is not taken. Currently fewer than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are placed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers in accordance with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.

ALHR President Kerry Weste says, “During this week of action ALHR expresses its strong support for the Family Matters Campaign and calls for genuine self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the decisions that impact the well-being, care and protection of their children.”

ALHR reiterated its serious concerns regarding recent amendments to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 and the Adoption Act 2000. Ms Weste says, “These measures were rushed through the NSW Parliament in November 2018 following inadequate consultation or transparency with key stakeholders, including Aboriginal community bodies, and community legal advocates, yet these measures will predominantly impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.”

“Imposing two-year deadlines on permanency decisions, narrowing the grounds for these decisions to be varied or challenged and extending the circumstances in which adoptions can occur without parental consent, will have disproportionately devastating consequences for Indigenous children and their families,” says Ms Weste.

“The NSW Government is obliged to ensure that any laws relating to the permanent removal of children from their families are consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. International law makes it clear that, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration. Separating families on a permanent basis after two years, sometimes without parental consent, raises serious concerns with respect to infringements of Australia’s international legal obligations and could lead to another stolen generation. This is of particular concern considering the already extremely high rates of First Nations children in out-of-home care.”

Ms Weste says, “These reforms risk permanently severing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from community, culture and country, further perpetuating the cycle of trauma and child removal. ALHR reminds the NSW Government that Australia will appear before the UN this year to report on its compliance with the CRC.”

“We urge the NSW Government to repeal these amendments and to consult with, listen to and genuinely engage with Aboriginal community organisations who have expressed the need for legislative change toward a system tailored to Aboriginal families, designed by Aboriginal people, and delivered by Aboriginal communities themselves.”

“We further call on the NSW Government to create an Aboriginal child and family commissioner as part of a new statutory body to focus investment on Aboriginal community-controlled child and family services and to provide early intervention for Aboriginal families.”

Contact Matt Mitchell on 0431 980 365 or

ALHR was established in 1993 and is a national association of Australian solicitors, barristers, academics, judicial officers and law students who practise and promote international human rights law in Australia. ALHR has active and engaged National, State and Territory committees and specialist thematic committees. Through advocacy, media engagement, education, networking, research and training, ALHR promotes, practices and protects universally accepted standards of human rights throughout Australia and overseas.

Any information provided in this release is not intended to constitute legal advice, to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of the matters referred to. You should obtain your own legal advice before applying any information provided in this  release to specific issues or situations