Disabled boy detained from age 10 in NT

A Northern Territory Indigenous teenager with disability has been intermittently imprisoned in the Don Dale detention centre since the age of 10, an inquiry has been told.

© Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS More than 20 per cent of Indigenous children have a disability and face multiple disadvantages.

The 17-year-old told the royal commission into violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability that some of the charges related to breaching bail when he fled abusive foster homes.

The young man, who gave evidence under the pseudonym IL, said he’d been placed in 20 Darwin foster homes in his life but had never had an Aboriginal carer or caseworker.

“I’ve never really had anybody to teach me right and wrong, you know,” he told the inquiry in a pre-recorded interview.

“Didn’t have a good mum and dad and stuff like that, you know, that’s why I trusted Territory Families, but then they let me down, too.”

The royal commission on Friday shifted its focus to the experiences of Indigenous children with disability in out-of-home care.

The hearing aims to provide an insight into the life course for Indigenous children with disability and their experiences, including cumulative and systemic abuse and neglect by multiple systems over time.

Counsel Assisting Lincoln Crowley says more than 20 per cent of Indigenous children have a disability, compared to eight per cent in the general population.

Out of the 45,996 children in out-of-home care in 2019 and 2020, 18,862 – more than 40 per cent – were Indigenous.

“Significantly higher than the approximately six per cent of the total child population in Australia who are First Nations,” Mr Crowley said.

Of the Indigenous children in out-of-home care, 14 per cent were reported as having a disability, however, Mr Crowley said that number is likely to be under-reported.

“The available data portrays the stark reality of the over-representation of First Nations children in out-of-home care and the consequent over-representation of First Nations children with disability in out-of-home care,” he said.

Royal commission Chair Ron Sackville said Indigenous children with a disability experienced multiple forms of disadvantage that exposed them to greater risk of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

“Those disadvantages include the impact of colonisation involving the dispossession of First Nations people, forced assimilation, marginalisation, intergenerational trauma and, not least, the removal of children from families and communities,” he said.

The disadvantages also include social and economic impacts, which have resulted in many of those children experiencing poverty, inadequate housing, and poor health. 

Central Australian Strong (Aboriginal) Grandmothers Group member Kumalie Kngwarraye said too many children had been taken from their families without consultation.

“A lot of those kids, young men, young women, do have disabilities,” she said via video link.

“They got something wrong with their eyes and hearing, or maybe they didn’t get a chance of a good education.

“There are a lot of things in our cultural background that affects our children, even domestic violence.

“My perspective is that the system does fail our people, our kids, and our kids in custody, and our kids with disability.”

Ms Kngwarraye said more Aboriginal people needed to be trained and employed as carers so children could remain in their communities.

West Australian woman Winnie Woods said her 19-year-old autistic grandson was taken from her family and placed in care when he was nine.

He’s never returned to his traditional country and did not attend his mother’s funeral.

Ms Woods said her family had not been consulted over her grandson’s removal and he should be brought home to live in their community.

“I still got a gap in my heart, I’m still mending it up,” she said.

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