ACT News

More than one quarter of children in care are Indigenous, but no data on Aboriginal foster families

The ACT government cannot say how many of Canberra's foster carers are Indigenous, despite a vast over-representation of Aboriginal children in care.

While Aborigines make up less than 2 per cent of the population, 27 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous.

A foster parent and child: A new regime comes into effect in January, with a call for more Canberrans to become foster ...
A foster parent and child: A new regime comes into effect in January, with a call for more Canberrans to become foster parents. 

The government begins a push in the New Year to encourage more families to take on foster children, and is encouraging them, partly with a controversial move to give foster care parents permanent custody after one year instead of two. While the government says this is better for the children, giving them certainty, the Aboriginal community is strongly opposed to having children permanently removed from their parents after one year.

The government is also extending subsidies to foster parents until children reach 21.

In June, 601 Canberra children were in foster and kinship care, 28 per cent of them Indigenous. Asked how many families were Indigenous, a spokeswoman for Minister for Children Mick Gentleman said Child and Youth Protection Services were unable to provide the data. "While the data does exist in the system it requires specialised resourcing, not currently available, to extract the information," she said. "This data also relies on self reporting by foster carers and may not accurately depict the true number of Aboriginal foster carers."

But Winnunga Nimmityjah aboriginal health service chief executive Julie Tongs said it beggared belief that a figure couldn't be provided, given the importance of keeping Indigenous children in touch with their culture.

"My concern is that when Aboriginal kids go into non-Aboriginal foster care, that's when we lose them," she said. "We know that when Aboriginal kids go into kinship care they still come to Winnunga and they're part of the community."

While more Aboriginal carers were needed, many were reluctant to volunteer, given the "red tape" controlling decisions such as which school they went to.

In June, the 601 children in care were being looked after by 347 households – 199 kinship and 148 foster.

A new foster and kinship care regime takes effect in January, including bringing both under one category of "approved carer".

Mr Gentleman said carers would get better information about the children they were being asked to look after and more support.

A new "ACT Together" consortium led by Barnardos would have a bigger role in placements and supervision, with kinship care also moving to the new group over time. The consortium includes Oz Child, Premier Youth Works, the Australian Childhood Foundation and Relationships Australia.

Mr Gentleman said foster care improved children's lives.

"We know that continuum of care and security for our young people is the most important thing for the future so I say to those people who are thinking about foster caring and kinship caring, please think about taking on that role."

Asked how many carers were needed, his spokeswoman said there was "no ideal number" but the more carers, the better the match of carer with child. While placements were found for nearly all children, sometimes children were housed temporarily in residential care.

Ms Tongs called for a stronger focus on keeping children with their families.

"Over the years with the stolen generations some terrible things have happened to our kids in out-of-home care and institutions and bad things still happen in this day and age," she said.

"I know there's going to be some families where the kids for their own safety will need to be removed, but way too many will be caught up in the system because the family didn't have enough supports in place."

Parents needed help with day-to-day things such as ensuring children had breakfast, did their homework and got to bed at a reasonable time, she said.

"A lot of people take that for granted but if you've never been brought up like that or had that in your life it just becomes chaotic and hard to manage," she said.