Taking the Children Away

    Indigenous children have been forcibly removed from their families and communities since the beginning of colonisation.

    In 1995, the Federal Government commissioned the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.

    It was conducted by Sir Ronald Wilson (President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) and Mr Mick Dodson (former Aboriginal and Torres St Islander Social Justice Commissioner). 

    The Inquiry heard from around 1000 Indigenous people.

    The ensuing landmark report, Bringing Them Home, was the first time their stories of removal were revealed and heard in such a public forum. Its conclusions were stark. 

    Indigenous children had been forcibly removed since the first days of European settlement. Governments and missionaries targeted Indigenous children to embed in them European values and work habits so they could then be employed in service to colonial settlers. 

    Initially, mainly mixed-race children were taken in a planned effort to ‘merge’ them with the white population. Later (from 1937 to 1967) a more aggressive ‘assimilation’ policy led to full-blood as well as mixed-race children being removed from their families.

    Government policy directed that Indigenous children removed to missions or institutions were not permitted to speak their own language. They were often moved multiple times and taken far away from their home communities. 

    Conditions in the missions and institutions were often harsh, and the care given to the children often poor. They were told lies about their parents and families, degraded physically and emotionally, and sexually abused. From the age of 12-14 years, children were sent to work, often unpaid. Education was patchy. Their Aboriginality was denigrated. 

    It is estimated that between 1910-1970, one in ten, possibly as high as one in three, Indigenous children were removed from their families. Most Indigenous families have been affected in one or more generations by the removal of one or more children.

    The impact on the remaining parents and other family members has been devastating, resulting in depression, alcoholism, family break-ups, and long-term mental health conditions. Intergenerational trauma, depression and grief have cascaded through generations as a direct result of the removal policy. 

    The 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that 43 of the 99 deaths it investigated were people who were removed from their families as children.

    In 2017, the Bringing Them Home 20 years On report found the majority of the recommendations in the original report had still not been implemented, adding to widespread, unresolved intergenerational trauma. The removal of children from Aboriginal families today remains an ongoing issue in the foster care system.


    Bringing Them Home Report – Aust Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission


    Healing Foundation website: https://healingfoundation.org.au

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