Territory Stories

Current issues in child protection policy and practice : Informing the NT Department of Health and Community Services child protection review



Current issues in child protection policy and practice : Informing the NT Department of Health and Community Services child protection review

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Adam M. Tomison.


Tomison, Adam M; National Child Protection Clearing House (Australia)


E-Publications; E-Books; PublicationNT




Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).


Date:2004-02; Cover title. Written for the Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services.

Table of contents

Child protection and family support services -- Developments in child protection practice -- Responding to child abuse and neglect in Indigenous and rural-remote communities -- Evidence-based practice in child protection – How do we better inform practice -- Conclusion: child protection and family support in the 21st Century.




Child abuse -- Australia -- Prevention

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National Child Protection Clearing House

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v, 89 ; 30 cm.

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Check within Publication or with content Publisher.

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CURRENT ISSUES IN CHILD PROTECTION POLICY AND PRACTICE 8 Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services As in non-Indigenous communities, it is commonly believed that child abuse and neglect in Indigenous communities are caused by a multitude of factors (Belsky 1980; Memmott et al. 2001). However, the Indigenous perspective usually places considerably more emphasis on the impact of the wider community and societal causal factors. These factors include the high levels of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, ill health and substance abuse found in Indigenous communities, much of which arises from previous government policy of assimilation, as well as their experience of racism, dispossession and marginalisation (Cunneen & Libesman 2000). Given that many overseas indigenous peoples are also struggling with the aftermath of colonisation, overseas child protection models trialed in other indigenous communities may provide possible solutions for Australia. Sweeney (1995) gives some information on models of child protection services in Canada, New Zealand and the United States where part or all protective responsibilities have been transferred to the Indigenous population. Cunneen & Libesman (2002 ) also provide a useful summary of international trends. For this report, innovations in practice for Canadian First Nations peoples will be highlighted. Canada Hill (2000) provides an overview of Canadas First Nation tribes history since colonisation by Europeans, a history that is remarkably similar to that of Australias Indigenous peoples. It includes a period of the forced removal of children from their families (a stolen generation), and the continued high rates of childrens removal on child protection grounds (four times higher than the wider community). Since the late 1970s, there have been attempts to develop child protection and family support services run by (and for) the First Nations peoples. Hill (2000) outlines some key issues for consideration when developing services for the protection of children in Aboriginal communities. Underlying this approach was recognition of the cycle of poverty and dependency perpetuated by the very services designed to resolve the social ills of First Nations communities [and that] First Nations people [have] had to become active participants in the resolution of social problems that impacted them (Hill 2000:163). Subsequently, Aboriginal foster care programs and child protection services staffed and run by the Indigenous community and with statutory authority have been provided in a way that recognised the cultural integrity of the people. The new services have been developed under the auspices of the nonIndigenous child protection agency, but were not a unit of that Department. In addition, a variety of family support programs were developed, particularly culturally-appropriate parent education programs for Indigenous parents, and the development of ancillary services, such as an Indigenous cooperative day nursery. It is interesting to note that the development of all these services, including the statutory services, was not an easy process. While the implementation of such a model is not easy, it has also not necessarily led to significant improvements in Canadian First Nation communities health and wellbeing and/or a reduction in violence. However it does provide an example of how to move forward to develop more effective services for Australian Indigenous communities. Many of the tenets of the approach described by Hill have now been embraced by Indigenous groups and agencies (and to an extent, by government departments) in Australia. However, a statutory child protection service controlled and run by the Indigenous community has not been trialed yet. Australian developments In a similar vein to Canadian developments, the NISATSIC Inquiry recommended that new legislation be enacted, based on self-determination by Indigenous people, where far greater control over matters affecting young people is given to the Indigenous community (HREOC 1997; Cunneen & Libesman 2000). However, Cunneen & Libesman (2000) have argued for a complete revision of child protection services in relation to Indigenous Australians, they report that not one submission from an Indigenous organisation to the NISATSIC Inquiry found the current interventions from child protection/ welfare departments to be an effective response to their child protection needs. The general model of operation of child protection services, based on individualising and pathologising a particular family, is culturally suited to white Australian culture, not Indigenous culture (Cunneen & Libesman 2002). The literature offers a number of best practice suggestions for intervention into family violence in Indigenous communities (Stanley, Tomison & Pocock 2003). It is commonly reported that effective intervention into family violence needs to address both the past traumas and present situational

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