“For decades, our Elders have shown great resolve and have sacrificed and fought for advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. Their efforts cannot be forgotten as they paved the way for our children to live healthier and stronger lives.
“We are so proud of the work done by our members – Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, towards improving the health outcomes of our children, our Elders of tomorrow.
“We are pleased that our recently signed National Agreement for Closing the Gap targets commits governments to build a strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector to deliver services and programs. Within the commitments, one of the sector strengthening plans focuses on early childhood care and development and another key priority is education, thereby looking at holistic life and health outcomes for our future generations.”
Wuchopperen Health Service Qld – First Time Mum’s Program
One of the many NACCHO member programs promoting child health and wellbeing is the Wuchopperen Health Service in Cairns QLD. This ACCHO delivers the Australian Nurse-Family Partnership Program (ANFPP), known in the community as the ‘First Time Mum’s Program’. It is a client-centred, home visiting program that provides care and support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mums throughout their first pregnancy, right until their child turns two.
Wuchopperen Health Service have successfully supported over 400 families since the program began and Nurse Supervisor of the ANFPP, Samantha Lewis said, “100% of the babies who have come through the program were fully immunised by the time they turned two, which has had a significant impact on the long-term health of babies. Also, 97% of our babies were within a healthy birth weight range. This is a huge achievement and sets up a solid base for the rest of the child’s life.”
This year, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day’s theme‘We are the Elders of tomorrow, hear our voice’honours our Elders, custodians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional knowledge, passed down to our children through stories and cultural practice.
“We’ve known for several years that 15,000 additional early learning places are needed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s enrolment to be level with the general population.”
Geraldine Atkinson, SNAICC Deputy Chairperson
“This is a problem we can solve – it requires the political will to make sure that every single First Nations child has access to, and participates in, quality early learning for at least three days per week in the two years before school.”
More than thirty leading child welfare, education and research organisations have endorsed a new call by Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children to ensure all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children receive quality early learning and family support.
The data we have tells us that our children are half as likely to attend a Child Care Benefit approved early childhood service than non-indigenous children.
Everyone who cares about child welfare in Australia is concerned that too many children are starting school with developmental vulnerability, and that two out of five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are vulnerable when they start school; that’s twice the rate of vulnerability overall.
The most important thing for our children to thrive is that we need ongoing support for culturally appropriate, community-controlled services, and help to improve the quality of those services and professional development for their staff.
“We can see from the great results in high-quality Aboriginal Child and Family Centres, that families feel welcome, the children love to come, and they make a good transition to school.”
– Geraldine Atkinson, SNAICC Deputy Chairperson
Children and families are already benefitting from evidence-based, targeted family support services, like Families as First Teachers, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY), Parents as Teachers (PAT) and Best Start (in WA).
“We want to see all First Nations families get this vital support in the early years because supporting parents in the home environment is as important as access to early learning services to improve outcomes for children.”
– Samantha Page, ECA CEO
The joint position paper by ECA and SNAICC urges the Commonwealth Government to work alongside state and territory governments to take these actions:
Establish new early childhood development targets to close the gap in the AEDC domains by 2030, and an accompanying strategy—through the Closing the Gap refresh
Commit to permanently fund universal access to high-quality early education for three- and four-year-olds, including additional funding to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children get access to a minimum of three days per week of high-quality preschool, with bachelor-qualified teachers
Invest in quality Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled integrated early years services, through a specific early education program, with clear targets to increase coverage in areas of high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and high levels of disadvantage.
Further recommendations include:
COAG to fund a targeted program to support evidence-informed, culturally safe, integrated early childhood and family-focused programs, across the nurturing care spectrum, in early education and care services that work with high numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
The paper and its recommendations are endorsed by peak bodies, children‘s education and care service organisations and major children’s organisations who all that support the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children including: Save the Children, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO); UNICEF, Brotherhood of St Laurence; Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS); Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP); Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) and many more.
See the full list of endorsing organisations in the position paper.
The broad range of support for these recommendations shows the high level of agreement and concern that action needs to be taken to make sure that Australia improves our support for First Nations children to give them the best start in life.
” We are aware that this Inquiry was called in the wake of recent media coverage relating to the issue of adoption of Aboriginal children, including the Minister’s own comments that adoption policies should be changed to allow more Aboriginal children to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families.
