Firstly, there is a far-reaching agreement among researchers that aboriginal children are more likely – compared to non-indigenous – to be removed from their families on the claim that they are being neglected (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017; Uniting Care Burnside, 2010; Paxman, 2006; Kiraly, James & Humphreys, 2014). Cases of abuse are low. This is substantiated by the Australian Human Rights Commission which indicates that neglect contributes to 40% of cases of aboriginal children under care as compared to the Australian average of 23% (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017). In most cases, the children are forcefully removed from their aboriginal families with the state claiming that it is doing so to protect the interests and rights of the child – “There is also broad agreement that Indigenous people have a right to look after their own children and thereby sustain their own culture. This right is expressed by most Indigenous organizations as a right to self-determination and is variously expressed by government departments as either a right to self-determination or a right to self-management” (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017, n.p). Despite the existence of such agreements, Paxman (2006) and Barber, Delfabbro, and Cooper (2000) note that many aboriginal children continue being removed from their families and placed under foster families and group homes of non-indigenous people. After being taken away from their families, the aboriginal children feel that their childhood has been taken away from them, a factor that leaves a big hole in their lives and their families continue feeling as part of the “stolen generations” – Aboriginal people who were coercively separated from their families from the years between 1890 and 1970 (Valentine & Gray, 2006).
In Australia, children’s protection and care statutes places the responsibility of investigating child neglect and abuse and the implementation of interventions and preventive measures on welfare departments (Bromfield & Osborn, 2007). In each jurisdiction, welfare departments are allowed to remove children from their families if there is evidence of child abuse or neglect or unequivocal proof of irreparable breakdown in the relationship between the parent and the child (James & Humphreys, 2014). While many Aboriginal children have been removed from their families, the welfare departments in all jurisdictions are required to strive and work with the child while still in their families and, if removed, they should be returned as soon as possible (Bromfield & Osborn, 2007; NSW Department of Community Services, 2009). This involves providing respite care, making consensual arrangements when a significant problem has been detected, and providing rigorous home-based care. Paxman (2006) and the Australian Human Rights Commission (2017) indicate that a care application should only be made when all other strategies aimed at helping the child while within the family fails. If the application is efficacious, the court gives the welfare section an order to take out the child from their family and place them under foster or kin care (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017; NSW Department of Community Services, 2009).
Many studies conducted in Australia and worldwide have found out that elderly people are the key providers of kinship care. An article by the NSW (2014) indicates that the elderly people often find themselves taking care of disadvantaged children whose parents are still in the working age as a way of keeping themselves engaged and helping the children’s parents survive the hard economic climate. The study by Paxman (2006) goes deep into the issue and uncovers that most of the kinship carers are single elderly women whose educational qualification is low and are financially unstable. As such, kinship care provision is their main way of earning income that they use to meet their daily needs while others provide kinship care in exchange for food and other inevitabilities such as shelter (Paxman, 2006). Bromfield and Osborn (2007) and the NSW (2014) further holds that while many elderly people quit their employment to provide kinship care, most of them feel neglected by the Australian government which fails to provide enough resources to guarantee the kinship carers a comfortable life even with the upsurged cost that emanates from the fact that a child – or children – are under their care. This is particularly true for grandparents providing kinship care to Aboriginal children since they are unlikely to receive allowances in some key areas such as medical and when such allowances are available, they are insufficient to meet their medical expenses (NSW, 2014; Uniting Care Burnside, 2010; Paxman, 2006; Kiraly, James & Humphreys, 2014).