NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: ACCHO’s partnership delivers great outcomes

feature tile, image of Senior Lawyer John Cattanach & Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer Belinda Foley in front of Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative building; text 'Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative's partnership with Victoria Legal Aid is delivering GREAT OUTCOMES'

The image in the feature tile is of Senior Lawyer John Cattanach and Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer Belinda Foley standing in front of the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative building. The photo appeared in a Victoria Legal Aid article Creating stronger connections to community in partnership with Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative published yesterday, 23 May 2023.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Partnership with ACCHO delivers great outcomes

Geelong Senior Lawyer John Cattanach has always wanted to be part of positive change for First Nations peoples. He says closer ties between Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and the local Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative to support First Nations people with legal needs – a model being replicated across other regional offices – is helping him achieve that goal. He and Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer Belinda Foley are both based in our Geelong office  and regularly receive referrals through the co-operative in a partnership they established in March last year. The co-operative is a holistic service that provides health, family, community and cultural services to First Nations peoples in the Geelong, Bellarine and Colac region. The partnership with VLA links First Nations peoples to early support from Belinda and John to prevent escalating legal issues, as well a culturally sensitive service that responds to their individual needs.

John is a Marrithiyel man whose mob is located five hours southwest of Darwin, and Belinda is a Central Arrernte woman on her mother’s side (Alice Springs). Both grew up in community (Wadawurrung Country). Their background is crucial for the important work they undertake through the co-operative. In addition to providing practical assistance to First Nations peoples, John and Belinda derive great satisfaction from being connected to their community. “Growing up, I saw firsthand how our mob is treated by police, and I knew I wanted to be a part of the change and the healing,” said John. “From a legal standpoint, I am a lawyer who seeks to keep police accountable, and achieve the best outcomes for our mob. And from a First Nations perspective, I’m here to help Indigenous clients who present with a broken or wonky spirit, and help nurture that spirit so it becomes strong once again.”

Belinda is also proud of the difference the clinic has made in the community and to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative, “I’m delighted that this clinic has been able to provide a service to more than 100 clients in under 12 months,” she said. “It has given our First Nations community a safe environment, passed our knowledge to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative to use in their service delivery and provided comfort to First Nations peoples in that they know a specialist legal service is available to support them.”

To view the Victoria Legal Aid article Creating stronger connections to community in partnership with Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative in full click here.

external view of Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative building

Image source: City of Greater Geelong website.

The system is the real “terror” in youth justice

In an opinion piece published today in the National Indigenous Times,  CEO of the National Justice Project, Adjunct Professor George Newhouse says “It’s the WA Government and not “terrorists” that are the cause of the troubles in Banksia Hill youth detention centre. How can the WA Premier Mark McGowan get away with describing a group of kids with disabilities as “terrorists”? Especially when we know that many of them grew up in the care and control his own State’s Child Protection system. Most of these so-call “terrorists” are in Banksia Hill on remand. Tragically, children are often held in Banksia Hill because they have nowhere to go if they were released. They could and should be supported in a group home or a purpose-built boarding house instead of prison.

So, who are these children? It’s a fact that around 89% of the kids in Banksia Hill have been found by the Telethon Foundation, one of Australia’s leading children’s’ health research organisations, to have a severe neurodevelopmental impairment, and over one third of the children were found to have been suffering from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD). These are significant impairments. But to deflect attention away from his own government’s abject failure to protect children in State “care”, Premier McGowan launches an attack on them. He wants us to believe that the problems are caused by a few ‘rotten apples” and not his own government’s systemic failures. Failures that have been obvious for decades.

During a recent visit to the facility, Australia’s National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said: “These are children in need of care and treatment for complex disabilities and serious mental health problems.” Allegations that the children are “monsters” or “terrorists” have been slammed by the former President of the Children’s Court of WA, Denis Reynolds who said: “The Premier and the Minister are saying these are bad, bad children behaving badly, ignoring deliberately any reference to [their] unlawful treatment. It’s the treatment in that place that is causing the behaviour and that’s what we want to stop.”

To view the National Indigenous Times article The system is the real “terror” in youth justice in full click here.

ATSI male youth holding sign 'Close Down Banksia Hill Detention Centre', Aboriginal flag in the background

Photo: Giovanni Torre. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Drinking fountains alone won’t fix water issues

Water plays a significant role in Aboriginal culture. Respect for and understanding of water has enabled Aboriginal people to thrive for millennia in very hot and remote places. The impacts of colonisation including introduced species of plants and animals, farming and overuse of rivers and ground water, compounded by global warming, has dramatically reduced water access and quality, and in some places threatened the water supply. Recent coverage of the quality of drinking water in Walgett, NSW, again highlights that clean, safe drinking water is not a right in Australia. Walgett residents say the water is unsafe to drink and they’re backed by scientists from the George Institute who report an urgent need to address drinking water quality.

The reasons for poor or limited water supply vary. They include river flows and environmental health issues, infrastructure, and insufficient skilled, credentialed staff available to conduct water quality checks. But understanding the causes is one thing. Taking active steps to address them is another. When clean, safe water doesn’t flow to communities, they are more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages. A 2020 study, available here, visited three remote schools with high proportions of Aboriginal students. Initial results, gathered in 2014, found 64% of children regularly drank sugary drinks. Some 5% thought drinking water was “unhealthy”. In some places in Australia that’s true at least some of the time.

The availability of safe drinking water impacts tooth decay, obesity and diseases like diabetes. Australia has drinking water quality guidelines but they are not mandatory.