AMSANT would like to emphasise the importance of informed discussion on this issue and draws the Committee’s attention to the following, put forward in March of this year as part of a joint statement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in response to media coverage:
We need to have a more rational and mature discussion aimed at achieving better social, community, family and individual outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. We must work to ensure that the drivers of child protection intervention are addressed, rather than continuing with a poorly designed and resourced system that reacts when it’s too late, after families have already reached breaking point and children have been harmed1
See Full AMSANT Submission Part 2 Below
“As detailed in our submission, AbSec is strongly opposed to the coerced adoption of Aboriginal children by statutory child protection systems. Adoption orders are characterised by the absence of key safeguards to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children.
They fail to uphold an Aboriginal child’s fundamental rights to family, community and culture, and the importance of these connections to our life long wellbeing and resilience. They are not in the best interests of our children.
In particular, it must be noted that past policies of the forced separation of Aboriginal children and young people from their families, communities, culture and Country is regarded as a key contributor to this ongoing over-representation. It is not a solution.
AbSec, alongside QATSICPP and SNAAICC, call for the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led approaches to the care of our children “
Part 1 Next public hearing for local adoption inquiry
The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs will hold a public hearing into a nationally consistent framework for local adoption in Australia.
The Committee will hear from the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care – National Voice for our Children (also known as SNAICC), and the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (NSW) (also known as AbSec).
A detailed program for the hearing is available from the inquiry webpage (www.aph.gov.au/localadoption).
Public hearing details: Tuesday 14 August, 4.40pm (approx) to 6.00pm, Committee Room 1R2, Parliament House, Canberra
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress
SNAICC (Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care) – National Voice for our Children
AbSec – the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (NSW)
Members of the public are welcome to attend the hearing however there will be limited seating available.
Further information about the inquiry, including the terms of reference and submissions published so far, is available on the inquiry webpage.
Part 2 AMSANT submission to The Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs: Inquiry into local adoption
AMSANT welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Inquiry into Local Adoption. As the peak body for the community controlled Aboriginal primary health care sector in the Northern Territory AMSANT advocates for equity in health, focusing on supporting the provision of high quality comprehensive primary health care services for Aboriginal communities.
This submission provides an overview of AMSANT’s position in relation to Aboriginal children in Child Protection, including Out of Home Care (OOHC) and potential adoption, and also responds directly to Terms of Reference 1 and 2 of the Inquiry.
AMSANT embraces a social and cultural determinants of health perspective which recognises that health and wellbeing are profoundly affected by a range of interacting economic, social and cultural factors. Accordingly, we advocate for a holistic and child-centred approach to Child Protection that seeks first and foremost to address the underlying causes of abuse and neglect through prevention and early intervention.
We are aware that this Inquiry was called in the wake of recent media coverage relating to the issue of adoption of Aboriginal children, including the Minister’s own comments that adoption policies should be changed to allow more Aboriginal children to be adopted by non-Aboriginal families.
AMSANT would like to emphasise the importance of informed discussion on this issue and draws the Committee’s attention to the following, put forward in March of this year as part of a joint statement from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in response to media coverage:
We need to have a more rational and mature discussion aimed at achieving better social, community, family and individual outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. We must work to ensure that the drivers of child protection intervention are addressed, rather than continuing with a poorly designed and resourced system that reacts when it’s too late, after families have already reached breaking point and children have been harmed1.
As captured in this statement it is essential that efforts to improve outcomes for children and families in contact with the Child Protection System stem from an understanding that abuse and neglect of children are most often the result of deeper family conflict or dysfunction, arising from social, economic and/or psychological roots.
In cases where children do need to be removed from family, decisions about what kind of placement, including adoption, is most appropriate for that child should occur in line with the following principles:
Child-centred approach that allows for children to have a say in decisions that affect them
OOHC for Aboriginal children delivered by Aboriginal Community Controlled Services (ACCSs)
Adoption of a set of national standards for the rights of children in care
Maintaining connection to family, community, culture and country, including prioritising adoption by extended family or if that is not possible, Aboriginal families who are not related.
