Ex-Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt says too many kids lost because of broken child protection system

Hannah Cross
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Ken Wyatt says we’ve lost “too many” vulnerable children.
Ken Wyatt says we’ve lost “too many” vulnerable children. Credit: Iain Gillespie/The West Australian

Ken Wyatt says Australia has “lost too many lives” of vulnerable kids because the child protection system is still focused on intervention rather than prevention.

His comments come after The Nightly revealed a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy in State care took his own life on April 12.

“My immediate reaction is, another life lost,” said Mr Wyatt, the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to Federal Parliament’s House of Representatives.

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“An opportunity to turn the circumstances around and give a child a better pathway has been lost once again.”

The suicide death of the 10-year-old in Perth’s northern suburbs rocked the nation and led to an outpouring of grief from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, current Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and WA Premier Roger Cook.

Mr Wyatt, the former minister for Indigenous Australians, said governments cannot expect to close the gap if it does not invest in prevention to stop the cycle of children in care.

“We need to be focusing on prevention instead of intervention, instead of putting a Band-Aid on (the issue) afterwards,” the Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi man said.

“This is a repetitive pattern across the nation.”

There were about 56,900 children aged under 18 in out-of-home care across Australia during 2020-21.

About 19,500 of those — or one in three — were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

In WA, about three in five children in out-of-home care are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Governments have committed to reducing the rate of Indigenous over-representation in out-of-home care by 45 per cent by 2031.

But Productivity Commission data shows that rate is actually increasing.

“The Government has to make commitments. Governments have committed to a strategy, and they have to focus on those targets and deliver on those targets,” Mr Wyatt said.

A 10-year-old Indigenous boy took his own life while in the care of a State Government.
A 10-year-old Indigenous boy took his own life while in the care of a State Government. Credit: Unknown/Supplied

“You can’t continue to have these targets and still see the same results.

“We’ve lost too many lives, it’s too important.

“There has to be a genuine, serious partnership between governments, government agencies and Aboriginal organisations to provide services in these areas (like child protection).

“Once you combine that effort, you bring to the table resources that are under-utilised.”

It has been revealed there were 1161 child protection cases without a dedicated caseworker on the Department of Communities’ books this month.

Mr Wyatt said it reinforced the dire need for more prevention initiatives and “wraparound support” for families.

“If there is a good prevention program, you may not need as many staff to manage as many children,” Mr Wyatt said.

“We need to create opportunities to provide that level of intervention.”

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