New intervention plan worries for indigenous children

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AUDIO:  Audio file Radio National

Radio Australia October 28, 2010

A leading indigenous child protection agency in Australia says it's worried more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands children will end up in foster care under a new system devised by the Queensland government.

A new, early intervention plan has been launched in Queensland to help keep indigenous children at home.

But there's criticism the new system has taken money away from existing Indigenous services.

Presenter: Stephanie Smail

Speakers: Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak's CEO Dianne Harvey; Queensland's Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves

About 40 per cent of children under protection orders in Queensland are indigenous.

The Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak's CEO Dianne Harvey says the system is in crisis.

Harvey: Nationally, internationally I don't think anybody's got it right we know we need to response and safeguard kids but is this the ideal system that we've got? No.

In an attempt to tackle the worrying statistics, the State Government introduced an early intervention plan.... providing Indigenous staff to help troubled families keep their children at home.

The Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak worked with the Government on the plan... but they didn't think it could be introduced on existing funds.

Dianne Harvey says it takes millions of dollars away from the existing Indigenous services that provide cultural advice on whether children should be removed from their homes.

Harvey: It shouldn't be at the cost of another service being introduced. I think while there's been a split, it doesn't afford us an opportunity to actually give a good go at it. So we're actually looking at trying to do more with less.

Ms Harvey says 35 regional agencies have been whittled down to 11 major hubs.... stretching staff and resources to their limit.

She says staff can't provide appropriate advice about what's right for a child if they are juggling too many cases.

Harvey: We are so restrained by what we can do and I can understand red tape and you know service agreements and the allocation of funding but if you look at the figures of over-representation it doesn't equate to what funding is for us to be able to support government in their role around protecting children. I think that the investment does need to be seriously looked at.

Queensland's Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves says the State Government provides more funding for culturally sensitive child protection support than most other states and territories.

He says the early intervention system is the appropriate course of action.

Reeves: By implementing this system that support is at the family home we believe the quicker you can get into the family home to support them is the quicker you can really make a dint in the over representation of indigenous families in the child protection system.

Phil Reeves says the peak group knew how much money was on offer for the early intervention plan... and it's an appropriate amount to cover the service.

But Dianne Harvey says the whole plan needs to be revisited... before more children are taken from their homes.

Harvey: Give us a go at doing this stuff. I think we can work well in partnership and that we do have the skills and the capacity to be able to respond. We are here foremost to safeguard children and I think if we don't invest in our organisations then we will continue to repeat the story in 20 years time, 30 years time, 40 years time.