Stability and permanency for children in out-of-home care with local adoption as a viable option
Transition of OOHC to Aboriginal Community Control
Evidence clearly demonstrates that culturally competent services lead to increased access to services by Aboriginal children and their families2. Aboriginal led and managed services are well-placed to overcome the many barriers that exist for Aboriginal families and children to access services3, such as:
a lack of understanding of the OOHC system and how to access advice and support;
a mistrust of mainstream legal, medical, community and other support services;
an understanding of the cultural or community pressures not to seek support, in particular perceptions of many Aboriginal families that any contact with the service system will result in the removal of their child4.
As the evaluation of child and family service delivery through the Communities for Children program identifies, “Indigenous specific services offer Indigenous families a safe, comfortable, culturally appropriate environment that is easier to access and engage with.”5 In addition, they are also going to be better at locating, training and supporting Aboriginal foster carers. This provides the opportunity to increase the quality of OOHC for Aboriginal children at significant lesser cost than the current “professional” foster care arrangements that are too often being put in place for Aboriginal children.
Following the lead of NSW, who in 2012 commenced a process of transfer to community control, there is a project currently being undertaken by the Aboriginal Peak Organisations NT (APO NT), in collaboration with the NT Government, to develop a strategy for the transition of OOHC to Aboriginal community control in the NT. Victoria has also confirmed that all OOHC service provision for Aboriginal children and families will be provided by community controlled services, with Queensland and Western Australia both exploring similar shifts.
AMSANT supports APO NT’s vision that Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care, as a priority, are placed with Kinship or Aboriginal foster carers and supported to retain culture, identity and language.
Strengthening the voice of children in decisions that affect them
Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states; “Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account” 6.
There is a need for Child Protection proceedings to be more responsive to the child’s aspirations and needs. An approach taken in Family Law known as child-inclusive family dispute resolution has been shown to produce better outcomes for families with parenting disputes, including greater stability of care and contact patterns, and greater contentment of children with those arrangements7. Central to this approach is the use of an independent, specially trained child health professional to conduct interviews before any decision is made about them.
There is no reason why a similar approach couldn’t be taken in terms of long term care arrangements for children but with specific provisions for continuing contact with family and community.
Maintaining connection with family, kin and country
In line with international convention, Aboriginal children and families have the right to enjoy their cultures in community with their cultural groups (UNCRC, article 30; UNDRIP, articles 11-13). This right has been enshrined in these conventions to reflect the wealth of evidence that show culture, language and connection to country are protective factors for at-risk communities8.
The Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle (ATSIPP) has been developed to ensure recognition of the value of culture and the vital role of Aboriginal children, families and communities to participate in decisions about the safety and wellbeing of children.
Despite the commitment from all States and Territories to fully implement this principle under the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, in 2015 only 34.7% of Aboriginal children in the NT were placed in care in accordance with the Child Placement principle, compared with a national average of 65.6%, and only 3.3% of children were placed with relatives or kin, compared with 48.8% at the national average9.
This reflects the need for better practice relating to kinship care in the NT including;
– early identification of kinship networks when the child first comes to the attention of Child Protection, rather than when a crisis point has been reached;
– increased access to supports and training for kinship carers (see below);
– support services to birth parents to strengthen the option for reunification;
– development of cultural support plans for all Aboriginal children to ensure meaningful connection to family, culture and community is maintained.
Improved support for kinship carers
A lack of adequate support for kinship carers can contribute to placement breakdown, and escalation for children and young people in the statutory OOHC system, including entry into residential care.
Conversely, home based care and placement stability are associated with a range of better health, education, economic and wellbeing outcomes.
Improved access to the following would support kinship carers in maintaining more stable placements for the children in their care:
– Ensure a comprehensive assessment of the child has been conducted and a care plan, incorporating cultural supports for Aboriginal children, is developed and fully implemented.
– Ensure access to training courses across a broad range of issues (parenting solutions, behavioural management, understanding and responding to trauma etc.)
– Increased financial support to bring payments in line with foster carers.
It is important to note that even for many long-term, stable care arrangements, including for children in kinship care, adoption may not be seen as a viable option due to the loss of supports that would be incurred in transitioning from ‘carer’ to ‘parent’.
