Child protection minister apologises to Aboriginal kids

·2-min read
Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS

Victoria's child protection minister has apologised to First Nations people for the harm inflicted on families as a result of the state's flawed system and colonisation.

In an emotional address to the Yoorrook Justice Commission, minister Lizzie Blandthorn called the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Victoria's child protection system "shameful" and vowed to do more to keep them safe.

"I have heard the evidence that this commission has received as a minister and as a mother, I find that it is truly heartbreaking," Ms Blandthorn said on Friday.

"I take this opportunity as minister to apologise formally and unreservedly for the harm caused by the historic removal of First People's children from their families, their communities and their country."

The former planning minister, who was appointed to the child protection portfolio five months ago, accepted responsibility for current and historic systemic racism and inflicted trauma.

She said systemic failures had led to various human rights breaches, including Indigenous children being removed from their families and disconnected from their culture at alarming rates.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are vastly over-represented in Victoria's child protection system.

They make up more than 20 per cent of children in the system, up from 14.6 per cent in 2016.

Last year, there were 2635 Indigenous children in out-of-home care.

Ms Blandthorn said urgent reform was needed by way of early intervention and a prime focus on the reunification of families.

"I'm committed to ensuring that we put in place mechanisms to make sure that as we look at the ways in which (and we talk to communities about the way in which) we can improve the system, that we come up with real meaningful, achievable metrics," Ms Blandthorn said.

Legislation requires that all decisions made by child protection workers are in the best interest of a child, including protection of their rights.

Ms Blandthorn said risk assessment tools, which are fundamental to child protection workers exercising a discretion to recommend removal of a child, must be reviewed.

Yoorrook deputy chair and Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman, Sue-Anne Hunter, criticised the government's child protection manual saying it was further proof of a system that simply does not work.

"It's terrible," Ms Hunter said.

"Personally, I as a qualified social worker, could not navigate that so I think that needs to be reviewed because it's so hard to navigate."

It follows recent apologies from Premier Daniel Andrews and Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton for the systemic injustice and mistreatment of First Nations people.

Yoorrook is the first formal truth-telling inquiry into past and ongoing injustices against Indigenous people in Victoria.

Public hearings are examining the impact of injustice within the criminal and child protection systems.

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