Indigenous Australia Analysis

The removal of First Nations children remains scandalously high

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Indigenous children are still taken from their parents at staggering rates (image via YouTube)

The forced removal of a child or children from their parents is indisputably one of the most traumatic events, with long-term effects.

The removal of a child from his or her family is a significant psychosocial hit. It goes straight to the validity of psychosocial identity. It can invalidate self-worth.

It hurts and for many this pain is unbearable.

Many children need to be supported to third-party care, however, the majority should not be removed and instead, their family supported through their vulnerabilities.

The high rates of child removals, of First Nations and Australian children, are scandalously even higher than reported.

Thousands of children removed from their biological parents or from their family-of-origin are not counted as out-of-home care children if they are permanently placed with a third-party, be it kin, other or adopted.

3% of Australia’s children have come to the attention of child protection authorities. This is incredibly high. Statistically, an Australian child is more likely to be removed by child protection authorities than to be diagnosed with any cancer or other major illnesses.

At least 16% of Australia’s First Nations children have come to the attention of child protection authorities.

From 1997, the year of the Bringing Them Home Report, to now, there has been a gut-wrenching catastrophic increase in the number of First Nations children removed from their homes by child protection authorities. 

It is a seemingly permanent painful national tragedy, but worst in Western Australia, which is Australia’s biggest remover of First Nations' children. Currently, 56% of children in out-of-home care in WA are First Nations; who are 18 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children. 

This is a national crime and we would like readers to understand the magnitude in the national context and always remember that it is much worse the more west we go across this continent. It is twice as bad in Western Australia. By all reasonable accounts, Australia has the world’s highest rate of children coming to the attention of child protection authorities, one in 32. Dramatically, the statistic is one in six First Nations children.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, as of 30 June 2019, 21,900 First Nations children were on care and protection orders. It is estimated that presently there are 24,000 First Nations children in out-of-home care.

Approximately 44,900 Australian children were in out-of-home care. Nearly half were First Nations children. In each of the last five years, there has been an incremental decrease of non-Indigenous children in out-of-home care, but significant increases in First Nations children removed.

Let us be careful with statistics. They can skew and mask the facts. The decrease in Australian children deemed as being in out-of-home care between 2017-2019 has increasingly come about as State and Territory jurisdictions have aligned with a new national definition of out-of-home care which excludes third-party parental responsibility orders.

Children on these orders are not considered as being in out-of-home care. If the third-party orders are included, the rates and total numbers of children not living with parents for child protection reasons, for both non-Indigenous and First Nations, would be higher. This is important to understand, and few do, in terms of the number of children removed from their biological parents or family-of-origin.

The system has degenerated into an institution focused on child removals. A Royal Commission could shine the light on such an oppressive institutional regime. Nationally, funding to child protection authorities exceeds $6 billion, but overall it is estimated State and Territory governments spend only 17% of this funding on family support services.

Governments must take responsibly for the catastrophic failure of the child protection system, for it is our Governments that have legislated the child removal and placement powers, one after another, since the late 1990s, all the while reducing social services. Systemic repair is long overdue.

The Western Australian Government has also gone the way of legislative amendments to strengthen placements away from the family-of-origin. Many of these placements will not be recorded as out-of-home care and child removals. It is a broken child protection system. If we do not speak up about a crisis that, in terms of numbers of children, has outstripped past generations, the future will condemn our generation as we condemn the past.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, children from very remote areas are three times as likely as children from major cities to be removed from their families. Many First Nations communities have been denied an equivalency of infrastructure, including schools. They are excluded from the "Australian story".

Twenty-three years ago, there was the release of the Bringing Them Home Report and one in five of Australia’s children were identified as living in out-of-home care. Today it stands at nearly one in two, and in Western Australia, more than one in two. More than two-thirds of Australia’s First Nations people who are incarcerated are individuals who as children were removed into out-of-home care.

Western Australia is the mother of all jailers of First Nations people and is indicated by the fact that one in 12 of First Nations adult males are presently incarcerated.

Western Australia’s only juvenile detention facility, Banksia, is thematic of the crisis. Four-fifths of First Nations children in this prison have been removed from their family-of-origin by child protection authorities.

We need to be truthful if we are to do better and fix systems that are not working and before it is too late for the children who depend on these systems.

Gerry Georgatos is the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project. Gerry can be contacted at or you can follow Gerry on Twitter @GerryGeorgatos.

Megan Krakouer LLB is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project and also works as a human rights legal practitioner for the National Justice Project.

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