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  • Child protection a 'disgrace' say mental health experts

    Author: AAP

Still reeling from the tragedy of a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy who took his own life in state care in Western Australia in April, First Nations mental health experts are calling for proper investment in preventative measures.

Tania Brown, chief executive of Indigenous mental health not for profit Thirrilli, said the death of any child by suicide is a tragedy.

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"The death of a child by suicide while in state care is a national disgrace and an indictment on Australia's child protection system," she said.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for First Nations children and young people in Australia.

Children who are removed from their families are at a higher risk of suicide, and have an increased likelihood of contact with the criminal legal system.

Indigenous children are more than 10 times likely than their non-Indigenous peers to be in out-of-home care, nationally.

Professor Helen Milroy, a child psychiatrist and chair of Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia, said her heart goes out to the child's family and community.

"As Indigenous people, our hearts are broken and continue to break every time we lose one of our young ones to suicide, especially when they are in the care of a system that's supposed to protect them," she said.

While government spending on child protection has increased over the past five years, the proportion of expenditure spent on family support and wellbeing has decreased.

And the proportion of funding allocated to Aboriginal community controlled health organisations (ACCHOs) to deliver early intervention and family support sits between 0.6 and 21 per cent, depending on the state or territory.

Psychologist Dr Clinton Schultz from the Black Dog Institute told AAP that governments need to invest in support services to help families stay well and connected within their communities.

"These services should be led and operated by First Nations communities, not external contractors," he said.

"When we have a system where over 40 per cent of children in out-of-home care are currently Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander what we need is equal investment going to Indigenous community controlled or private entities that are working in this space.

"We have the solutions, we've been putting the answers forward for decades and it's about time that we started having more ears listen."

Dr Schultz said more focus was needed on a holistic approach to intervention.

"We need to be looking at the social determinants that are leading people to be in positions where they feel like harming themselves," he said.

"We need far more investment in the prevention space and that prevention focus needs to be on the drivers or the causality of seriously disturbed social and emotional wellbeing.

Indigenous-led programs and organisations needed sustained, reliable funding, Dr Schultz said.

"The piece that has been missing and it's not just in WA, it's in all jurisdictions, is the access to culturally responsive social and emotional wellbeing intervention services, where that can really make a difference at that time when somebody is actually feeling that desperation and being at that point of wanting to hurt themselves," he said.

"What I think we really need to be focused on ... is upping the investment significantly to support children who are already in state-based care."

First Nations mental health organisations are calling on federal, state and territory governments to implement the recommendations from the more than 40 government reports into Indigenous child protection since the Bringing Them Home report in 1997, including:

* Increased investment and access to culturally-responsive, community-led support services;

* Increased cultural responsiveness training for child protection and mental health workers;

* Increased investment to build a more sustainable Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and mental health workforce

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)

beyondblue 1300 22 4636


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