Background: Removal and its impact

The deliberate and systematic removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families using laws, policies and practices which relied on compulsion, duress or undue influence (“forcible removal”), and placed in church or state-run institutions, or with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander foster or adopted families. It is generally accepted that between 1910 and 1970 when forcible removal was at its peak, most families lost at least one child. The consequences of this have been devastating and far-reaching.

The effects of removal were not confined to the children taken away. Each removal left a legacy of fear, loss and grief in its wake. All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander familles and communities were impacted, and these effects have been transmitted from one generation to the next.

Evidence of the negative effects of removal policies & practices began to emerge through studies such as the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987), which found that out of the 99 deaths investigated, almost half (43) were people who were separated from their families as children. The Ways Forward – The National Consultancy Report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health released in 1995 identified the need for programs, which addressed the ‘extensive effects of trauma and grief on Aboriginal people…’

A growing awareness led to a national Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Inquiry conducted in the 1990s.

Hundreds of people gave evidence of the profound and lasting physical and emotional problems, which followed removal: anxiety, depression, suicide, violence, delinquency, alcohol and substance abuse. Most reported a pervasive sense of loss around identity, culture, family and community and without a parental role model; many had trouble raising their own children. The wider Indigenous population reported high levels of anger, powerlessness, lack of purpose and a distrust of government, police and officials as a result of children being removed.

The inquiry resulted in the release of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997, which brought about widespread recognition of the need to heal and reintegrate those individuals, families and communities impacted by removal policies. The Marumali program supports a number of the Report’s recommendations related to this need.