Australian Orphans Take Concerns to UN

06/08/2012 – Soon after a significant transformation of New South Wales’ foster care system was announced, a group of Australian orphans are bringing the abuse they suffered to light at the United Nations.

Orphaned children who suffered abuse when taken into foster care in Australia are bringing their complaints to the United Nations (UN).

In taking the matter right to the UN Committee on Torture, the group hopes its efforts will “recommend better compensation and understanding,” reports Australia’s The Age newspaper.

Leading the group is Leonie Sheedy of the Care Leavers Australia Network. While a parliamentary inquiry will investigate abuse by religious and nongovernmental groups, it will not investigate the abuse of wards of the state in 17 state-run Victoria orphanages over the past century, she said.

The office of Attorney-General Robert Clark said that the basis for the current inquiry did not include a recommendation for looking into children in state care. The government has, however, apologized to those who suffered abuse, providing $2 million annually to help the former children deal with their trauma, says The Age.

While the situation improved in the 1970s, Ms. Sheedy estimates that thousands of children were mentally, physically or sexually abused in “primitive," military-like institutions. Including the orphans’ stories in the inquiry is needed, she added.

Aboriginal children in Canada have faced similar ordeals. The infamous residential school system forcibly separated 150,000 children from their families, taught cultural assimilation, and were the site of abuse (including sexual) for many aboriginal boys and girls. The shame and horror of this history eventually prompted the Canadian government to issue an apology and reparations (also about $2 billion) to the victims in 2007/2008.

In related news, the New South Wales (NSW) government in Australia will outsource its $123 million foster care duties to nongovernmental organizations over the coming four years. A total of 38 charities, such as Anglicare and the Salvation Army, will receive funding to deliver all foster care services for the country’s 6,800 children in care—increasing their responsibilities by about five times. Foster families will then “shop around” for a service provider that meets their needs, reports The Australian.

The change, based on recommendation of 2007/08 inquiry, is hoped to give the sector greater efficiency, flexibility and attention to children, giving each child their own caseworker.

"The new system has to be competitive, or at the end of 10 years we'll have three or four major providers who will charge whatever they like,” said Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward in The Australian, adding that the government will get back to “forensic child protection."

Among the institutions to care for the children are 11 aboriginal service groups. By the time the transition is complete, only 1,000 children (mostly aboriginal) will remain in the department’s care. A couple of years ago, the UK’s Telegraph reported that there were more children in state care in Australia in 2009 than there were in 1969.

Similar trends have been remarked upon in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada's Pre-Budget Submission released last summer also states, “there are more First Nations children in child welfare care today than at the height of residential schools by a factor of three.”

It is 12.3 times more likely for aboriginal children to be in care than their non-aboriginal counterparts. More children are being taken into care because of poverty and lack of service access, but Aboriginal Child and Family service agencies are funded 22% less than their provincial-level counterparts, says the association.

Currently, 30 per cent of kids in Canadian foster care systems are aboriginal children. This group of kids is very overrepresented, as aboriginal people make up only 3.8 per cent of the Canadian population.