First Nations families split by Child Safety called to register interest in class action

Vivienne Wynter

Bottoms English Lawyers are inviting First Nations children and parents to register interest in a class action against the Queensland Government for systemic failure to reunite children removed under child protection laws with their parents.

Special Counsel Jerry Tucker, is leading the class action, lodged in the Federal Court of Australia late in 2023.

Ms Tucker said the class action was lodged after the firm received over one hundred complaints from First Nations parents and children across Queensland.

‘There were significant similarities in the stories where once a family are in the Department of Child Safety (DOCS) system it’s difficult for children to be returned, even when a parent or parents have jumped through the hoops,’ Ms Tucker said.

‘The cases do not make allegations about departmental decisions to remove a child.

‘The focus is on their actions once a child is removed and placed in the care of others and actions taken when families attempt to reunite with removed children,’ Ms Tucker said.

Special counsel Jerry Tucker

‘Deeply concerning culture’

‘The evidence will demonstrate a deeply concerning culture of failing or refusing to reunite or restore family relationships between removed children and their parents.

‘Every one of these stories is shocking and heartbreaking and we know there’s so many more out there.

‘We’re encouraging as many people as possible who have been through similar experiences to register their interest in the class action.’

The class action alleges DOCS breached the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and failed to follow the Child Placement Principle in the Child Protection Act 1999 (Qld) by:

  • refusing or failing to reunite or restore family relationships,
  • failing to support children in the system to learn and practice their culture, language, or maintain their connection to Country, and
  • failing to place children with Indigenous family members.

PHOTO: Elder and child CREDIT: Australian Human Rights Commission

It is also claimed that in some cases, DOCS failed or refused to provide information about removed children’s First Nations families.

In their own words

Lead applicant for the parents’ case is Brett Gunning, who is Aboriginal and spent more than a decade trying to reunify with his three children. He was removed from his own biological mother at 30 days old.

‘DOCS kept moving the bar. I kept reaching their milestones and then once I did, they kept moving the bar higher and higher. I could never obtain my children,’ said Mr Gunning.

‘This is just inter-generational abuse of my family, from my grandfather to my mother, my mother to me, now me to my kids.’

Lead applicant for the children’s case, Madison Burns, was taken into the care of the department when she was born. She was placed in numerous foster homes, residential group homes and motels until she was 18.

‘DOCS saw me deteriorate. As a kid, you start blaming yourself,’ said Ms Burns.

‘I know nothing about my culture. I have dark skin and I know I’m Aboriginal and that’s it,’ she said.

‘When DOCS told me there were no foster carers, and residential group homes were full, I would ask: Why remove us if you can’t even give us somewhere to go?’

Ms Tucker said ‘Our applicants and thousands of group members across Queensland seek financial and non-financial remedies from the Queensland Government.’

What the class action is asking for

‘They want a well-resourced consultation process designed to facilitate restoration of family relationships for those impacted by the department’s actions.

‘They want training for staff to interact with First Nations families in a trauma-informed and culturally sensitive manner. They want a formal and public apology for the Department’s child removal practices. They want financial compensation.’

Ms Tucker said last year the Canadian Government announced a $20 billion compensation package for First Nations children removed from their homes.

‘We would love to see something similar occur in Queensland,’ she said.

The next step in the class action is for the Queensland Government to file a defence.

It’s easy to sign up

In the meantime, First Nations parents or children affected by DOCs removals are invited to sign on to the class action online at docsclassaction.com.au, or by calling the DOCS Hotline on 1800 405 405.

There are also options for First Nations people living in remote areas to sign up in person or by other methods.

‘They don’t have to tell their story but if they want to tell their story we welcome that,’ Ms Tucker said.

‘We expect there are thousands more with similar complaints that we haven’t heard from yet.’

A department spokesperson told Fairfax Media: ‘We are aware of this matter which is before the Federal Courts and it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this stage.’

 

PHOTO AT TOP OF STORY of Aboriginal children in silhouette. CREDIT: Amnesty International

 

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