Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle
What is the Child Placement Principle?
The Principle was established in 1984 following years of action by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Principle establishes the basis for keeping children within their families and communities and the assurance that if separation or removal is necessary, the child’s links with their family, community, and culture are actively maintained.1
The broad aims of the Principle are to:
Recognise and protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, family members and communities in child welfare matters
Increase the level of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child welfare matters
Reduce the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system
There are a number of different parts of the Principle. These are:
- Each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child has the right to be brought up within their own family and community.
- The participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives, external to the statutory agency, is required in all child protection decision making, including intake, assessment, intervention, placement and care, including judicial decision making processes.
- Placement of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out-of-home care must be considered in the following order:
a) With the child’s extended family or kinship group.
b)Within the child’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community or group.
c) With another Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family, where culturally appropriate.
d) Where no other option is available, with a non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family.
If the preferred options are not available, as a last resort the child may be placed with a non-Indigenous carer assessed as ready, willing and able to support the maintenance of community and cultural connections for the child or in a similarly assessed residential setting. If the child is not placed with their extended Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family, the placement must be within close geographic proximity to the child’s community. An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisation should also be involved in supervising the placement to ensure that the child is able to maintain links with their people and culture.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care are supported to maintain connection to their family, community and culture, especially children placed with non-Indigenous carers.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, parents and family members are entitled to participate in all child protection decisions affecting them regarding intervention, placement and care, including judicial decisions.
Child placement principle
In each state or territory the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is part of child protection law and policy.
An overview of the legislation in each state and territory can be found on the SNAICC website.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in these decisions about placement of a child are fundamental.
For some more information on different ways that support participation please see the Family Group Conferencing section of this resource.
“The single most significant change affecting welfare practice since the 1970s”
(Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (1997) Bringing Them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. 379)
Is the Principle complied with?
There remain huge issues with compliance with the Principle. There are only 4 states that have a formal system that provides for independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural advice about child protection intervention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“Maintaining connection to family, community and culture is essential within a framework that respects the physical, mental and emotional security of the child. This is particularly important in light of the historical experiences that Aboriginal families have had with child protection agencies”
(National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020, p. 28)
Myths & Realities
The Principle can often be quite confusing and there are many misunderstandings or “myths” that have developed around the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement principle.
|The Principle puts culture before safety||Safety is paramount when considering placement of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child. Nurturing a child’s culture enables the child to feel safe at placement|
|The Principle does not allow the incorporation of the ‘best interests of the child’ framework||The ‘best interests of the child’ framework is carried out most effectively when workers see what is ‘best’ practice through the child’s cultural lens. This approach successfully incorporates both the framework and the Principle|
|The Principle encourages multiple placements as workers are continuously looking for family||Placement with family takes precedence, as a child’s family cannot be replaced. Stability is about making good choices early on|
|Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers are difficult to find and assess||The Principle prioritises placement with family and kinship, then with carers. The process of locating carers can be achieved through strong partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations|
‘The pain of being separated from one’s own parents is compounded by the pain of being separated from one’s own children. SNAICC’s quest to keep children with their families and communities demonstrates the link between the past and the present in this endeavour. To the forefront of the endeavour is the importance of identity and retention and continuation of culture’
(cited in Briskman 2004, p. 96).