Audio transcript: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination in child protection

Return to CFCA webinar – 18 July 2018

Audio transcript (edited)


Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today's webinar,  ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination in child protection’.  My name is Stewart Muir and I'm the Manager of Policy and Service Systems research area here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.  Today's webinar presentation will outline recent initiatives that promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and self-determination in child protection.  But before I introduce our speakers I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we're meeting.  Here in Melbourne, or this part of Melbourne, the traditional custodians are the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation.  I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to the elders from other communities who may be participating today.  

And before we begin there's just some housekeeping details.  One of the core functions of the CFCA information exchange is to share knowledge, so, I would like to invite everyone to submit questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar and we'll respond to your questions at the end of the presentation.  Please note any unanswered questions may be published along with your first name on the CFCA website for a response from the presenters after the webinar, so, let us know if you don't want your question or first name to be published on our website.  

We'd also like you to continue the conversation we begin here today, so, to facilitate this, we've set up a forum on our website where you can discuss the ideas and issues raised, submit additional questions for our presenter and access related resources, and we'll send a link to the forum at the end of today's presentation.  And as you leave the webinar a short survey will open in a new window and we'd really appreciate your feedback if you could fill that in.  Please remember that this webinar is being recorded and the audio transcript and slides will be made available on our website and YouTube channel very soon.  Subscribe to the CFCA newsletter to be notified when these become available.  

So, it is now my great pleasure to introduce today's presenters, Candice Butler and Professor Muriel Bamblett.  Candice Butler is the senior practice leader for the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection peak body and she has strong family connections to Yarrabah in Far North Queensland.  Candice has developed a strong commitment to ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are connected to kin, culture and community and, in her role as Senior Practice Leader, Candice is committed to promoting the sector and practice excellence that exists within the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled child protection sector.  

Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett is a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman who has been employed as the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency since 1999.  Muriel is active on many boards and committees concerning children, families and the Indigenous community, and these include the Victorian Children’s Council, Aboriginal Treaty Working Group and the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum.  Muriel’s contribution to her community and to Victoria has been recognised in a number of awards including a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2004 Australia Day Honours for her services to the community, and, in 2011, Muriel was inducted into the 2011 Victorian Honour Roll of Women and was a finalist for a Human Rights Medal with the Australian Human Rights Commission.  In 2017, Muriel was awarded an honorary degree of the Doctor of Letters in Social Work by the University of Sydney in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Aboriginal child and family welfare.  

So, please now join me in giving Candice and Muriel a very warm virtual welcome and I'll hand over to our presenters.


Thank you, Stewart, for chairing today's presentation and I would also like to acknowledge Muriel Bamblett who is co-presenting with me today.  Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands upon which we are meeting today and pay my respects to elder’s past, present and emerging.  I'd also like to acknowledge any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be listening to today's presentation.  

As Stewart said, my name is Candice Butler and I am currently the senior practice leader with the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak and I've been in this role since 2015.  As Stewart said my mum's family are from Yarrabah, which is a small community just outside of Cairns, and I'm very fortunate to come from such a beautiful part of Australia.  Without further ado, I thought I would start by just providing a little overview of QATSICPP (Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection peak body) and what it is that we kind of do.  

So, our principle purpose is to, above all, promote and advocate the rights, safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and young people through effective partnerships and strategic collaborations.  We provide leadership and advocacy and the development of policies, strategies and programs to resource, support and strengthen the capacity and capability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled child protection agencies, in the interests of children, families and communities.  We are a small but amazing team starting with our CEO, Natalie Lewis, our operations manager Nadia Currie, our regional practice leader, Dion Tatow, our member engagement officer, Lenny Dahlen, and our training officer, Sidney Williams, as well as our office manager, Paula.  We also are fortunate to have Jess Mcardle from Family Matters Queensland and also Eva from SNAICC sits in our team, too, as well.

I thought I would put this statement on the slide because it is at the heart of the work that QATSICPP do and I can safely say all of our team ensure that this statement is embedded in our daily practice and is our way of promoting self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities.  

Today, in my presentation, I would like to highlight the significant initiatives in Queensland that have occurred to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination in child protection.  As per the slide, this includes the replacement of section 5C with additional principles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the embedding of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principles, the full five elements, into both legislation and practice, the trials of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family led decision making, as well as the beginning of conversations in relation to active efforts.

