Australia’s Past and Present Treatment of Aboriginal Children
The term “Stolen Generations'' is one familiar to many Aboriginal Australians. This term emerged after the removal of thousands of Aboriginal children from their families and homes for over sixty years, resulting in a past filled with generational trauma that is at risk of repetition today in the child care policies of Australia.
The history of Australia is filled with discrimination against its Aboriginal population. Dating back to 1910, Australia enacted policies that were geared at assimilating the Aboriginal population into European society. Although these policies are no longer actively practiced, the current child care system continues to perpetuate such separations. According to Allam and Evershed, from 2016 to 2017, 47,915 children were in the home care system. Out of these children (37%), 17,667 were Indigenous. These numbers are alarming given that in a country of 25 million people, only 2.8% (649,171) of the population identified as Indigenous: Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander.
These earlier policies were enacted to assimilate Aboriginal children and mixed-race children into the dominant European-Australian society. Mixed raced children were often targeted as it was believed that they would have an easier time integrating. In addition, government officials took Aboriginal children from their families as it was believed that the Aboriginal population was dying out. Particular policies that had been put into place include the Aborigines Protection Amending Act of 1915, which held that Aboriginal children could be taken from their households, without officials having to prove in court that the children were being neglected.
There were earlier instances of children being separated, as seen in 1905 in Western Australia. There, Aboriginal parents were not allowed to be the legal guardians of their children, making them wards of the state. Separated children ended up in several different environments, such as foster care, white homes, and other institutions. Many children ended up experiencing neglect and sexual assault in these places. As a result of such traumatic upbringings, there are higher rates of depression, suicide, PTSD, and poorer health among Aboriginal adults who experienced this. In addition to this, they also experienced a loss of culture, with many children being prohibited from speaking their native language, had their names changed, and were no longer surrounded by their communities and the traditions that were practiced.
Within the past few years, there have been worries that a second Stolen Generation is taking place, especially in light of the fact that Aboriginal children are overrepresented in Australia’s child protection system, ten times that of non-Indigenous children. With 37% of the child care system being Aboriginal children in a country that is less than 3% Aboriginal, these concerns are not unwarranted. When it comes to the explanations behind these removals, authorities often cite that the children are being exposed to several dangerous conditions, whether it be drug and alcohol abuse, violence, overcrowding in homes, or poverty. Still, the reasoning behind these concerns does not take into account the impact of government-mandated separation on Aboriginal populations, exposing families to varying degrees of trauma and income disparities within the communities they lived in.
Aboriginal children today are also coming face to face with the impact of the “Stolen Generation.” The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that children living with adults who were removed from their families are more likely to be living in households that experience inconsistent pay or funds. As a result, children living in these households have stated that they find their health to be poor, with noticeable differences in comparison to other Indigenous children.
Given the controversial past and painful memories, the removal of Aboriginal children has been a sore point in Australian history. While the Australian government has worked on acknowledging their wrongdoings, the actions that have been taken in recent years over the number of Aboriginal children in the Child Protection System has raised concerns that a repeat of the past may be underway.
To avoid such a scenario, the role of the child care system needs to be addressed, particularly when it comes to its effectiveness, and the need for possible reform, seeing how Aboriginal children are overrepresented in the system. One of the ways this has been proposed is by ensuring that removed children are either placed with an Aboriginal family as their guardians or are at a relatively nearby household, as these guidelines have diminished over the years. While the Aboriginal population is a minority in Australia, their children are still overly represented in the child care system.
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Nogrady, Bianca. “Trauma of Australia's Indigenous 'Stolen Generations' Is Still Affecting Children Today.” Nature News. Nature Publishing Group, June 25, 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01948-3.
Evershed, Nick, and Lorena Allam. “Indigenous Children's Removal on the Rise 21 Years after Bringing Them Home.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, May 25, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/may/25/australia-fails-to-curb-childrens-removal-from-indigenous-families-figures-show.
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