Australia’s First Nations children’s Commissioners, Guardians, and Advocates met for the first time in Brisbane last month to discuss key challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people across the country.

At the forefront of the conversation was the gross over-representation of First Nations kids in statutory child protection and youth justice systems, and the urgent need for a national approach to reduce these trends.

The latest data suggests the rate of First Nations children in child protection and out-of-home care continues to worsen, with about 43 per cent of the 43,000 children in out-of-home care Indigenous.

The First Nations caucus identified 11 shared priorities including, a commitment to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, strengthening the national Indigenous community-controlled sector, and introducing a National Commissioner to advance the rights of First Nations children.

The 11 priorities can be viewed in a Statement from Australian First Nations Children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates here:

The WA Commissioner for Children and Young People, Jacqueline McGowan-Jones, a Arrente/Warramungu woman, said the priorities align to the Federal Government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Action Plan 2023–26, released under the Safe and Supported national framework, and supported efforts needed to meet targets under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

“January’s inaugural meeting of First Nations children’s Commissioners, Guardians and Advocates provided a constructive forum for us, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, to hear from each other the areas having the greatest impact on children and young people, that require our greatest attention.”

“What we are witnessing are ongoing rights violations against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Children and young people are being retraumatised by systems that are failing them. These are failures of multiple systems, over multiple governments, over multiples years,” Ms McGowan-Jones said.

Gamilaraay woman and Queensland Family and Child Commissioner Natalie Lewis said the seven First Nations Commissioners, Guardians, and Advocates have agreed to meet quarterly throughout 2023 to hold each other accountable in progressing these priorities across all jurisdictions.

Ms Lewis said the priorities are not just about advocating for more investment in supporting Indigenous families, but addressing the structural disadvantages that exist.

“It’s not always about the amount of money that is given to a particular issue. it’s putting it on the right point of the continuum, making sure the services and supports are available for families when they need them.

“We don’t want our families to have to access a statutory system in order to get visibility of the difficulty that they’re having, they should be able to access support in a way that doesn’t necessarily subject them to ongoing surveillance of statutory systems,” Ms Lewis said.

“Our families, in being able to have some equitable access to the types of basic supports that all Australian’s are entitled to, I think will really make a difference ensuring that our children grow up safe, strong, connected to kin, country, and culture.”

You can listen to the full interview with Queensland’s Family and Child Commissioner, Natalie Lewis below:

Natalie Lewis, Commissioner Queensland Family and Child Commission

First Nations caucus members include:

  • Barbara Causon, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People Advocate, Australian Capital Territory
  • Nicole Hucks, Assistant Children’s Commissioner, Northern Territory
  • April Lawrie, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, South Australia
  • Natalie Lewis, Commissioner Queensland Family and Child Commission, Queensland
  • Shona Reid, Guardian for Children and Young People, South Australia
  • Meena Singh, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Victoria
  • Jacqueline McGowan-Jones, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Western Australia