My final slide will give an overview of a number of significant programs that have either commenced or are due to commence in Queensland in 2018 and 2019.  

One of the most significant changes in relation to self-determination in child protection in Queensland last year was the replacement of section 5C in the Child Protection Reform Amendment Act of 2017.  The Act now states that the following additional principles apply for administering this Act in relation to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children, that is, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the right to self-determination and that the long-term effect of a decision on the child’s identity and connection with the child’s family and community must be taken into account.  Therefore, the right to self-determination is included across the continuum of child protection.

We have argued that the inclusion of self-determination should not be categorised as an additional benefit but as an instrument to acknowledge the existence and entitlement to self-determination within a statutory child protection context and to establish equity in the exercise of this right.  The inclusion of self-determination throughout all significant decisions of the child protection continuum places a positive obligation on statutory officers to enable the full participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  By having self-determination in the Act this ensures that in matters regarding the safety and wellbeing of our children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access and freely exercise the same rights as all other Australians.

One of the most significant ways that we can ensure self-determination in child protection is by the true embedding of the full five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle.  As stated by SNAICC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle recognises the importance of connections to family, community and country in child and family welfare legislation, policy and practice, and asserts that self-determining communities are central to supporting and maintaining those connections.  One of the main aims is to increase the level of self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child welfare matters.  

We can all do this by utilising the full five elements in the following ways.  In relation to prevention, we need to ensure that we are supporting families and building up communities to care safely for their children.  Furthermore, ensuring that families have equitable access to quality universal services and service supports.  In relation to partnerships, there must be the genuine participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community representatives who are external to the statutory agency in all child protection decision making.  In relation to placement, there needs to be genuine consultation with the child's family and community representatives and these consultations must be demonstrated to ensure that placement is made in accordance with the placement hierarchy.

In relation to participation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, parents and family members are entitled to participate in all child protection decisions affecting them, including intervention, placement and care, and judicial decisions.  And, in relation to connection, we need to be actively supporting children in out of home care to maintain or re-establish their connections to family, community, culture and country.  The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principles have been included into the Child Protection Reform Act here in Queensland in s.5C(2) and as well as s.6AA(2)(a), in relation to ensuring that the child placement principle is properly evidenced when any significant child protection decision has been made.

Although, here in Queensland, we have taken the steps towards having the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child placement principle embedded in legislation, we need to ensure that this occurs across policy, programs, processes and practice for genuine self-determination.  

One way that we can incorporate the full five elements of the child placement principle is to ensure self-determination in the child protection space is through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making.  By utilising this process, we are empowering and promoting the optimal participation of families in decisions made regarding the safety and wellbeing of their children. The main aim of family-led decision-making is to ensure that authority is given to families and children and young people to problem solve and lead the decision making in a culturally safe space.  

We in Queensland trialled the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making from January 2016 to June 2017, and there were three trials that occurred across different phases of the child protection continuum.  One of the key aims of the trials were to promote self-determination and shared decision making at different phases of the child protection continuum.  Some of the key findings from the trials were that we need to ensure that there is cultural authority and leadership, ensuring that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are the lead in these areas.

That we need to ensure that there is support across the continuum, that there is adequate resourcing in both budgets and staffing, that there needs to be adequate time to prep with families prior to and during a family-led decision making process, that there was collaborative practice development, that we have holistic responses and integration with other family supports and, most importantly, that we are showcasing and supporting practice excellence as this occurs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.  At the SNAICC conference in September 2017 I was introduced to the concept of active efforts by Dr Sarah Kastelic, the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association.

Regulation 23.2 within the guidelines for implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act states that active efforts means, "Affirmative, active, thorough and timely efforts intended primarily to maintain or reunite an Indian child with his or her family".  The guidelines further state that active efforts requires that parents receive the services that they need so that they can be safely reunified with their children.  This is viewed by some child welfare organisations as part of the gold standard of what services should be providing in all child welfare proceedings, not just those involving an Indian child.  I believe that active efforts is another step towards self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in child protection, for example, if we are being active and thorough and allowing family to take the time to identify significant people to be involved in child protection decision making, then we are ensuring that there is true participation.