In this way it is clear that the type of placement reflects neither stability and permanency nor wellbeing for the child, but rather the particular vulnerabilities and needs of the child and their carer. Adequately meeting these needs should remain the paramount focus of any efforts to create stable, loving homes for children in care.
Appropriate guiding principles for a national framework or code for local adoptions within Australia
In order to ensure that the rights and needs of the child remain central to all Care and Protection operations, AMSANT advocates that Australia adopt a set of national standards that set out the rights of children in care, which would be modelled on the Council of Europe’s 2005 Recommendation on the Rights of Children Living in Residential Institutions10.
This recommendations sets out a list of basic principles, specific rights of children living in residential institutions and guidelines and quality standards in view of protecting the rights of children living in residential institutions, irrespective of the reasons for and the nature of the placement. It advocates that the placement of a child should remain the exception and that the placement must guarantee full enjoyment of the child’s fundamental rights.
” I am a proud advocate for change – because things need to change. Change can be uncomfortable and it can cause anxiety.
But I see a near future where change can bring positive outcomes to our nation. I play a small role at SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, the national advocacy body fighting for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
I say only small because there are plenty of stronger and louder voices in the national conversation speaking up about the changes that need to happen for our people. So I will only speak for myself and the changes that I dream of.”
Maylene Slater-Burns is Kamilaroi/Wiradjuri/Djungan/Gangalidda woman. Seeker of some real change : Continued Part 2 below
“We have a shared responsibility to ensure the right of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child to be safe and thrive in family, community and culture.”
It has been 10 years since COAG’s Closing the Gap strategy began.
In that time, only three of the seven national targets are reported as being on track and four are due to expire in 2018. COAG is currently undertaking the Closing the Gap ‘refresh’ process.
This process is a unique opportunity to influence the next phase of the CTG agenda, which will form the framework over the next 10 years for all Australian governments to advance outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will also provide the framework for how government funding is prioritised to meet the targets.
SNAICC’s Key Calls
We have a shared responsibility to ensure the right of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child to be safe and thrive in family, community and culture. To achieve this:
anadditional Closing the Gap target should be included to eliminate the overrepresentation of our children in out-of-home care by 2040, with sub-targets that address the underlying causes of child protection intervention; and
the current Closing the Gap target on early childhood education should bestrengthened to encompass early childhood development andexpanded to close the gap in outcomes for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from birth to 4 years by 2030
Part 2 Every child has the right to be safe. Will you speak up with me?
Upon the delivery of the federal budget last week, it is clear that change for our people is not a priority for the federal government – but the government of the day has never scared me into thinking change is impossible. I, in tune with how I was raised by my family in Naarm, believe that real change happens from within community, by community and for community.
My mum, Sharon Slater, and my dad, Mel Burns, have lived and worked in the Melbourne Aboriginal community for decades. As I grew up, it was a normal part of life to be at work with them. My parents were foster carers, youth workers, basketball coaches, community drivers, fundraisers, and health workers – and completed their own admin at the end of the day. I am proud to follow in their footsteps. All I’ve ever known is my community from within.
SNAICC has been part of my life since early childhood, as Mum worked in administration and bookkeeping. Family was always centre at SNAICC – the best memory I have is my twin Marjorie and I mucking around with the photocopier.
In the late 1980s, following the first child survival seminar held in Naarm, community leaders called for the establishment of a national peak body to represent Aboriginal child care agencies, which led to the creation of SNAICC. Despite the ongoing harsh climate of constant political change that impacts a great number of our Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, SNAICC continues to be the voice of its members and the voice for our children.
For me, SNAICC’s work answers a natural calling in this journey to realise the changes that our children, families and communities deserve.
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented in the child protection system at a rate of more than 10 times that of other children. We are losing our children and we must speak up right now, because enough is enough.
The Family Matters campaign is the coming together of organisations and individuals across the nation to reduce the over-representation of our children removed from family.
Family Matters is an approach that trusts Aboriginal people to deal with Aboriginal business, one that includes genuine collaboration and partnership, empowers communities and involves long-term, all-of-government support across the country.
It all comes down to trusting in the legacy of my role models, family members and past leaders who have paved the way before us. Our community knows what works best for our community, and the best way forward when it comes to reunifying the 17,664 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living away from home with their community, heritage and culture.
