Treating mental health episodes more like a physical injury could help prevent the long-term removal of children of Indigenous parents with a disability, a national inquiry has heard.
Mental health worker Christine May told a hearing of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in Brisbane on Monday that when a parent with a mental illness had a psychotic episode and needed to stay in hospital it should be regarded as a period of treatment.
“If I broke my leg I wouldn’t have an order taken out on my child,” she said.
Unless parents are deemed dangerous, Ms May said, they shouldn’t have to fight to keep their children when services could provide treatment for them to become well and be re-assessed.
She recommended the Queensland Health program Cultural Healing she works for be expanded across the state.
“Those that do have a serious mental illness, there’s always that paranoia there and that mistrust there, so you’ve got to try to make them feel safe all the time, respected, heard,” Ms May told the hearing.
Earlier, a mother whose child was taken from her after a psychotic episode told the commission she would not have agreed to the removal of her son had she known it would be long-term.
Speaking under the pseudonym Ann, she described the difficulty in getting treatment and dealing with the Department of Child Safety in Queensland.
She described mental health services in Brisbane as “appalling” compared to the Sunshine Coast as she detailed the lack of support when suicidal.
“It was so crap, I would never live here again,” she said.
Advice on legal representation and applying for NDIS services for Ann came from Cultural Healing.
The program has a limited catchment area in Queensland.
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar told the hearing she had heard of many instances of fear and mistrust from women dealing with child protection systems.
“Why is it that our people are fearful of a system that is supposedly there for our benefit?” she said.
Twenty five witnesses will give evidence at the week-long Brisbane hearing examining the experiences of Indigenous people with a disability with child protection services.
In his opening address, senior counsel assisting the inquiry Lincoln Crowley cited ABS figures that show 22 per cent of Indigenous children have a disability, compared to eight per cent of the general population.
In adulthood, this increased to 48 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.
Mr Crowley said Indigenous children were almost eight times as likely as non-Indigenous children to have received child protection services.
Australian Associated Press
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