I thought I would just outline some of the key programs and key initiatives that we have commencing here in Queensland.  So, last year we saw the rollout and the start of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family wellbeing services.  These services are consistent with the approach that was put forward in the child protection inquiry to combine the functions of the existing family support programs.  These services are culturally responsive services for families to support the improvement in their social, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and build their capacity to care for and protect their children.  It's a community led support where the communities are able to identify what services and support they need to safely care for and protect their children, and also Aboriginal community-controlled organisations led the design and delivery.  And, most importantly, of course, it is for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

We have recently seen the replacement of the Recognised Entities into the independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Entity.  So, now, s.6 states that, "An independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entity is an individual who is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander; or another entity whose members include individuals who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander".  Furthermore, s.6AA(2) states that, "When making a significant decision about an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child, a relevant authority must be in consultation with the child’s family, arrange for an independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entity for the child to facilitate the participation of the child and the child’s family in the decision-making process".

These entities will allow for greater capacity for families to decide who they would like to be as their support person.  Another key reform priority was that of the family participation program.  This is an instrument of self-determination and of their main roles will be the facilitation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making.  This can occur at any point along the child protection continuum, whether that be in the investigation and assessment stage all the way up to case planning and cultural support planning.  

In closing, I would just like to say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community control is fundamental to self-determination and reflective of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities operated in the past and to this day. Central to the concept is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ communities controlling and operating legally incorporated, independent community based organisations in which governance is by elected community members and with objectives relating to building strength and empowerment in community.  We need to ensure that our families and communities are being involved in every decision relating to the safety and wellbeing of their children in the child protection system.  We need our families to be able to say who they would like to be involved and be at the forefront of decision making.  This is at the heart of self-determination in child protection.  Thank you for your time.


Thank you, Candice.  And we'll now hand over to our second presenter, which is Professor Muriel Bamblett.


Hi. Hello everybody, I'm hoping I've got a presentation somewhere.  Hello.  Anybody there?  Hello?


Yes, sorry, we're just having some issues with the slides coming up, but they should be coming up soon.


Okay, that's good.  While the slides coming up I might begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to Elders past and present.  I'm presently here on Wurundjeri land in Victoria and we're streaming from the northern suburbs.  It's important to acknowledge all Aboriginal people today.  I also want to acknowledge all those that have come into the webinar to listen to us.  In the short time I have I really want to sort of emphasise the important role of self-determination, particularly in the child and welfare sector, and how it can be applied in our service system.  Because, for me, I don't believe that just giving money to Aboriginal organisations is all about wiping our hands and saying, "Well, we've given the money to Aboriginal organisations, therefore, we've ticked the box on self-determination".

Obviously, we know that there are many rights that are spelt out in many international instruments and charters, so, I don't have time to go through them but they are there to safeguard our right to Aboriginal culture.  I do, though, for the purposes of today, I want to address how these rights of self-determination could translate into practice that enables the rights of our children and families, especially as they come into contact with the child welfare system and what that looks like.  I just want to acknowledge Candice and, certainly, her presentation and just how it aligns with the work that we're doing here in Victoria, as well. 

We know that self-determination and culture are not mutually exclusive, indeed, I think they're perfectly complementary.  At the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency we believe that we ultimately have a responsibility to ensure that everything we can is done for children and that they grow up as empowered, connected and culturally and self-determining young people, so, this is our ultimate aim.  I'm very pleased to be a part – living in Victoria at the moment because there's some exciting things happening under the Victorian Daniel Andrews Government, they're certainly leading the way in implementing Aboriginal people's right to self-determination, and they're doing that through two parallel processes, that's the treaty legislation and the self-determination policy which has been embedded across government and I'll talk a little bit more about those in a minute.

But some of the essential elements, though, of self-determination and what's happened in Victoria is aligning the policy, having good legislation, developing appropriate plans that engage Aboriginal people and having strategies that are about forwarding and pursuing self-determination.  It's also aligned with funding of programs and funding of the work to do that and, also, recognising the cultural embeddedness of Aboriginal culture into those programs.  It's also having about having staff inside and outside of government that understand and are committed to self-determination.  One of the things that we're also looking at is evaluation and evidence informed funding and looking at, "How do we monitor?"  So, all of these things, government is committed to self-determination but, obviously, we don't have an evidence basis to how it's making a difference.  The danger is we get another government in that is not as committed and those things go out the window.