SNAICC put it simply in its recent submission to the Closing the Gap “refresh”: “We have a shared responsibility to ensure the right of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child to be safe and thrive in family, community and culture.”
Now is the time for healing and restoration through connecting with other dreamers and change-makers to move forward together. Will you walk with me? Will you speak up with me? Our children are trusting us with their futures. Our work starts now.
” I urge the Senate Committee – and all Senators – to think through the realities of how this package would work in very diverse communities across Australia, and particularly how it would meet the developmental needs of the children that require our support most.
What looks workable in the Parliament Halls of Canberra is very far from the day-day realities for our people.
“It is the responsibility of the Government to not widen the extreme gap in disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children currently experience.
How Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children fare will be a litmus test for the Jobs for Families Child Care Package. Now is the time to ensure we have the details right.”
SNAICC – National Voice for our Children has lodged a second submission to the Senate Committee considering the Jobs for Families Child Care Package, following the first enquiry in February this year.
This submission again outlines several concerns with the bill in its current state, recommending several changes to ensure the safety and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is not compromised.
As per SNAICC’s previous submission, which was tendered alongside significant research by Deloitte Access Economics that examined the potential impacts the Bill would have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, this submission again highlights the ways in which the Jobs for Families Child Care Package will lead to a systemic failure of early childhood outcomes for a generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
All modelling presented to the government has shown the new system will cause a decrease in participation for our children, particularly those experiencing vulnerability, and that the services set up to serve their unique needs may face closure.
Of significant concern to SNAICC are two key elements of the Jobs for Families Child Care Package:
The Budget Based Funding (BBF) Program – the specific program designed for areas where a user-pays model is not viable – will be abolished. 80% of services in this program that support over 19,000 children are for Indigenous children.
Access to subsidised early childhood education and care (ECEC) services will be halved for children whose families earn less than around $65,000 per annum (which applies to an estimated 78% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children participating in the BBF Program) and who don’t meet the activity test.
Additionally there is also a call for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific program within the Child Care Safety Net and an attuned funding model for other rural and remote services, as well as calls for provision of at least two full days (or 20 hours) of subsidised quality early learning to all children to support their development, regardless of their parents’ activities.
This submission also details key recommendations designed to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not pushed deeper into an entrenched cycle of inter-generational disadvantage through lack of access to quality early years support services.
Strong and enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designed, managed and delivered early childhood services not only provide high quality early childhood services to Indigenous children, but also support vulnerable families to access an array of integrated services.
By threatening the viability of these services, the Jobs for Families Child Care Package shows a fundamental disconnect from the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.
The Prime Minister is to be commended for his energy and commitment to indigenous affairs, but there is a disappointing sense of deja vu about the latest report. Until the well-intentioned talk of “closing the gap” is translated into sound policy, backed up by adequate resources and effective services that produce outcomes on the ground, indigenous Australians will continue to struggle to compete on the same footing as non-indigenous Australians.
A glaring and urgent example lies in support for early childhood development. What society refuses to support our very youngest to get the best start they can?
YESTERDAY, Tony Abbott delivered yet another mixed report on closing-the-gap initiatives, noting that a greater focus must be placed on lifting the school participation rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Close the gap
It is further compelling evidence that to achieve real and sustainable improvements in the lives of indigenous Australians, and to avoid the policy failures of the past, governments must invest more faith and funding in indigenous community-controlled organisations.
In recent years, researchers have made significant advances in understanding the development of the brain in the early years before a child even begins school. Evidence demonstrates that 95 per cent of children from disadvantaged communities that attend an effective early childhood service between birth and three years realise an IQ within the normal range. However, only 45 per cent of children who don’t attend such a service reach this level.
The message could hardly be clearer: invest in early childhood education and reap the rewards later in life. Children experiencing disadvantage – black or white – who have the benefit of early childhood education from birth to three years are more likely to have better outcomes in health, education and employment; and are less likely to have contact with the child-protection system or to be imprisoned.
So beyond the motivation of improving lives, there is also a persuasive economic argument, whereby children who are supported during the early years are more likely to get and retain jobs.
