NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Child protection report reveals crisis

image of ATSI child & adult hands reaching towards each other across Aboriginal flag; text 'AIHW child protection report reveals CRISIS faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children'

The image in the feature tile was produced by Dionne Gain, an illustrator at The Sydney Morning Herald, and appeared in an the article I was kept from my Indigenous family as a child. Then my own kids were taken from me published in The Age on 1 May 2023.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Child protection report reveals crisis

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 10 times more likely to be on care and protection orders than non-Indigenous children, and at least seven times more likely to have suffered maltreatment in recent years, according to a new government report. The disturbing statistics were released yesterday (6 May 2023) in Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)’s 2021–2022 Child Protection Australia report.

Across the country, around one in 32 children, or 178,000 kids under 18 of all backgrounds, came into contact with protection services during the 2021–22 period – almost 70% being repeat or continued cases. Indigenous children accounted for a third of all cases – the vast majority between the ages of five and 14. There was a marginal decrease from 2021, though the numbers have risen in the previous four years, as they have for all children.

275,000 kids of all backgrounds were subjected to alleged maltreatment, of which 119,000 became subject to investigations and in 45,500 cases it was substantiated that maltreatment occurred. Of these cases, 13,600 involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (40 in every 1000 Indigenous kids), compared to 5.7 per 1000 from non-Indigenous backgrounds. Emotional abuse and neglect were the most common factors. Per thousand of overall cases, these instances occurred in remote areas at almost four times the rate in major cities. The 2020–2021 statistics revealed one in every 23 Indigenous children suffered substantiated abuse or neglect.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Child protection report reveals crisis faced by Indigenous children in full click here.

6 ATSI kids sitting on gate to horse yard in bush

Image source: Amnesty International website.

SWAMS Aged Care Service expands offerings

An Aboriginal aged-care service in the Peel region has experienced a rapid growth in demand for its services — with almost 100 clients already — despite launching just four months ago. Operated by South West Aboriginal Medical Service (SWAMS), Bindjareb Aged Care Service opened in Mandurah in February and is quickly moving from strength to strength to reach its June goal of assisting 100 people.

Most of the service’s programs are group activities at present, but it is expanding its service offerings to cater to a rapidly increasing demand. From 1 July 2023, the organisation will bolster clients’ access to areas including social support, transport, home maintenance, domestic assistance and more group activities.

SWAMS chief executive Lesley Nelson said with more than 90 clients, Bindjareb Aged Care Service has had to increase its workforce. “We also have two new care finder staff who are able to assist Elders to access aged-care services such as the Commonwealth Home Support Programme and Home Care Packages,” she said. The Bindjareb Aged Care Service can be accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members in the Bindjareb region over the age of 50 who are not already receiving other supports.

To view The West Australian article Bindjareb Aged Care Service expanding offerings to cater for increased demand for home and social support in full click here.

group of people at launch of first Aboriginal Aged Care Service in Perth 1.2.23

The first Aboriginal Aged Care Service in Perth, the Bindjareb Elders Centre, was launched on 1 Feburary 2023. Image source: SWAMS website.

Minister speaks at AIATSIS Summit

On Monday this week (5 June 2023) Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney MP spoke at the 2023 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Summit held on Noonga Boodja (Perth). Minister Burney opened her address saying “When I spoke to you last year at the AIATSIS Summit on Kabi Kabi country – It was just a week after I had the honour of being appointed as Minister for Indigenous Australians.”

“I spoke with great enthusiasm about the things I’d be working on, and a year on we’ve made progress. Our landmark First Nations justice package is starting to rollout. We’re investing in housing and services in the NT homelands. We’ve signed an agreement with the NT Government to deliver on the $100m commitment to improve housing and infrastructure in NT Homelands. We’re scrapping the failed CDP and replacing it with real jobs, real wages and proper conditions.

We’ve announced $97m to support the New Jobs Program trial and to meet the sustained service demand. We’re making First Nations Australia part of the way we engage with the world, through the appointment of an ambassador. I said we would continue to work with the Coalition of the Peaks on Closing the Gap – and lifting the ambitions for our people. And we’re doing just that. We’re improving First Nations health infrastructure – including renal services in the city and the bush. And we’re working with Aboriginal Controlled Health Services to train 500 extra First Nations health workers.

We know that so much more needs to be done, but in our first year, we’ve hit the ground running.