I think it's also – today, I did want to spend a bit of time talking about the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency.  So, we were established in 1977 under the Whitlam era and it was a time of self-determination, so, the commitment of government then was to self-determination and self-management.  We were established to strengthen the safety and wellbeing of cultural connectedness of Aboriginal children.  Last year we turned 40 and the last 20 years have seen the organisation grow dramatically.  When I first started and a number of – when I first started here we had one typewriter, if people remember what a typewriter is, I, as CEO, managed 34 staff and we operated very much in a survival mode.

Today our staffing complement is 450 staff and forecast to grow to 550 in 2020.  I think that if you look at our Aboriginal child and family welfare discourse on practice it includes elements of what has been spoken about, the Aboriginal child placement principle, but some of our work around cultural programs, developing an outcomes framework and, particularly, our work in cultural therapeutic framework and cultural practice frameworks and understanding Aboriginal theoretical frameworks, this is really exciting at the moment.  

I might move to the next slide.  This, and I'm very sorry it's so busy, but this shows you the number and the variety of programs we have around the core of our – obviously, we began really from out of homecare and child protection, we've now broadened our role and thinking about more connectedness, about housing, homelessness, about the interconnection of child welfare with so many other aspects of our work.  Our model, though, is based on empowerment and empowerment through culture.  We have, over our lifetime as an organisation, sought to apply a cultural stance and values, so, we're driven by an Aboriginal community-controlled board and their view is to make sure that we are reflective of the community that we service.

We know that what we're doing is not an easy or quick process and believe me I've just seen, really, the growing of child welfare and under this, obviously, self-determination and agenda of government we're seeing a lot more focus on Aboriginal people and the outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Broadly speaking, though, our approach has been based on these principles, on self-determination, on culture and culturally informed programs, services and practice, and self-determination, because we believe that, as Aboriginal people, we know what's best for our children and families and that we should be making decisions.  We know that all over the world children of colour are more likely to enter the system and stay in the system longer, and I think that that means that we have to come up with better responses.

In our work we believe that culture informs and shapes our practice.  This is culture in a formal sense and it's not – you know, it's more using art, music and it's also about the intangible cultural practice which is how we do things as people that don't often get defined as cultural, so, we think that's important.  It's the way we speak to each other, our body language, our social practices and how we use culture in treatment and responding to issues in the community.  We do advocate for change in practices that are harmful and abusive, so, we're on a number of forums and, so, it's important that Aboriginal voice be heard in legislation, policy, programs and in representing Aboriginal people.

We also adhere to the notion and framework of the best interests of the child but we see, as well, that it's entirely complementary for cultural and human rights to be included in the best interest of the child.  So, I want to talk a little bit about self-determination now but at the heart of the notion of self-determination is that we are human beings with a different culture and a unique and enduring connection to this land.  

I want to refer you to some research that was done by Ryan and Deci and they talk about self-determination theory and, to me, this is really critical in child welfare because what they speak about is that self-determination theory says that there is a need for autonomy and to be self-determining you need to be able to live autonomously and that is to live a life that is self-endorsed, a life that accords with one's genuine values and preferences.

The opposite of autonomy is a feeling that one's life is being restricted, controlled or dictated by forces that one does not freely or willingly endorse.  And for those that work in child welfare we know that, often, that's the system that we have in child welfare.  We are often, you know, restricting, controlling, we determine how children will live and be responded to in child welfare.  The second element of Deci's research is competence, which refers to the basic need to master certain skills and techniques that enable us to operate more effectively in the world to achieve our desired ends.  The third element is relatedness and that refers to the basic need for social connectedness, a need to feel a sense of belonging in the sense of importance to a larger social order or social grouping.

And, I guess, the basic message that emerges is that when people lack autonomy, when, rather than feeling in control of their own lives, people instead feel that they are being controlled or dominated by others or by their social or economic or political circumstances, we know then that their mental and physical health tends to deteriorate and for those who feel the least autonomous the outcomes are generally worse.  And we can see that very much for Aboriginal people, outcomes for Aboriginal people are much, much worse.  We have a system where it determines where Aboriginal people live and how people will live and the economic situation that they will live within.

