WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that this story contains images of people who are now deceased.
It’s hard not to get emotional watching this video…
In an Australian first, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has commenced transferring Guardianship of Aboriginal Children on Children’s Court Protection Orders to the CEO of an Aboriginal Controlled Organisation—a program we have been working on for more than a decade.
In 2014 VACCA commenced a pilot program for 13 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children—Sophie Dryden was 15 years old at the time, she is now 19 and has shared her incredibly moving and inspiring story reflecting on what it was like growing up in care and her experience of being under Aboriginal Guardianship.
Source: Family Matters, November 2017
This week SNAICC and Family Matters launched the Family Matters 2017 report, sharing the devastating news that Aboriginal children are being removed from their families at an even greater rate than 25 years ago when the Bringing the Home report was released.
A highlight of the day, however, was the news that Victoria’s Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) has achieved an Australian first by gaining responsibility for guardianship of Aboriginal children on Children’s Court protection orders. Under new legislation, the Victorian Government
Amplify editor Bec Lloyd spoke today to VACCA’s CEO, Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett, about the announcement and what early and middle years educators can do to support children in care, and their families and support workers.
Why is it taking so long?
The role of culture in caring for children and families is recognised in many parts of the world, Muriel says.
“The United States especially – but also Canada now has taken on guardianship for First Nations people and in New Zealand the transfer of guardianship is covered under the Treaty of Waikato.
“In fact, internationally speaking we are often asked ‘Why is it taking you so long?’
“The thing to remember is that we were invaded a lot later than most of those other people – they’ve had four hundred, five hundred years in some cases to build up infrastructure and education.
“We’ve had two hundred or so years and what’s that? Six, maybe five generations?”
Can Victoria’s decision be followed around Australia?
“I think it has to be. We have to do it.
“SNAICC’s Family Matters report shows that there are far more Aboriginal children being removed from their families now than there were 25 years ago. They say the number will triple if we don’t do something urgently.
“So yes, I think we have to see it happen around Australia and soon.”
Capability through education
“Both my parents were born on Mission, so they only did to Year 3 at school, that was it.
“They were really proud of me for even getting to high school – and now I have grandchildren at university.
“Eighty percent of Aboriginal families are doing well, but the 20% who aren’t doing well… they need help from their own people
“A Canadian study showed the rate of youth suicide among aboriginal people decreased in proportion with the increase in aboriginal control of communities – we know the same effect can be seen here when we look at the way our young people are more likely to finish school, to go to uni, when they are connected to their culture.
“Sure, it’s taken some time but we are ready in Australia to take on both the risk and the responsibility now.”
What does that capability look like in Victoria?
“Look at VACCA’s infrastructure: this Victorian government recognises that Aboriginal people have to do it [care for children away from their families] differently and we have to be funded for that.
“We have been around for 40 years and we now have 400 staff across roles such as helping children discover their genealogy, searching their Native Title rights, delivering art-mentoring and other culture programs that create a connection to their land and to their people.
“These things build resilience and connection, and that’s what we all want, isn’t it? A feeling of connectedness and belonging.
“Our visibility as Aboriginal people is important too. I remember my mum sitting in front of the television crying when Cathy Freeman won at the Olympics, how much did she do to connect Aboriginal people to their culture, to their pride?
“The thing is that often we don’t ‘look Aboriginal’ these days – people expect to see lap-laps and painted faces – but just because we are modern and not traditional any more doesn’t mean our culture doesn’t matter.”
88 per cent of the children we work with at VACCA have come from homes with family violence, some of them were born with foetal alcohol syndrome, some were born with their mother’s drug addiction.
Early years educators play a part
“I think the very best educators are those who try to understand and include Aboriginal culture across all their activities.
“It can make a big difference to a nervous Aboriginal family if they walk in and see the flag up on the wall, if they’re greeted warmly and offered a seat and a cup of tea and a chat for a few minutes before getting down to business, filling in forms or whatever.
“Early learning services can contribute to the visibility, the presence, of Aboriginal culture in everyone’s lives, not just the Aboriginal child or children in the room.
“Read Aboriginal stories, share Aboriginal language, dance, music, make it part of the norm for all the children and when you do that you also help the Aboriginal children to feel connected and belonging in that place. ”
Sector relies on ECE diagnostic skills
“The most important thing early years educators can do for Aboriginal children in care is to learn how to recognise trauma.
“You are the specialists in diagnosing development changes and difficulties in all children and the ones who come to you from outside home care need that from you more than anyone – so do their case workers and their carers. They need you to share what you are seeing so you can work together to design the support that child needs.
“I’d say the broader child support sector could not survive without the diagnostic skills of early years educators and their ability to assess children attending their services, whether it’s a permanent placement or a day of emergency care or respite for the child’s foster carer.”
Recognise these children are in trauma
“88 per cent of the children we work with at VACCA have come from homes with family violence, some of them were born with foetal alcohol syndrome, some were born with their mother’s drug addiction.
“Get the training you need to recognise what that looks like in a child who attends your service.
“It would be very unfortunate if anyone was assuming that Aboriginality, rather than trauma, was the reason a child was not talking, or cowering in the corner, or acting out violent behaviour.
“Often these children haven’t had adults around at home – so the early years educators they meet might be the first adults who really have time for them and can engage with them and work with them on their behaviour.
“You’re the people who help them to become confident to join in a group, to understand how to take some quiet time when things are too much.
“in the early years, skin colour doesn’t come into it: we have to help these children in their first five years. We’ve got to identify the support they need, and help them feel connected and resilient because when they go to school that’s when the bullying begins, skin colour matters then.
“There’s training in Victoria for school teachers to recognise trauma in Aboriginal children, but by the time they are at school you could say it’s too late.”
Where to now?
“On Friday last week the DHHS signed over guardianship of four children to VACCA and by February next year we expect to have 35 – that’s Aboriginal children in the guardianship of Aboriginal people. The program’s name is now officially Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care.
“There are 1800 Aboriginal children in some form of care in Victoria, probably 800 of those are under guardianship arrangements with various organisations. We know this process works and we want to see it grow.”
Muriel Bamblett is a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman who has been employed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency since 1999. Muriel was Chairperson of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care for 10 years (the peak agency representing Indigenous Child and Family Services nationally) and was awarded a Lifetime Associate Membership of SNAICC.