Whose Voice Counts? Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making in child protection.

Whose Voice Counts? Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making in child protection.

    “There is no more serious human rights issue in this country today than the increasing level of Aboriginal child removal.” NIT

This blog post briefly documents my experiences with the state’s current removal of Aboriginal children in Western Australia (WA) and the practice of Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making (AFLDM), a family-led decision-making process supported as best practice for Aboriginal families. Unfortunately, this practice of AFLDM is not implemented in Western Australia. Still, it is adopted in Victoria, New South Wales, and, more recently, Queensland.

AFLDM is supported by the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care — the Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is incorporated within the national Family Matters campaign to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care.

In my short but evolving career as a social worker in child protection, I have experienced the absence of AFLDM through my work as an advocate with The Reily Foundation. To provide a context of children, on 30 June 2019, 21,900 Indigenous children were on care and protection orders around Australia nationwide. Of these children, 70% (15,300) were on guardianship or custody orders. Closer to home in Western Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children now comprise 56% of all the children who have been removed by the Western Australian Department for Child Protection.

What do we know?

What do these numbers tell us? For some, it means a robust child protection system where its citizens have the mandate of “identify and report” Statistics are one thing. Still, for others and a more realistic reality, it means generations of a lost culture, identity, connection, and relationship to family and those whom we hold most dear to us and that the system simply does not work and continues to fail children, families, and the community.

We know from the evidence that children are not experiencing good outcomes due to increasing government intervention; they are very often experiencing multiple placements and even abuse in care.

Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making (AFLDM) is an evidence-based model that does work as they talk to the family; both sides and extended family are included. There are a few people that believe this model does not work, and the individuals against this practice should provide valid reasoning and examples. Any method with the family, extended family leading the process of placement or removal of a child/children would empower the family, no matter what race they are.

What it means to do things in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander way?

It is essential to have a whole community response to child safety. Each child belongs to a family group, and each family group is part of a community or communities. When families have independence, choice, privacy, and time, they can draw on the strengths and supports of their whole family and community to identify responses that will keep children safe and cared for in Family, community, and culture. This collectivist approach differs from the government process to date that functions following an individualised ‘client’ system.

There are deeper connections, spirituality and cultural knowledge needed to support families in decision making. These ways of knowing to transcend a lived experience that cannot be taught to non-Indigenous convenors or developed into cultural competency tools.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, in his Closing the Gap address to the Commonwealth Parliament, promised a new approach built on partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, on giving back responsibility to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – an approach of listening and empowering.

Less than two years ago, all state and territory governments agreed to support shared decision making and locally-led collaborative approaches in the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap. In the words of the Prime Minister, “We must restore the right to take responsibility. The right to make decisions. The right to step up.” This is precisely what the process of AFLDM does. It gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families the right to take responsibility and make decisions that are good for their children.

There are now several UN bodies who have all reviewed the way Australia is continuing to remove Aboriginal children at unacceptable rates, with clear advice and concern evidence. This country cannot afford to continue to disregard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, nor can they disregard the opinions of the UN human rights bodies. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices will continue to be heard as we challenge the denial of their rights to self-determination in child welfare.

The viewpoints and opinions discussed within this blog article are not necessarily the view of The Reily Foundation Executive. If you do find something mentioned within this article that is distressing, please contact TRF by emailing:


Paul Ban (2005) Aboriginal child placement principle and family group conferences, Australian Social Work, 58:4, 384-394, DOI: 10.1111/j.1447-0748.2005.00234.x

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC). (2017). Understanding and applying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle. Retrieved from

Jacynta Krakouer, Sarah Wise & Marie Connolly (2018) “We Live and Breathe Through Culture”: Conceptualising Cultural Connection for Indigenous Australian Children in Out-of-home Care, Australian Social Work, 71:3, 265-276, DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2018.1454485

Maureen Long & Rene Sephton (2011) Rethinking the “Best Interests” of the Child: Voices from Aboriginal Child and Family Welfare Practitioners, Australian Social Work, 64:1, 96-112, DOI: 10.1080/0312407X.2010.535544


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