First Nations and Child Protection Terms

Disability Royal Commission hearings sometimes use terms that most Australians aren’t very familiar with. We’re keeping a list of these and trying to explain them in plain language. Please feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for words that should be included.

Click here for general DRC terms.

Terms Used in the hearing on the experiences of First Nations people with disability and their families in contact with child protection systems.

Content warning: References to removals, trauma informed behaviours and intergenerational traumas associated with the Stolen Generation.

If you would like to access counselling or emotional support with anything that comes up in relation to the Disability Royal Commission, you can find information on free services here.

First Nations People: In Australia, this term is used to describe people from the various Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander nations.

Mob: A colloquial term for a group of First Nations People associated with a particular place, country, language group or extended family. The term is used to describe people with shared identity and/or community.

Country: In this context, the term “Country” was used to describe the lands belonging to a First Nations group, rather than Australia as country.

Stolen generation: A generation of First Nations People who were removed from their parents, families or communities when they were children. First Nations People (and First Nations people with disability) remain disproportionately impacted by removals, but this term usually describes the generation impacted by policies active between 1905 and 1967.

Article 23 of the CRPD: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Australia has signed, is made up of 50 articles, which describe the rights of people with disability and provide a framework for upholding them.

In our (PWDA’s) commentary on this hearing we make references to “Article 23” which outlines the signatorys’ responsibility to “take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others …”

Child protection systems/services: Government systems ostensibly designed to help vulnerable children who have experienced (or are at risk of) abuse, neglect or harm, or whose parents have been judged by themselves or a third party as unable or unwilling to provide adequate care or protection. This hearing investigated some of the harms currently being done to First Nations families and people with disability via this system.

Statutory system: The legal system. A system enforced through laws.

Removal: In the context of this hearing, the term “removal” was used to describe the removal of a child from the care of their parents’ to that of the state.

Reunification: In the context of this hearing, the “reunification” was used to describe the formal process of restoring or returning a child to the care of their parents/family.

Restoration: In the context of this hearing, the term “restoration” was used to describe the return of a child to the care of their parents/family.

Birth suite removals: In some cases, child protection systems may remove a child from the care of a mother immediately after birth, if a pre-birth assessment has determined that the child will be at significant risk of harm.

Notifications: In this context, the term “notifications” was used to describe any instance where child protection systems were made aware of a situation where a child was suspected of being at risk. Notifications can come from any source, including schools, health services, family, community members, etc.

Structured decision making assessment tools (SDMs): A tool kit used by case managers and social workers to make decisions regarding whether or not Child Protection Services will become involved in a case, including a risk assessment tool. There was a lot of focus during this hearing on whether the questions in the tool kits used by different states discriminated against parents with psychosocial or intellectual disability.

Child protection order: Orders made by a court with the intent of protecting a child. Some examples of child protection orders that may be made in the state of Victoria can be found here:

Permanent care order: A child can be permanently removed from the care of their birth family and placed in a new permanent care situation where the new carers are responsible for making decisions regarding the child. A permanent care order is effective until a child turns 18.

Long-term care order: Under a long-term care order, a child may remain in the care of their family, however, the state has parental decision making power regarding the child, and is responsible for providing support to the carer. A long term care order is effective until the child turns 18.

Family led decision making: In cases where child protection services have become involved with an First Nations family, family led decision making is an approach where decisions are guided by the family of the child, which may include exploring extended family placement options, and actively involving Elders and other significant members of community in the decision-making process.

Culturally and linguistically appropriate services: In Australia, this term is used in the context of First Nations and CALD communities to describe services provided in a way that accounts for diversity of language and culture.

Services designed by the dominant white, western, English speaking culture can sometimes fail to meet the needs of people with diverse backgrounds. Living in a country with diverse cultures means that people sometimes have different ways of structuring communities, understanding gender roles, styles of communication or ideas around what is polite, appropriate, sacred, etc. Failing to take this into account can lead to miscommunications or disengagement from services which can lead to poorer outcomes for disadvantaged people.

Intergenerational trauma: This term refers to the ongoing impact of trauma from generation to generation. In this hearing, witnesses talked specifically about the trauma experienced by the Stolen Generation, and behaviours that may be driven by trauma, including violence, risk taking, drug and alcohol use and difficulty developing safe relationships. In this way, trauma can be passed from one generation to the next. There was a focus during this hearing on a need for services that address the need to heal.

Public health approach: A public health approach to child protection involves lifting up whole populations or communities with primary and secondary services as a preventative measurebefore notifications are made to authorities.

Primary (universal) services: Services delivered to the whole community in order to provide support before problems occur.

Secondary services: Services actively targeted at families where there may be a higher risk of child maltreatment. Risk indicators can include poverty, parental mental health problems, parental relationship conflict and/or breakdown, family violence, and parental drug and alcohol misuse. 

Tertiary services: Services targeted at families where child abuse or neglect has already occurred or is believed to have occurred.

Strength-based practice: A social work practice that focusses on individual strengths. The idea is that services should be client-led and support self-determination by building on strengths and abilities. Strength-based practice is an alternative to a management or deficit-based approach.

Community controlled service: Community controlled services are established and operated by local First Nations communities to deliver holistic and culturally appropriate support and care to the community which controls it through a locally elected Board.

The Child Placement Principle:
The child placement principle is a legislative responsibility outlined in the Child Protection Act 1999 (section 83), to guide the decisions and actions taken when an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is unable to remain in the care of their parents.

“The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle (ATSICPP) recognises the importance of connections to family, community, culture and country in child and family welfare legislation, policy, and practice, and asserts that self-determining communities are central to supporting and maintaining those connections. The ATSICPP has five core elements – prevention, partnership, placement, participation, and connection – that work across the continuum of the child protection system to protect and realise the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities.”

– SNAICC – Understanding and applying the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Child Placement Principle.

Wraparound supports: An holistic approach to providing support that“wraps around” a person and their needs. Usually a team-based approach that focusses on the needs of the individual, rather than making the individual fit an existing system.

Data Sovereignty: This term was used to address the issue of who is asking the questions in the collection of the data used to inform how child protection services are run. Community sovereignty over data is important to ensure the relevant questions are actually being asked.