Evaluation of the Bringing them home and Indigenous mental health programs
1.5 The BTH Report
1.5.1 Terms of ReferenceThe Terms of Reference for the Inquiry required the HREOC to:
- trace the past laws, policies and practices which resulted in the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families
- examine the adequacy of and the need for any changes in current laws, practices and policies relating to services and procedures currently available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were affected by separation
- examine the principles relevant to determining the justification for compensation for persons or communities affected by such separations
- examine current laws, practices and policies with respect to the care and placement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and advise on any changes required, taking into account the principle of self-determination by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
1.5.2 Key findingsThe BTH Report indicates that it is not possible to state with precision how many children were forcibly removed (despite various attempts to do so). However,
Nationally we can conclude with confidence that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities in the period from approximately 1910 until 1970. In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten. In that time not one Indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal… Most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children.
(HREOC 1997, p31)
With regard to compensation for persons or communities affected by separation, the Inquiry's principal conclusion was that 'an appropriate and adequate response to the history and effects of forcible removals requires reparations which include, as one form of reparations, monetary compensation for defined victims' (HREOC 1997, p14).
The Inquiry also found that self-determination for Aboriginal peoples provided the key to reversing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems of the States and Territories, and to eliminating unjustified removals of Aboriginal children from their families and communities.
1.5.3 RecommendationsThere were 54 recommendations that emerged from the BTH Report, which included those relating to:
- acknowledgment and apology
- guarantees against repetition
- measures of restitution
- measures of rehabilitation
- monetary compensation.
The importance of the health, mental health and family reunion aspects of the response to the BTH Report should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, the attention that these aspects have received compared with other aspects suggests there has been a 'medicalisation' of issues originally investigated in a social justice and human rights context (HREOC 1997).