First Nations people with disability will tell the Disability Royal Commission this week about the structural violence they experience in the child-protection system around Australia.
“We are among the most seriously disadvantaged members of the Australian community, and are also experts on the impact of policies on us,” says First Peoples Disability Network Chief Executive Officer Damian Griffis.
“This week, a number of First Nations people with disability will give evidence about the different racist and ableist systems that harm our children.”
The Disability Royal Commission‘s eighth public hearing in Brisbane is closed to the public, but live-streamed on the Disability Royal Commission website.
Mr Griffiths says the child protection system is “hostile and complicated”.
“Child removal is an ever present threat, and reality in our communities. It has become part of the community vernacular, and families live with the legacies of trauma from the removal of their parents and grandparents,” he says.
“First Nations people with disability are often coerced to surrender their children, rather than having supports so families can stay together.”
“We see no evidence that the NDIS is positively working with other social services to support families to avoid child protection issues arising, or putting in place supports which prioritise children remaining in their family where child protection concerns occur.”
Mr Griffiths says the Disability Royal Commission must look at the structural violence that underlies the child protection system, investigate which restrictive practices are being used in out-of-home care, and the barriers First Nations people with disability face when accessing disability supports.
“We urgently need data about how many children with disability, including First Nations children, are in the out of home care system.”
“We also need more First Nations disability advocates, and better training for all child protection workers, including from Aboriginal-controlled organisations.”
“We call for an immediate nationwide review of every case that resulted in the removal of a First Nations child with disability from their family.”
Donnella Mills, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Health Justice Australia says the current child protection system risks setting people with disability and their families up to fail.
“First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems face multiple, intersecting problems that result from intersectional and institutional discrimination,” she says.
In a submission to the Disability RC, Health Justice Australia outlined how a collaborative model of health, legal and social services can support better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
Ms Mills says these ‘health justice partnerships’ highlight the value of wrapping services around people’s complex needs, particularly people who are unlikely to come into contact with other services.
“Existing health, legal and social services working in silos are poorly positioned to identify and respond to the complexity of need. In fact, the service system itself often drives or compounds the experience of disadvantage.” Ms Mills says.
“Community-led solutions where relationships of trust already exist, provide the opportunity for services to work as a team with families to help them navigate these complex systems.”
The Commission will hear evidence from up to 24 witnesses during the week, including Professor Daryl Higgins from Australian Catholic University’s Institute of Child Protection Studies, Indigenous psychologist Dr Tracey Westerman, and First Nations people with disability and their families.
Royal Commission Chair Ronald Sackville AO QC says this will be the first hearing that specifically examines the experiences of First Nations people with disability.
"We will look closely at the deeply complex interactions between prevalence of disability, abuse, the experience of trauma and the ongoing impacts of colonisation for First Nations people," he says.
Some of the topics the hearing will cover include:
whether First Nations parents with disability and their families are more likely to have contact with child protection systems because they are a First Nations person with disability
how child protection services interact with and respond to First Nations parents with disability in their practices and decisions
whether First Nations parents with disability are at greater risk of violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation during, or as a result of, contact with child protection systems.
Watch the live stream on the Disability Royal Commission’s website.