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4704.0 - The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, Oct 2010  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 17/02/2011  Final
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Contents >> Social and emotional wellbeing >> Removal from natural family


SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL WELLBEING: REMOVAL FROM NATURAL FAMILY
This article is part of a comprehensive series released as The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.


KEY MESSAGES
  • In 2008, 8% (26,900 people) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over had been removed from their natural family, consistent with the rate reported in 2002 (also 8%).
  • The proportion of people who had personally experienced removal was greater in older age groups, with 12% of people aged 45 years and over experiencing separation. Of those aged 15–44 years, 7% had personally experienced removal from their family.
  • Of those who had experienced removal from their natural family, 35% assessed their health as fair or poor and 39% experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, compared with 21% and 30% of those not removed.
  • People who had experienced removal maintained strong connections to culture with 71% identifying with a clan, tribal or language group and 83% recognising homelands or traditional country (compared with 61% and 70% of those not removed).

In 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission published ‘Bringing them Home: Report on the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families’. This report traces the history of forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and documents the damaging effects forced separation and institutionalisation had, and continues to have on the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (Endnote 1).

Removal from natural family has been associated with higher rates of emotional distress, depression, poorer physical health and higher rates of smoking and use of illicit substances (Endnote 2). It has also been associated with lower educational and employment outcomes. These consequences of separation not only affect those who personally experience removal, but can be trans-generational, impacting on children, families and communities (Endnote 2).

This topic presents results from the 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) which provides the most recent data on removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their natural family. In this context, removal from natural family includes people removed by welfare or the government, or who were taken away to a mission.

In 2008, 8% (26,900) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over stated that they had personally experienced removal from their natural family, consistent with the rate reported in 2002 (also 8%). A further 38% of people had relatives that had been removed from their family, with the most frequently reported relatives removed being grandparents (15%), aunts or uncles (12%), and parents (11%). The proportion of people who had personally experienced removal was greater in older age groups, with 12% of people aged 45 years and over experiencing separation. Of those aged 15–44 years, 7% had personally experienced separation from their family.

7.1 REMOVED FROM NATURAL FAMILY, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—2008
chart: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people removed from natural family by age group, 2008
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube

The rate of separation from family was higher in non-remote areas with 9% of people personally experiencing removal, compared with 6% in remote areas. The proportion of people whose relatives had been removed from their natural family was also greater in non-remote areas (41% compared with 32% in remote areas).

The majority (83%) of people who personally experienced removal had since seen their natural family, with 16% of those people using services designed to help them contact relatives. Among those who had not been in contact with their natural family since removal (16%), 59% did not know of any of the services available to help them find and contact their relatives.


REMOVAL, HEALTH AND SOCIOECONOMIC OUTCOMES

Both removal and health are related to age, with younger people less likely than older people to have experienced removal from natural family, and also less likely to be in poor health. The following analysis compares two broad age groups: people aged 15–39 years, and people aged 40 years and over. These age groups have been used to reflect change in Government policy, with people aged 40 years and over experiencing removal during the time of the Stolen Generation (Endnote 3).

Consistent with reports on the impacts of separation (Endnote 2), adults aged 40 years and over who personally experienced removal from family were more likely to have poorer health outcomes with 46% assessing their health as fair or poor in 2008, compared with 36% of those who had not been removed. They were also more likely to have a disability or long-term health condition (78% compared with 66% of those not removed), to be a current daily smoker (49% compared with 40%) and to have used illicit substances (23% compared with 13%). A similar pattern of association between removal and health status was also observed for those aged 15–39 years (see table 7.2).

People aged 15–39 years, who had been removed from their family, were more likely to have experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in the four weeks prior to interview (41%) compared with those who had not been removed (30%). There was no significant difference for those aged 40 years and over.

7.2 SELECTED HEALTH CHARACTERISTICS BY REMOVAL FROM NATURAL FAMILY, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—2008

15–39 years
40 years and over
Has been removed
Has never been removed
Total
Has been removed
Has never been removed
Total

Self-assessed health status
Excellent/Very good%
(d)45.6
(d)53.5
52.8
(d)27.0
(d)27.9
27.9
Good%
(d)30.8
(d)34.1
33.9
26.9
35.6
34.4
Fair/Poor%
23.6
12.4
13.3
46.1
36.4
37.7
Health risk factors
Current daily smoker%
65.5
44.6
46.2
49.4
39.9
41.6
Long-term risky/high risk alcohol consumption(a)%
(d)21.4
(d)17.6
17.9
(d)20.8
(d)15.1
16.0
Short-term risky/high risk alcohol consumption(a)%
(d)35.4
(d)40.6
40.1
(d)34.5
(d)30.0
31.0
Has used illicit substances(b)%
35.6
23.4
24.2
22.5
12.9
13.8
Has a disability or long-term health condition%
53.6
38.3
39.6
77.6
66.3
67.6
High/very high psychological distress(c)%
40.9
29.5
30.3
(d)36.7
(d)30.5
31.3
Total%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total personsno.
13 663
190 568
207 710
13 222
102 895
119 391

(a) See Glossary for more information.
(b) In the 12 months prior to interview.
(c) In the 4 weeks prior to interview.
(d) Difference between removed and not removed is not statistically significant.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube


Overall, those who had been removed from their natural family were more likely to have experienced at least one stressor in the 12 months prior to interview (73% of people aged 15–39 years and 67% of adults 40 years and over who had been removed, compared with 57% and 56% of those not removed). Results from the 2008 NATSISS show that adults aged 40 years and over were around twice as likely to have experienced a mental illness or alcohol related problem (both 14%), compared with those who had not been separated (7% and 6% respectively). They were also more than twice as likely to have been treated badly or discriminated against (13% compared with 5% of those not removed) (graph 7.4).

