NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: ‘Courage’ needed to address disadvantage

feature tile image graphic art of black & white hands reaching across Aboriginal flag; text 'Coalition of Peaks says governments lack "necessary courage" to close the gap on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage'

The image in the feature tile by Dionne Gain appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald article Missing the target: goodwill fails to overcome entrenched inequalities published on 15 February 2020.

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.

‘Courage’ needed to address disadvantage

The Coalition of Peaks, which was involved in a 2020 overhaul of the approach to closing the gap, said the barriers facing Indigenous Australians were the result of a “tremendous and successive failure of public administration” involving neglect, discrimination and the “whims of politics”. In a powerful argument for enshrining a Voice to Parliament in the constitution, the group argued: “Our seats at the table with governments and public servants have too often been temporary, interchangeable, and all for show”.

The arguments were detailed in a letter to the Productivity Commission’s first three-yearly review of the closing the gap targets. The Coalition of Peaks lamented the lack of overall progress. The latest Closing the Gap data, published on Wednesday, showed just four of 19 targets were on track to be met, and a further four were getting worse. The peak body said while it was encouraged by some of the progress, the overall efforts were “too inconsistent” and “lack the necessary courage”. In a stinging criticism, the peak body said governments and public servants had benefited from the “notorious reputation” of Indigenous affairs as the most difficult set of policy problems to address.

“It is without doubt that the barriers our people face are complex and multifaceted,” the letter stated. “But they are a consequence of what our people have endured for millennium. It has been a tremendous and successive failure of public administration featuring the whims of politics, neglect, discrimination, top-down approaches, legislative changes, defunding and investment, distributed responsibilities and everchanging goal posts.”

You can view the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s Closing the Gap Annual Data Compilation Report July 2023 here and the Narrogin Observer article Pilbara Aboriginal groups back Yes vote and call for real action to improve lives in full click here.

back of man holding Aboriginal flag at protest outside APH

Photo: Michael Black, ABC News.

Transformative ‘Big Dream, Small Steps’ traineeships

There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the room at Mackay Base Hospital (MBH) last week as 10 students with big dreams took a step towards pursuing careers in the health sector. The Budyubari Bidyiri Kebi Stapal (Big Dream, Small Steps) program 2023 cohort are beginning twelve-month school-based traineeships across selected departments of MBH which will equip them with a Certificate lll qualification in either Health Services Assistance, Allied Health Assistance or Dental Assistance.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Program Officer Emily Vanderwolf said the Year 11 students came from seven Mackay region high schools. “We had nine students graduate from the first Big Dream Small Steps program last year and we are excited to have another 10 students who are wanting to take up this opportunity to complete Certificate III qualifications while they are finishing high school,” Ms Vanderwolf said. “The aim of the program is to build our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce to better reflect the community we care for.”

There were also some proud family members on hand at Tuesday’s induction day. Andrea Pinkard, whose daughter Lara graduated from last year’s program, felt it was a good career move for her son Fletcher. “Fletcher’s older sister really enjoyed the program and she has now been accepted into James Cook University to study pharmacy,” Ms Pinkard said. “I thought it would be a great program for Fletcher as well.”

To read the Mackay and Whitsunday Life article Taking Big Dreams To The Healthcare Horizon in full click here.

2023 Big Dream Small Steps trainees are, back from left, Dom Battersby (MCC), Fletcher Pinkard and Bella Roberts (Mirani SHS), Jess Maley (St Patricks College), Yasmin Johnston (Pioneer SHS), and front from left, Martia Gela (Sarina SHS), Macy Rudken (Mackay SHS), Tiani Walker (Mackay North SHS), Ellie Hansen (Mackay SHS) and Brenice’Sha Blanco (Sarina SHS)

The 2023 Big Dream Small Steps trainees are, back from left, Dom Battersby (MCC), Fletcher Pinkard and Bella Roberts (Mirani SHS), Jess Maley (St Patricks College), Yasmin Johnston (Pioneer SHS), and front from left, Martia Gela (Sarina SHS), Macy Rudken (Mackay SHS), Tiani Walker (Mackay North SHS), Ellie Hansen (Mackay SHS) and Brenice’Sha Blanco (Sarina SHS). Image source: Mackay Whitsunday Life.

