The trend of children being granted separate legal representation from their parents and case workers when at risk of being removed from their families has almost tripled in WA in recent years.
Aboriginal Family Legal Service chief executive Corina Martin believes children should be guaranteed their own representation in these circumstances.
Latest figures from the Department of Communities reveal 216 of the 244 children in State care in the Mid West and Gascoyne are Indigenous. Ms Martin said the department did not advocate for Aboriginal children adequately the majority of the time.
She said the department often let children down by putting them in the care of paternal grandparents when the father had been abusive, or removing the children from country.
Therefore, she said children should be represented separately from their case workers and parents.
According to the department, there was a surge in children receiving independent legal counsel when being removed from their parents in 2019-20.
Legal Aid WA confirmed this trend, providing data that showed approvals for independent counsel given to children had nearly tripled in the past four years — from 135 in 2017 to 317 in 2020.
Neither LAWA nor the department could provide any region-specific data on how many children were seeking separate counsel.
However, a department spokesperson said its job was to advocate for children’s rights and their best interests. “When investigating potential placement arrangements for children, Communities will consider all available options, including extended family,” the spokesperson said.
Aboriginal Family Legal Service senior lawyer Linda Cao said it was common for Aboriginal parents and children in the Mid West and Gascoyne to be separated without anybody in the family receiving legal support.
“The parents have a right to legal representation,” she said.
LAWA director Graham Hill said the organisation held “similar concerns in regard to the over-representation of Aboriginal children in care”. In response to claims about a lack of legal support for parents, he said 7.44 per cent of parents who lost their children last year — 59 cases — were denied legal aid, with those decisions based on means testing. He said this number has been consistent over the past few years, sitting at 57 cases in 2018 and 60 in 2017.
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