Figures show spike in child protection notifications in Northern Territory in 2017-18
REPORTS of Territory children being neglected, sexually exploited or abused are happening once every 21 minutes on average, shocking new figures show.
Today marks one year since the horrific rape of a two-year-old girl in the Territory town of Tennant Creek and in the past financial year, the number of child protection notifications received by Territory Families has leapt from 22,313 to 24,743 — with 80 per cent of reports relating to Aboriginal children.
Of the 24,743 notifications, 2110 incidents were substantiated, revealing 1744 NT kids had been, were being, or were likely to be, abused, neglected or otherwise harmed.
It’s fewer than the 2209 proven incidents against 1910 Territory kids in 2016-17.
Manungurra Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Graeme Smith said after reports of the rape reached politicians in Canberra, there was a “knee jerk” reaction from decision makers. “There was a lot of talk and a lot of huff and puff but a lot of decisions were made initially as knee jerk reactions without any research or planning around it,” he said.
“Twelve months later there’s been some movement with the promise of some of some money and structure, and I’m pleased with that — but I’m still sitting here calling for some reform. “The big problem I’ve always had is we need some real reform and reform to me requires legislative change. For politicians to show some strength.”
Mr Smith said every night, there were break ins and children roaming the streets in Tennant Creek unsupervised.
He is calling for a government funded youth centre, which would give kids a safe space to stay 24 hours a go.
“If you’ve got 100 kids in a centre at night, you’ve got 100 kids off the street,” he said.
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Mr Smith was not supportive of introducing a curfew in Tennant Creek. “It’s easy to say, let’s just get the kids off the street — we’ve got to ask the question — why are they on the street? Because there is no food at home or there is a party going on at home or their house has 15 people into it,” he said. “We actually need to address the pull factors.”
Tennant Creek Mayor Steve Edgington said he received reports of kids as young as 10 wandering the streets.
Mr Edgington said council was yet to form a position on a curfew but wanted Territory Families to step in when very young kids were wandering the streets at night.
“Not every young person is up to no good … some don’t feel safe or comfortable being home at time — it be that they’re exposed to alcohol, or domestic violence,” he said.
Mr Edgington said it was hard to judge if enough was being done to protect kids in Tennant Creek because there’s wasn’t enough transparency about the figures.
“What I would ask is that the NT Government, they publish crime rates on a monthly basis, they need to be open and transparent about the number of child protect matters coming to their attention in Tennant Creek,” he said.
Since the rape last year, Mr Edgington said the NT Government funded five additional child protection workers and a positive learning centre.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said it was investing in the “right things” by boosting frontline staff and supporting them.
“We’ve had a stable team in Tennant Creek in the child protection office now over the 12 month period,” she said.
“I was in Tennant Creek in December last year, and certainly the feedback that I’ve had from community members and service providers is that they feel we’re on the right path.
“There have been more notifications, and I think that’s to be expected when there has been such a lot of publicity around the issues.”
Ms Wakefield said child protection was a challenging system worldwide but there was some unique challenges in the NT — including a large number of people living remote, and living in poverty.
Mr Smith was also critical over the strict alcohol restrictions in Tennant Creek, which meant people could only buy takeaway grog Monday to Saturday between 4pm and 7pm.
“To me, it hasn’t stopped the flow or consumption of liquor,” he said.
“Where do people go when they don’t get it there? Well, the old bootlegger in Tennant Creek is going quite well. $50 or $100 will get you whatever you want in Tennant Creek.”
Mr Edgington agreed there was still a number of drunk people roaming the streets.
“In January 2019 the Bradagg sobering up shelter had 354 admissions for that month of January 2019, which is believed to be the highest number ever recorded,” he said.
“It’s 70 per cent higher than the previously recorded number. At the moment, I wouldn’t say that it’s a safer place.”
Despite the clear challenges, both Mr Edgington and Mr Smith were optimistic about Tennant Creek’s future.
Mr Smith said progress was slow, but the $60 Million committed for Barkly Regional Deal had now been signed.
He’s glad the money hadn’t been “earmarked” for anything just yet — and wanted the community to lead the direction the investment went into.
“If you give $60 million to the township of Tennant Creek to put in new roads, new roads, new facilities — it’s not going to fix the issues,” he said.
“You actually need to address the bush … if we fix the bush up and the communities the town should follow suit.”
Mr Edgington said the Barkly Regional Deal statement of intent had been signed, and he was hopeful the final document would be signed off in March or April.
Ms Wakefield acknowledged the NT was going through a challenging financial period, but remained committed to the Barkly Regional Deal. She said the Gunner Government was committed to “generational change”.
“Continuing to delay dealing with the issues we are facing are only going to make our budgetary problems worse into the future,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are working early with families in that first 1000 days we know that will make a different.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten said if elected, he would convene a national summit on First Nations Children in its first 100 days.
“The summit will bring governments and experts together to determine the different factors that lead to child removal, work on solutions to reduce the rates of out-of-home care, and new approaches to building strong and stable indigenous families,” he said.
“Every child, no matter where they are should be able to grow up in a community free from violence — that is a fundamental right and both the NT and the Commonwealth need to protect it.”
A spokesman for indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said there was an “unacceptable” crisis in the NT’s child protection system.
“The minister believes that every child should be able to grow up safely and without harm and we will continue to hold the Gunner Government to account,” he said.
“And the Coalition Government will do everything it can to ensure children are growing up safely and attending school including through our $200 million new indigenous Youth Education Package that the Prime Minister announced today.”
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