Momentum for change in Indigenous child removal
In the decade since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s landmark National Apology to the Stolen Generations, little has changed for the better. The number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care rose by 90 per cent between 2007 and 2016, and Indigenous children are now ten times more likely to be moved into out-of-home care than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
It’s an alarming trajectory at the heart of a cycle of intergenerational trauma, with affected children often entering the justice system at higher rates. UTS’s Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research is working to address this crisis through transformative research geared towards driving tangible change.
Jumbunna has a proud history of providing vital support to families involved in child removal cases. This experience provides a rich and robust research base from which the organisation campaigns for broader policy change across a diversity of areas, making an untold difference to the lives of children, their families and the broader indigenous community.
The research approach is multi-faceted and collaborative, with Paddy Gibson leading advocacy and community support work, Craig Longman providing legal support, and oversight and other research activity undertaken by Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt. The team has played a decisive role in shining a spotlight on the status quo and taking fundamental steps to reshape the future, including supporting the formation of grassroots advocacy group Grandmothers Against Removals.
Jumbunna researchers were also part of an advocacy push in 2015 that led to an ongoing major review into Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, and have appeared at Senate Committees and the recently concluded Royal Commission into child protection and juvenile justice systems in the Northern Territory.
The research informed Behrendt’s powerful Australian Directors’ Guild Award-winning documentary, After the Apology. Centred around the personal experiences of four Aboriginal grandmothers responsible for starting national Grandmothers Against Removals movement to combat the rising number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, it first screened at Parliament House in Canberra coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the apology in 2018. A segment also screened to captivated audiences at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.
“An important part of what we do is giving Indigenous people a voice,” Behrendt explains.
“Film is a way of allowing somebody a forum to say what they want to say and to be heard, rather than us as researchers or lawyers translating for them.”
The film goes beyond exploring the issues to provide mechanisms for change. Community organisations are looking to use the film as a training tool within the child protection sector and as an impetus for broader community conversations. Jumbunna is currently partnering in an impact campaign that will take the film’s message to a wider audience, including those with genuine potential to influence better outcomes.
The trio was presented with the Indigenous Excellence Award at the UTS Human Rights Awards in 2018 for their meaningful and enduring contribution to providing a voice to the voiceless, bringing public awareness to the issues and contributing to widespread legislative and policy change. Behrendt and Longman also previously received the Reconciliation Award in 2016.
Putting its transformative research work into action for Aboriginal families and communities, Jumbunna has become a trusted and sought-out leader for issues related to child removal, widely recognised for its insightful, impactful contribution to shifting the landscape.
“Jumbunna is unique in that we've always been really upfront that we are advocates for an Aboriginal perspective; we don't pretend to be neutral and we take stands on issues where we believe there is research-based evidence that policies aren't working,” says Behrendt.
“We’re proud to have become recognised nationally as an Indigenous unit focused on social justice advocacy and driving genuine policy change, rather than being seen solely as researchers.”