NT govt too hesitant to remove abused kids

Lucy Hughes Jones

A Family Court judge has told the Northern Territory juvenile justice royal commission the government is sitting on its hands when it comes to removing Aboriginal children from abusive homes.

Former NT Chief Magistrate Justice Hilary Hannam says she wasn't worried that her approach could create a second stolen generation in indigenous communities.

"I'm not at all, and I don't think it's a valid comparison and it diminishes the experience of those people," she told the inquiry.

"My main concern is that the children remain in conditions that we would say are unacceptable for children in 21st century Australia."

Before leaving the top judicial post in 2013, Justice Hannam said NT laws requiring vulnerable Aboriginal kids to be placed with their extended family and community before a non-indigenous carer wherever possible sometimes jeopardised their immediate safety.

On Monday she said the under-resourced NT child protection department is "far too hesitant" to take action on at risk kids, and has a relativist approach to widespread neglect in communities.

"There are many fewer children removed in the Northern Territory, many fewer indigenous children as compared to the substantiated rates of maltreatment," she said.

University of NSW Criminology Professor Eileen Baldry said the rise in numbers of indigenous children in out-of-home care is "yet another manifestation of colonial management".

"It's patronising and it's patriarchal," she said.

Prof Baldry said the government must better resource indigenous communities, noting the harm that occurs when kids are removed from their culture.

The NT has the highest child placement rate in the country but a comparatively low rate of placement of Aboriginal children in kinship care.

Territory Families boss Jeanette Kerr told the inquiry that until recently alternatives to youth detention haven't been delivered well due to a lack of funding.

The Labor government has pledged $15.3 million for bail support accommodation and safe houses designed to divert youngsters awaiting trial, and reduce reoffending.

Last July the Alice Springs-based Bush Mob rehabilitation centre was given more than $1 million to roll out a three-month boot camp pilot program.

Out of six juvenile delinquents who took part, three graduated, two young people escaped and one left due to an injury inflicted by a horse.

"Plainly a program which costs $1,073,823 and delivers outcomes for a small number of young people does not provide a suitable model to be implemented on a sustainable basis," Ms Kerr said.

It is under review and will continue to run until June.

It comes as two teen offenders remain on the loose after four boys escaped a diversion centre 90km west of Alice Springs two weeks ago and stole a car.