So, if we start to look at, you know, the Victorian Government, I just want to touch on Victoria at the moment, the work at VACCA is inextricably linked with the parameters of the legislation, the policy and the funding set by (unclear) We know that all Aboriginal services, primarily all our funding comes from government.  We are looking at a different reform in Victoria and we are experience a change that's taken decades of advocacy and it's about building strong relationships with government mainstream, but it's also delivering.  I think it's important to be able to deliver on outcomes, but most of our work is around embedding culture into our practice and having agencies and government understand the importance of it.

The Victorian Government does recognise our right to self-determination and this is the beginning base of their programs and policy.  We've talked about before, it's about choice and, for us, sovereignty and self-government, social, economic and political, all of these things are really important to Aboriginal people.  We, also, in Victoria, are in the process of treaty, the first of its kind in Australia, and it is a significant step in resetting the relationship and having that relationship based on trust, justice and truth telling.  Victoria also has appointed our first Aboriginal children's commissioner and he's, at the moment, working as a special – stepped down as the commissioner and now is appointed as the special advisor to the government on self-determination and will be working to extend this work across all government portfolio areas.

So, clearly, we're making headways in Victoria, I've already discussed some of the policy reform that is underway in Victoria and this reform is enabling us in our pursuit, as Aboriginal peoples, to further self-determination.  This slide outlines the specific sections of the Act that implement self-determination.  Additionally, in Victoria, s.12 of the Act recognises the principle of Aboriginal self-management and self-determination, so, it's actually in our Children, Youth and Families Act.  And, so, it gives us the basis to make better decisions and take action in relation to Aboriginal children.

We have, also, the transitioning of Aboriginal children, so, in Victoria we've made a commitment, by 2020, that all Aboriginal children on protection orders will be transitioned to an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation.  At the moment, we stand at– meeting targets we're at 30 per cent, by the end of the year we've committed to 80 per cent.  This commitment requires not only adequate funding but resourcing.  I think it's some of the most progressive action towards achieving self-determination that we've had in Victoria for a number of years and so excited by it.

I've got about four slides that I want to just really talk about what it means for family, and I think it's really important to talk about what does it actually mean for our families when accessing the system.  Now, I'm not going to go through these because of time commitments, so, I really want to sort of just show them to you and I'm happy to talk more at a later date.  So, that's for families, so, we also note good practice, so, child welfare practice could include and in pursuing self-determination for our families, so, it's about having the best resources for family, it's about families knowing their rights, it's about having a better understanding and knowledge and understanding of the principles of self-determination and ensuring that we embed self-determination in our practice frameworks.

Self-determination is about creating safer, supportive environments, about policies and procedures to incorporate the principles of autonomy, self-determination and choice.  It's also important to communicate and enact Aboriginal self-determination in practice across the organisation.  I don't think that this just works for Aboriginal, I think it works for all, I think it's about sometimes people in the welfare system are the most disempowered.  It's also about articulating responsibility as well, its rights and building environments that support and enhance Aboriginal children's rights and also families' rights to self-determination.  

So, we also have done, and these slides will be on the webinar afterwards, so, I'm not, again, going to go through every one but they are based around what are children's rights and, so, obviously, connection to land, connection to strong kinship, knowing their cultural heritage and being taught by their elders, to receive information in a culturally sensitive, relevant, accessible manner, and to access programs and services and practice frameworks that embed the child or young person's indigenous culture.  So, these are important elements and if I had longer I'd go through what they actually look like in practice on the ground.

But, also, for children, and I talked about, you know, disempowerment for us, really, it's about empowerment and culture does empower and does strengthen, and the work that we see in Victoria is how children thrive when they're feeling that sense of connection, particularly to their culture.  But our children need to shape their chosen outcomes, they need to be able to make choices and they need to be able to express.  Often, we don't hear the voice of young people and children and their capacity, when they leave the system, to make decisions is demonstration of, you know, the fact that they've never actually had their voice heard and they've never been self-determining.  So, it's important to provide opportunities to develop self-determination skills necessary to become independent as well as to interact freely and joyfully.

It's about developing self-determination voice, it's about being given the ongoing opportunities and daily practice to gain confidence, and these things will improve outcomes in the long term.  But I sort of want to keep moving.  

