ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in child protection and youth justice systems

25 January 2022

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has called on the ACT Government to progress work to implement all recommendations from the Our Booris, Our Way report and increase investment in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, following today’s release of a national report showing the continued overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in child protection and youth justice systems.

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS) highlighted:

  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in the ACT are 13 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children
  • More than 30% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in the ACT are still being placed with non-Indigenous carers who are not relatives or kin
  • ACT Government spending per child on protective intervention services, care services, intensive family support services and family support services is $880, the lowest spending per child in the country and well below the national average of $1,327
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are 16 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention in the ACT, and 5 times more likely to be under community-based supervision orders; and
  • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged 10-13 are almost 20 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous children in the ACT.

ACTCOSS CEO Dr Emma Campbell said: “The ACT Government has introduced some measures to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children in our child protection and justice systems including by committing to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years and beginning the process to appoint an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner in the ACT.

“However, the ACT continues to underperform and underspend compared with other jurisdictions, and it is Indigenous kids that suffer as a consequence. We urgently need to implement a rigorous and independent external review mechanism for child protection decisions which includes Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community members, and increase funding for a truly protective and restorative child protection system. This must include serious investment in early support mechanisms.”

Gulunga Program Manager Rachelle Kelly-Church said: “We need to ensure we have sufficient funding for Community Controlled organisations such as Gugan Gulwan and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services. Aboriginal communities must be supported to care for their kids in culturally safe and appropriate ways, and to keep children with families wherever possible, instead of in out-of-home care or youth detention.

“Investment in early supports would also keep kids out of prison. We know that exposure to the justice system at a young age increases the chances of lifelong engagement with that system and further entrenches disadvantage,” said Ms Kelly-Church.

Though there are only small numbers of children in Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, these children are overwhelmingly more likely to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Dr Campbell said: “We know we need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the ACT and across the country. It is appalling that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children aged 10-13 are over 20 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be in detention. The continuing impact of the current age of criminal responsibility on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities is profound and devastating.

“Instead of locking children up, we should be taking seriously our shared responsibility for their wellbeing and investing in programs and services that support them and their families before it’s too late,” Dr Emma Campbell concluded.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations. Follow us @ACTCOSS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617.