The Guardian • Issue #2094

South Australia: Aboriginal babies still being stolen

Art for National Apology depicting the Native Hibiscus, the Stolen Generation Commemorative Flower. Chosen as their National emblem because it’s a flower found widely across Australia and it’s a survivor. (Artwork – Linda van der Merwe). Photo: butupa – (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In an inquiry in March into the removal of First Nations children in South Australia, it was revealed that the Department for Child Protection (DCP) was still taking babies away at birth. The SA Commissioner for Aboriginal and Young People is expected to hand down her final report later this year. The deputy chief for the department has apologised to the families.

However, despite the efforts of a senior Kaurna woman who worked as an Aboriginal family support officer helping and advising many of the young mothers, this practice continues. Some were never able to see their babies grow up and were not informed that they wouldn’t have their babies after they were born. Most of the women the Elder supported were unknowingly the subjects of ‘unborn child concerns’ – notifications filed to departmental authorities. Many were ‘accused of being unfit to parent, living in inappropriate housing, or not showing up to antenatal appointments.’ DCP ‘never notified support workers or the expectant mothers of its intentions to remove newborn babies at birth.’ This has left many mothers grieving for the loss of their children. This practice affected Aboriginal support workers, as the families blamed them, and left young mothers without any support services. The mothers were not even allowed to be involved in the care of their new-born babies. Some heard from letters left on their bed, or were encouraged to go out for a cigarette and found their babies gone when they returned. The decision to remove the babies was made with no notice to the families, service providers or hospital staff. The legislation requires that a family group conference is held and a plan of support arranged. Only after that are children to be placed in foster care if all else fails.

This was the same experience we had with two granddaughters over 20 years ago. The older one was born two months early so was in a humidicrib as the children’s mother has cerebral palsy. I visited the baby many times with her brother and our family took in the breast milk for the baby. After two months, the department took her and placed her with foster parents without letting anyone in the family know. I first learnt of this when on a regular visit to see the baby I was told by staff I couldn’t see her any more as the foster mother had her.

I was so angry! I rang the department and learnt that they had taken out an order and placed her they said, with an “excellent young Christian couple” but it would be reviewed after three months. That didn’t happen and we didn’t get any family meetings, despite the fact that we had been given the care of her older brother five years earlier, which the parents requested.

Consequently, when the mother was expecting again, she wouldn’t go to see a doctor for the whole term of her pregnancy hoping they could manage to keep the baby if the department didn’t know or find out. However a social worker at the hospital informed the department. When the second baby was born, she was immediately placed under three-month order and we were not told. This time the department sent five police into the hospital to make sure that the parents didn’t take the baby. The parents saw the police go in while they had a smoke outside, and followed them wondering what was happening. Both parents had disabilities so had to rely on the family for transport and assistance.

The only contact from the department was to ask if we wanted the second baby placed with the same carer as the first, or separate care. We asked to keep them together. We still do not know why they had to be taken. The parents had a three bedroom house not far from us. Although retired, we were both qualified educators and had a good relationship with the parents. We could have worked out some plan of support and care. The regulations say they must wait, for two years before placing babies on a Guardianship of the Minister order, but the older one was 18 months and her sister three months. The Department violated this requirement as well. The department barred us from the court, only admitting the parents, and then tried to have the children placed for adoption to the foster parents, again without letting the parents or us know. Their father protested about that, and luckily the judge listened.

The foster parents turned out to be abusive. They belonged to an extreme religious cult. These cults are encouraged to foster and adopt children irrespective of the competence of the people. We had to fight for five years to get the children away from the abuse. We finally gained ‘other person guardianship’ to ensure they couldn’t be fostered out again.

I am a specialist in young children and special education, and noticed worrying behaviours of the two little ones. We constantly pointed these concerns out and when the younger one was three, the abusive foster parents demanded that we be supervised for access visits otherwise they wouldn’t let them come for two hours a fortnight with their brother and parents. The foster parents had told the children that Aboriginal people were bad and also demonised their brother, their parents and us so they would be too afraid to visit with their family. The horrific stories they came up with to cover up what they were doing, have left the now young adults with varying traumas.

Under Freedom Of Information laws, we obtained the records of the department concerning our grandchildren. The two girls were being locked up and had very little experience of life outside the cult. Over the years, we’ve rectified this by taking them overseas to see many places, connecting them to their two main cultures, and supporting and encouraging them in many recreational activities. We have found they are extremely talented in several creative areas and sport. One as an artist, won a competition with her dot painting while at school. They have  suffered racism and bullying, but we have always been there for them. It is sad that the department didn’t follow correct procedures and that they were not placed with us in the beginning as the girls have often said.

Soon after they were placed with us and their brother, we visited our family interstate and the girls met a lot of relatives. They were overwhelmed that they had so many. We saw how much family means to young children. ,To separate them in circumstances like ours is a denial of their human rights, family and cultural connections.

South Australian Voice gets started

Like the national Voice to Parliament, the South Australian Voice is a response to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The South Australian Voice was created by the State Parliament. Voting for the South Australian First Nations Voice finished on 16 March 2024. Induction sessions for the 46 successful candidates will be held this month. After that, Local First Nations Voices will meet and elect their presiding members. Each of the Voices, State and Local, will meet between four to six times a year. The State Voice will give an annual report and address to both houses of parliament, and will receive notice of each bill introduced into parliament. The Voice can also provide parliament at any time with a report on any matter that the Voice decides is of interest to Indigenous people. If they do that, the relevant minister will have to table a report with their response.

The South Australian Voice will also meet with cabinet at least twice a year.

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