Embedding self-determination and achieving these objectives will require that community service organisations and government be committed to the process.  And, you know, particularly in organisations, the board of governance, the leadership of the organisation, needs to be engaged, the individual staff, and we need to be able to make sure that that training is provided.  In Victoria there's a lot of work being done around cultural safety training and what that looks like.

To a large extent, our sector has already responded to the change because, in Victoria, we have, now, in the DHHS standards there are cultural standards that need to be met, we also think that through the aftermath of the Royal Commission that the child safety standards, as well, will promote hearing the voice of children.  We need to ensure that we have measures and strategies that realise self-determination for Aboriginal people in our practice.  A key bit of legislation in  have legislation that came out in 2005 allowing the secretary to authorise an Aboriginal agency with the functions and power conferred on the secretary in relation to the protection order in respect of an Aboriginal child, and last year we were conferred with that power and now we have commitment for 34 children and a further 34 and ongoing funding for a number of children to come and we're hoping to get it up to 100 in the next three years.

We named the program Nugel and it's a very important program.  We ran an ‘As If’ for this program, we had 13 children in the ‘As If’ pilot.  These were children on long-term orders, ten of the children have been in care for more than eight years and four placed in out of home care within six months of their birth, so, these were very young children.  What we found of those 13 children is that we were able to have six go home very safely, so, I think we have definitely proved that guardianship works.  This is the voice, here, of a young girl and when she was 15 she reached out to her mum and decided she wanted to return (audio missing) living who advocated strongly for her to be able to do this.

The time provided and her mum – since then, we've lost her mum, but it was a time of healing and connection.  She recently shared her vision for other young people and that's for their voices to be heard.  I think our main focus should be around returning children to their families, communities, but to do it safely.  And what she said was, "Without my family and my community, I would feel completely lost.  This has been a journey and now 35 children are part of that program".  So, in sort of wanting to sort of move along, we are making significant steps in Victoria, we are developing a child welfare model that's specific to the needs of our children, families and community to support their needs.

We know that where culture is embedded as a protective factor where intergenerational trauma is understood and addressed within a cultural therapeutic framework where the focus is on family reunification rather than child removal, then there are better outcomes for children.  Many of our Aboriginal families live in poverty and are dependent on welfare and are in a state of disempowerment.  For these families, if they are referred to us, it is important that they have the opportunity to experience the dignity of being treated with respect as an Aboriginal person, rather than as a welfare recipient.  Self-determination is about creating a different approach to support our people and our children.  Our cultural therapeutic framework will provide a culturally appropriate trauma informed approach towards the achievement of self-determination and healing.  We do not want to be victims, we want to take the lead.  

This year the Victorian Government has introduced a new initiative known as targeted care packages.  Currently in Victoria around 500 children and young people who were removed from care of their parents due to abuse and neglect live in residential care.  The packages provide an opportunity for us to think differently about placement opportunities.  Our family finding program has been important.  We are, at the moment, doing a lot of work around making sure that we do everything to find the children's family.  Last year we saw reunification of a five sibling family after years of not seeing each other, the last Christmas they shared together.  

We also have a cultural support planning coordinator and culture support planning happening across the state.  I wanted to take a moment just to finish and talk about our Deadly Story portal, I urge you to have a look at it.  I am incredibly proud of this tool and I encourage you to get online and explore the portal in your time.  It launched in November last year, this is a cultural information website developed to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in Victoria in out of home care.  It is about understanding, being able to have access to cultural resources to support home carers, to support Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care, but it's for all children as well.  It's got language maps, it's got stories, it's got pop up zones.  It's also for practitioners who are working with Aboriginal children and young people.  So, in closing, we see international examples in Canada, US and New Zealand where statutory responsibility of Aboriginal children have been handed back to first peoples.  There is a lot we can learn from their models, however, we have the opportunity to create, in Australia, a different welfare model that becomes the lead model of culturally informed practice and care.  The type of reform we are undertaking in Victoria has taken decades to build and implement.  We have a long way to go but we will continue to champion for change and reform and in the realisation of true self-determination for our children and young people.  Here we are all committed to improving the lives of Aboriginal children but we must invest in our children and young – we must listen to their voice, we must keep them safe and support them to be strong in their culture.  I've provided a list of resources that are available and thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you all today.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

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