“Resetting the Relationship” in Indigenous Child Protection: Public Hope and Private Reality


  • Our thanks to Indigenous Elders for their guidance, study participants, and those who facilitated contact. We are also grateful to Fiona Haines and to anonymous reviewers for their insightful criticisms of earlier drafts of this article.

Mary Ivec, RegNet, School of Regulation, Justice and Diplomacy, College of Asia and the Pacific, HC Coombs Extension #8, The Australian National University Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia. Telephone: +61 2 612 54438; Fax: +61 2 612 51507; E-mail: mary.ivec@anu.edu.au.


A qualitative study explored the private realities of forty-five Australian Indigenous parents and carers who had experiences with child protection authorities. Interviews focused on the nature of the relationship between parents and authorities, how these regulatory encounters served to enlist or dissolve cooperation, and how child-focused outcomes could be delivered. The descriptions of encounters with authorities challenged the public hope for reconciliation between government and Indigenous Australians through reports of procedural injustice, failure by the authority to communicate and demonstrate soundness of purpose, and through lack of interest in identity affirmation and relationship building. In spite of these perceptions of integrity failings in how child protection authorities have operated, a positive role was acknowledged for authorities' future involvement, albeit with different strategies from those currently experienced. How this progression might be facilitated by principles of restorative justice and responsive regulation is discussed.