People aged 15–39 years who had been removed from their family were more likely to have had trouble getting a job (20%, compared with 13% of those not removed) and almost four times as likely to have been treated badly or discriminated against (19% compared with 5%). They were also around twice as likely to have experienced a mental illness (15% compared with 6% of those not removed) or an alcohol related problem (11% compared with 6%) in the 12 months prior to interview (graph 7.3).

STRESSORS EXPERIENCED(a) BY REMOVAL FROM NATURAL FAMILY, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—2008

chart: stressors experienced by whether been removed, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15–39 years, 2008 chart: stressors experienced by whether been removed, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 40 years and over, 2008
(a) Stressors personally experienced in the 12 months prior to interview.
(b) Difference between removed and not removed is not statistically significant.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube.


People separated from their natural family experienced disadvantage across a range of socioeconomic indicators including education, employment and income.In 2008, people aged 15–39 years, who had experienced removal from family, were half as likely to have completed Year 12 compared with those not removed (15% compared with 30%). Across both age groups, people who had experienced removal from family were less likely to have been participating in the labour force and less likely to be employed (see table 7.5).

For people aged 15–39 years, removal from family was associated with lower household income, with 70% of those who had experienced separation living in households with equivalised gross household income in the first and second quintile, compared with 56% of those who had not been removed. There was no significant difference for adults aged 40 years and over.

7.5 SELECTED SOCIOECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS BY REMOVAL FROM NATURAL FAMILY, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—2008

15–39 years
40 years and over
Has been removed
Has never been removed
Total
Has been removed
Has never been removed
Total

Highest year of school completed(a)
Year 12%
14.7
30.2
29.0
(d)*9.3
(d)12.0
11.7
Years 10/11%
(d)44.4
(d)48.8
48.4
27.7
38.1
36.9
Year 9 or below(b)%
40.9
21.0
22.6
63.0
49.9
51.4
Labour force status
Not in the labour force%
43.4
33.0
34.0
55.0
43.2
45.2
In the labour force%
56.6
67.0
66.0
45.0
56.8
54.8
Employed%
34.4
53.9
52.4
38.8
52.7
50.5
Unemployed%
22.2
13.0
13.6
(d)6.2
(d)4.1
4.3
Unemployment rate(c)%
39.2
19.5
20.6
13.8
7.3
7.8
Equivalised gross household income
First or second quintile%
70.0
56.3
57.2
(d)63.7
(d)55.9
56.6
Third quintile and above%
*12.2
23.8
22.7
(d)17.3
(d)24.1
23.0
Total%
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Total personsno.
13 663
190 568
207 710
13 222
102 895
119 391

* Estimate has an relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution. 
(a) Excludes those still at secondary school.
(b) Includes those who never attended school
(c) See Glossary for more information.
(d) Difference between removed and not removed is not statistically significant.
Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.  These estimates are also available for download in the Social and emotional wellbeing datacube.

Those who had personally experienced removal from their natural family were more likely to have had contact with the criminal justice system. In 2008, people aged 15–39 years, who had been removed from their natural family were almost three times as likely to have reported trouble with the police in the 12 months prior to interview (17%), compared with those not removed (6%). Across both age groups, those who had experienced separation were more likely to have ever been charged by police (53% of people aged 15–39 and 49% of adults 40 years and over) compared with those who had not been removed (32% for both age groups). People aged 15–39 years who had been removed were almost four times as likely to have ever been incarcerated in their lifetime (22% compared with 6% of those not removed), while adults 40 years and over were two and a half times as likely to have ever been incarcerated (25%, compared with 10% of those not removed).


REMOVAL, CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

Although removal from natural family is associated with disadvantage across several social and economic indicators, results from the 2008 NATSISS show that those who experienced removal from their natural family maintained strong connections to culture. In 2008, 71% of people aged 15 years and over who had experienced removal identified with a clan, tribal or language group (compared with 61% of those not removed) and 83% recognised homelands or traditional country (compared with 70%). People who had experienced removal were just as likely as those who had not been separated to speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language (both 19%), however those who had experienced separation were almost half as likely to speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language at home (7% compared with 12%).


ENDNOTES

1. Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), 'Bringing them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, April 1997', HREOC, <www.hreoc.gov.au>

2. Department of Health and Ageing, ‘Evaluation of the Bringing Them Home and Indigenous Mental Health Programs’ Department of Health and Ageing, <www.health.gov.au>

3. Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), 'Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Fact Sheets, Stolen Generation', Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service Incorporated, <www.vals.org.au>



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