Nicola Berkovic writes in the Australian about the situation of Aboriginal families losing custody of their children as they are placed into state care, forming a second stolen generation, with comment from Australia’s only Aboriginal Family Court judge, Mathew Myers:
ABORIGINAL children are being removed at rates similar to those seen from the 1920s to 70s, forming a second Stolen Generation, says the nation’s only indigenous federal judge.
Federal Circuit Court judge Matthew Myers told The Australian he was “hugely concerned” at the numbers of Aboriginal children being removed from their parents and placed in state care.
“The statistics of Aboriginal child removal are horrific,” he said. “The rate of removal of Aboriginal children has hit a point where it’s at the same as that which occurred during the Stolen Generation between 1920 and 1970, where there were 50,000 Aboriginal children removed. If this keeps going, it will eclipse the Stolen Generation.”
There were 14,000 Aboriginal children in care at June last year — or almost 6 per cent of all Aboriginal children, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Judge Myers said he wanted to see more Aboriginal grandparents, aunts, uncles and other community members being proactive about taking over the care of children when they saw issues arising in their homes, rather than waiting for child welfare departments to intervene.
“It’s not about keeping Aboriginal children in unsafe homes for cultural reasons,” he said. “I’m totally opposed to that — the primary consideration is to keep children safe.”
He said often the indigenous community knew when a family was in crisis, but they were fearful of the courts for historical reasons. However, he said he wanted to see more indigenous people using the family law system to take over the formal care of children while parents were given a chance to deal with problems such as drug and alcohol addiction or mental illness.
“We need the Aboriginal community to stand up and put its hand up and say, ‘I am here to care’,” he said. “To say one, I’m interested enough to come along to court, and two, I’m interested enough to take on the care of a nephew or a niece or grandchild or another child in the community while mum and dad go and get themselves help.”
Judge Myers, who handles family law cases in Newcastle, NSW, said grandparents, aunts and uncles had the right to make a family law application or to involve themselves in family law proceedings. In contrast, he said extended family members had to seek leave to involve themselves in Children’s Court proceedings.
He said he believed extended family members or others interested in the welfare of a child should have an automatic right to be part of proceedings.