When cold, filtered water fountains were installed in 2018 that 84% of children at those same schools drank water every day. The percentage who regularly drank sugary drinks shrank to 33% in the intervening four-year period. A follow-up study found towns of lower socioeconomic status were less likely to have access to community drinking water and more likely to have a high Aboriginal population. So, Aboriginal people are particularly disadvantaged by this issue. It also found that in many towns the cheapest drink is soft drink.

To view The Conversation article Drinking fountains in every town won’t fix all our water issues – but it’s a healthy start in full click here.

young ATSI girl drinking from water fountain

Image source: Government News.

Victoria’s budget delivers health funding boost

Yesterday three Victorian Ministers released a joint media release Doing what matters for patients and healthcare workers. They said the Andrews Labor Government is doing what matters: giving our healthcare system – and the dedicated workers who care for Victorians – a $4.9b boost in the Victorian Budget 2023/24. This Budget will deliver on every promise we made to Victorians at the election – with more healthcare workers, new services, the latest equipment and new and upgraded hospitals across the state. That’s on top of more than $54b we’ve invested in our healthcare system – as well as the workers we need to run it – since coming to government in 2014.

Of particular relevance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is:

  • $153m to establish 20 new comprehensive women’s health clinics, an Aboriginal-led clinic and a mobile health clinic, nine new women’s sexual and reproductive health hubs, scholarships to expand the women’s health workforce, an inquiry into women’s pain management and 10,800 extra laparoscopy surgeries
  • $2.5m to establish an LGBTIQ+ suicide aftercare service, continue Strong Brother Strong Sister for young Aboriginal Victorians in Geelong and deliver Youth Live4Life for young regional Victorians
  • $256m to support a health‑based response to public intoxication, continue the life-saving North Richmond Medically Supervised Injecting Room and expand our Naloxone and Pharmacotherapy programs
  • $35.1m to Aboriginal community health organisations to deliver 100,000 extra additional Aboriginal community healthcare appointments
  • $86m to increase the time newborns spend with maternal nurses, help mums struggling with breastfeeding, support new dads – and expand our Early Parenting Centre network with a new centre in Northcote and an Aboriginal-led centre in Frankston

To view the Victorian Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas, Minister for Ambulance Services and Mental Health Gabrielle Williams and Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Lizzie Blandthorn’s joint media release Doing what matters for patients and healthcare workers click here.

group of Strong Brother Strong Sister participants & staff holding Aboriginal flag

The Strong Brother Strong Sister program will receive funding under the 2023–24 Victorian budget to continue to operate. Image source: Strong Brother Strong Sister Foundation website.

Copper detected in Yarrabah health service’s tap water

Staff at an Aboriginal community health facility near Cairns have been offered bottled water and precautionary blood tests after tap water at the service was found to contain elevated levels of copper. Testing of the Yarrabah Health Facility’s mains water in March detected the presence of high levels of copper. It’s understood the issue is isolated to the clinic and has not affected the quality of the drinking water in the wider community. Tropical Public Health Services director Richard Gair said investigations into the facility’s plumbing system were ongoing. Meanwhile, bottled water was being provided to staff and visitors.

“The health service has engaged an expert hydraulic engineering firm to investigate the plumbing system within the facility and make recommendations,” Dr Gair said in a statement. He said senior officers from the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service, including experts in environmental health and medical doctors, had met twice with staff at the Yarrabah Health Service in May to answer questions and share with them plans to address the water quality issues.

“Any staff who work within the health facility, including Gurriny Yealamucka and Queensland ambulance staff, have been offered a precautionary blood test for elevated copper levels,” Dr Gair said. “The testing is free and voluntary. The drinking water elsewhere in Yarrabah community complies with the Australian drinking water guidelines.”

To view the ABC News article Water at Yarrabah Aboriginal community health precinct found to have elevated copper levels in full click here.

aerial view of Yarrabah, N Qld

Users of the Yarrabah community Aboriginal health facility are on alert. Photo: Brendan Esposito, ABC News.

Sector Jobs

Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.

Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website Current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

Key Date – Palliative Care Week 2023

During this year’s Palliative Care Week (21–27 May 2023) NACCHO is showcasing some of the amazing programs and resources available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Gwandalan Project is one such program that supports palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. ‘Gwandalan’ is a word from the Darkinjung and Awaba language meaning rest, peace or resting place. For this project, the Gwandalan word represents the spiritual aspect of the palliative and end-of-life journey, with the hope that the spirit is at rest and peace as a result of good palliative care and a ‘good death’.

Education and training materials for the Gwandalan Project aim to support relationships between service providers, frontline staff and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities through cross-cultural education and the sharing of knowledge. This will be achieved through the provision of education and training to support increased capacity in those who care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during their palliative and end-of-life journey. The Gwandalan Project does not address clinical palliative care content but rather, supports the provision of culturally safe and responsive palliative care by upskilling frontline staff to contextualise care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and deliver services in a way which supports a good ‘finishing up’.

Access to all Gwandalan education and training materials, listed below, is free of charge, thanks to funding by the Australian Government under the Public Health and Chronic Disease Care Grant, National Palliative Care Projects.

  • eLearning Modules – a series of engaging eLearning modules to support frontline staff to deliver culturally responsive palliative care
  • Workshops – face-to-face workshops across Australia to learn about delivering culturally safe palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Webinars – a series of interactive webinars on various aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander palliative care which expand on the learnings from the Gwandalan online modules

You can find more information on the Gwandalan website here.

tile Gwandalan logo & text 'Gwandalan Supporting Palliative Care for ATSI Communities'

Image source: Gwandalan website.

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