The speech delivered by Minister Burney at the 2023 AIATSIS Summit is available in full on the Australian Government Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2023 AIATSIS Summit webpage here.

text 'AIATSIS Summit Noongar Boodja Perth 05-09 June 2023' & image of Aunty Liz Hayden and Terry Morich giving a Welcome to Country & the Koolangka's Kreate dancers opening the AIATSIS Summit 2023

Aunty Liz Hayden and Terry Morich giving a Welcome to Country at the AIATSIS Summit 2023 and the Koolangka’s Kreate dancers opening the event. Image source Ngarra Murray Twitter 5 June 2023.

Have The Yarn organ donation initiative

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service (WBHHS) is getting involved with a new initiative encouraging First Nations peoples to talk about organ donation and transplant surgery. The Have The Yarn initiative is the result of a collaboration between First Nations Elders and DonateLife Queensland focused on addressing barriers to organ donation held by some First Nations people.

A 2020 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) study showed that while kidney disease was the leading cause of hospitalisation for Indigenous Australians, Indigenous patients are less likely to be waitlisted for kidney transplantation than non-Indigenous Australians. While the study cited reduced service availability in remote communities as part of the explanation, WBHHS medical staff said that cultural barriers to organ donation is another significant factor that is being addressed by the Have The Yarn initiative.

“Unfortunately, end stage kidney disease disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and it’s one of the main reasons for ending up in hospital,” donation specialist nurse Karen Jenner said. “This project is all about reducing cultural barriers to discussion about organ and tissue donation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

The above has been extracted from the article Have The Yarn initiative to encourage dialogue about organ donation among First Nations people by James Taylor published in The Courier Mail on 6 June 2023.

3 female Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service staff involved with the Have The Yarn initiative

Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service is getting involved with the Have The Yarn initiative from DonateLife Queensland encouraging First Nations peoples to talk about organ donation and transplant surgery. Image source: The Courier Mail.

Lead found in Yarrabah school’s water

Lead has been detected in drinking water at schools in a Far North Queensland Aboriginal community, with bottled water and free blood tests offered to staff and students. The lead was found after water at the Yarrabah Health Facility tested positive for elevated levels of copper in May.

Subsequent preliminary testing at Yarrabah State School’s primary and secondary campuses, and the kindergarten, have shown traces of lead. Queensland Health chief health officer John Gerrard said authorities were running further tests to determine the sources of contamination and if any rectification works were necessary.

“The immediate health risks are minimal,” Dr Gerrard said, noting the exposure risk at three tested sites was low. “Out of an abundance of caution, children and staff at Yarrabah’s kindergarten and primary and secondary schools will use bottled water for drinking until we are certain supplies are safe to ingest. While this is understandably concerning for the community, it is still safe for children and staff to use the water for nondrinking purposes. Free blood testing will also be made available for staff and children and anyone in Yarrabah who is concerned.”

To view the article Lead detected in Far North Qld school’s water in full click here.

aerial view of Yarrabah State School QLD

Yarrabah State School. Image source: The Cairns Post.

Deaths in custody at a record high

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody are at their equal worst since the records began. Data released by the Productivity Commission in the annual Report on Government Services show that eight Indigenous people died in police custody during the 2021–22 period, numbers not seen since 2016–17.

Advocates say the latest figures, a low point since reporting began in 2007, are an indictment on successive governments’ failure to adequately respond to multiple inquiries into the issue. Hannah McGlade, an associate professor at Curtin University’s Law School, said, “It’s not surprising though, because our governments haven’t been doing the right thing in addressing deaths in custody or Aboriginal incarceration. They need to make this a priority now.”

McGlade pointed to recommendations from both the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Australian Law Reform Commission’s ‘Pathways to Justice’ inquiry as ready-made answers for the government to implement. “We’re not seeing the commitment from our state and federal governments to seriously addressing these outstanding inquiries and recommendations,” the Noongar woman said. While the latest number of Indigenous deaths in custody equal the worst year on record, the rate overall has declined. The 2021–22 period saw 22 deaths, while that number was 34 in 2007–08. The disparity shows the need for tailored responses to Indigenous needs within the justice system, said McGlade.

To view the SBS NITV article Three years on from the Black Lives Matter marches, Indigenous deaths in custody are at a record high in full click here.
a Black Live Matter rally in Perth, 2020

A Black Lives Matter rally in Perth, 2020. The changes called for in the global protests have failed to materialise in Australia. Photo: AAP. Image source: SBS NITV.

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