Overcoming fragmented child and family services

One of the biggest challenges for people who most need social services is navigating a fragmented service system. Everyone leads a complex life, and the issues we face don’t necessarily fit into neat boxes. Government services, on the other hand, are delivered in siloes through individual contracts, resulting in multiple individual services with little connection between them.

Services that help with issues such as child and family, early child education, domestic violence, homelessness / housing, health and mental health are all hampered when delivered in a fragmented way. Understanding the impacts of this and how to overcome them is important not only for those working in these systems, but the people designing and funding them as well. Those with the greatest need are least likely to access the services or receive the comprehensive support they need.

Social Ventures Australia (SVA) recently launched Happy, healthy and thriving children: Enhancing the impact of Integrated Child and Family Centres in Australia, a discussion paper, available here, exploring current integrated child and family centre (ICFC) models in Australia. It focuses on the key enablers and barriers impacting the outcomes delivered. ICFCs are not currently defined nor consistently recognised as a service model in the Australian early years landscape. There is currently no national approach to delivery, and no overall leadership or responsibility for outcomes. And while quality is essential for integrated centre outcomes, there is currently no overarching approach to measuring or assessing quality.

To view The Sector article Integrated child and family centres overcome fragmented service delivery in full click here.

Aboriginal Child & Family Centre NSW

Aboriginal Child and Family Centre (ACFC), NSW. Image source: NSW Government ACFC webpage.

CTG report shows ‘privileged’ claims absurd

Nothing highlights the absurdity of claims Indigenous Australians would become a “privileged group” or that the nation would be divided by race if the country votes “yes” than the latest Closing The Gap report which shows a huge disparity between the rates of incarceration, suicide, life expectancy and infant and child mortality for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Study to help young men take care of mental health

Curtin University has been given nearly $100,000 by Healthway for a study aimed to help young Aboriginal men aged 14-25 take care of their mental health and well-being. The research team will collaborate with young Indigenous men to understand their thoughts on mental health and how they currently promote their well-being, also exploring the challenges and factors that support mental well-being and resilience.

Lead researcher from Curtin’s School of Population Health, Professor Penelope Hasking, said the team will create and test mental health messages that are culturally appropriate and meaningful to young Aboriginal men. “We will conduct co-design workshops to develop new strengths-based approaches to increase mental health literacy and mental health promotion grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing and being, which might include social media campaigns or mass media campaigns,” she said. “We will soon be recruiting our research team to guide the project, which will comprise young Aboriginal men and Aboriginal Elders before we commence an initial pilot within the City of Stirling early next year.”

Lotterywest and Healthway CEO Ralph Addis congratulated Professor Hasking and her team, and all researchers who received funding through Healthway’s Targeted Research Round, “We look forward to the outcomes of all the research projects, including Curtin’s which will improve the mental health literacy and reduce health inequities among young Aboriginal men.”

To view the National Indigenous Times article Curtin University to conduct study into young Indigenous men’s mental health and wellbeing in full click here.

Professor Penelope Hasking, Curtin University

Curtin University’s Professor Penelope Hasking. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

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 – National Diabetes Week – 9–15 July 2023

Each day during National Diabetes Week 2023 NACCHO has been sharing information relating to diabetes as it impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

An article published last month in the International Journal of Epidemiology The impact of diabetes during pregnancy on neonatal outcomes among the Aboriginal population in Western Australia: a whole-population study, available here, found:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a high prevalence of diabetes in pregnancy (DIP), which includes pre-gestational diabetes mellitus (PGDM) and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). The study which aimed to characterize the impact of DIP in babies born to Aboriginal mothers found DIP differentially increased the risks of fetal overgrowth, shoulder dystocia and congenital anomalies in Aboriginal babies. The study authors said improving care for Aboriginal women with diabetes and further research on preventing shoulder dystocia among these women can reduce the disparities.

Desiree Weetra who was diagnosed with gestational diabetes holding her baby

Like many Aboriginal mothers in the Northern Territory, Desiree Weetra was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Photo: Michael Franchi, ABC News.

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