10 Jul 2015

Care of at-risk Aboriginal kids reconsidered

6:22 am on 10 July 2015

Australia's Northern Territory Government is reviewing child protection legislation because of concerns that placing at-risk Aboriginal children with relatives might be putting some of them in greater danger.

, Australian politician John Elferink

John Elferink. Photo: AAP

In New Zealand, tamariki are placed with close family members, which allows the children to stay in contact with their whakapapa.

The Northern Territory Minister for Child Protection, John Elferink, said sometimes the focus on kinship care was so intense that it diminished judgement.

States and territories in Australia have adopted the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle which gives priority to placing a child within its extended family.

The principle states that the overriding priority is safety, but John Elferink is concerned the Northern Territory legislation does not make clear what takes precedence.

"The legislation is crafted in such a way as that, that placement principle and the best interests of the child, there is no clear hierarchy between the two."

"I am anxious to make sure that we are focused on the best interests of the child," he said.

Professor Fiona Arney from the University of South Australia said the problem was not the child placement principle, but the way it was applied.

"Nationally the implementation of the Aboriginal Child Placement principle has been highlighted as something that needs serious review for both concerns about children not maintaining connection to family and culture, but also where children are placed in unsafe placements."

She said reviewing the legislation and also reviewing practices was incredibly important.

And Professor Frank Hytten from the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care said over-burdened child protection workers can sometimes miss opportunities to safely place Aboriginal children.

"It's also a default situation. So the case comes across my desk: I'll look around, thinking, 'Who can I put this child with? God, I can't think of anybody. Right, we'll just have to place them'."

The Northern Territory Government said it will consult widely before making any decisions.