If governments are genuine about closing the gap then maximum effort must be applied at the time when the gap first appears. Otherwise, disadvantage quickly becomes entrenched and further limits the capacity of these young children to get a fair go in life.
At the time of greatest potential to reverse the disadvantage that many indigenous children face, we are letting them down. Funding for indigenous early childhood services, already lagging far behind that for other children, will be cut in June.
Indigenous children already remain under-represented in early-years services. Yet there are currently only about 300 indigenous community-controlled early-years services across Australia, servicing a population of 146,714 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from birth to eight years old. This is manifestly inadequate, yet the conversation is not about redressing the vast gap in service coverage but the ongoing survival of the few existing services.
These services provide accessible, affordable and integrated early childhood and family support services, generate employment opportunities and generally build the capacity of communities. Most importantly, they nurture children by preparing them for the education that will maximise their life chances. These services are at the cutting edge of our efforts to close the gap in indigenous education and health outcomes.Yet for some, their funding ends in June, and the rest are under review, with the aim being to rationalise the program.
Community control is a critical factor in the successful operation of indigenous services, with those running the service being a part of the community and understanding community needs.
Aboriginal people have long endured criticism for being passive recipients of services rather than agents of their own advancement. We are now imploring governments to give us the opportunity to design and run early years services in our communities.
These services are successfully helping to prepare our children for school and provide a range of support to families suffering from intergenerational disadvantage. The service models are in place. The relationships with families are strong. The foundations are there for lasting and significant change to see different pathways for our children in the next generation.
The time has come for the federal government to avoid the policy failures of the past by trusting indigenous communities and investing in a long-term indigenous-specific federal program for indigenous early childhood development.
This is not a dewy-eyed plea for more money to be thrown at indigenous Australia to assuage residual guilt about the long history of mistreatment of indigenous Australians at the hands of Europeans – it is an evidenced-based call for governments to expand a successful service model, and to provide certainty of funding so that Aboriginal communities can best equip their children to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Angela Webb is deputy chief executive of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care.
Many believed the government would add a target to address the shockingly high rate of indigenous incarceration.
The idea seemed to have had bipartisan support last year. In August, then-indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin committed Labor to developing the target. Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion indicated he too supported the inclusion of new targets, telling The Australian it “needed to be considered”.
Even before this burst of bipartisanship, a 2011 parliamentary inquiry also found support for the idea, reporting “these targets should then be monitored and reported against”.
But there was nothing in Abbott’s speech. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten reminded the PM of Labor’s commitment to an incarceration target, urging the government to work with state governments to implement a new target. He also accused the government of inconsistency, saying: “Since the election, the government has sent a spectrum of signals on these new targets.”
Julie Perkins, regional manager of the ACT/NSW Aboriginal Legal Service, agrees the government has sent out mixed signals. The ALS had expected the new government to implement justice targets, taking into consideration the comments of both sides of Parliament in the run-up to the election.
“We took a lot from last year in 2013. We all know both sides of government expressed commitment to incorporate a justice target. No one has come to us and said it would not be included. We were hopeful from last year that whoever got power that they would look at putting these targets in the report,” she said.
Imprisonment rates for indigenous Australians are around 12 times that of the general population. And, despite a fall in overall rates of juvenile detention, the rate of indigenous juveniles in detention has remained steady. One in every two juveniles in detention is indigenous.
“We all know about the high incarceration rates,” Perkins told Crikey. “It’s quite a shock to us that something as critical as this was not put in there and there was no real discussion.”
Stuart Ross, director and senior researcher at the Melbourne Centre for Criminological Research and Evaluation, is similarly bemused. A justice target help lower the number of Aboriginal people being incarcerated while tackling Aboriginal victimisation. “The victimisation rates in indigenous communities are high as well,” he said.
The report goes some way to addressing victimisation, detailing law enforcement targets under the section “Safer Communities”. According to Ross, better addressing vicitmisation rates will lead to gains in other targets around health.
It’s a message that proponents of the justice target have been pushing now for some years: that without progress on Aboriginal justice, other targets will stall. Including, Perkins points out, the Prime Minister’s pet target of school attendance.
“Once they [juveniles] are released that will affect their school attendance,” she said. “They’re very much hand-in-hand. We have to have the justice target — if we don’t have those it will affect the outcomes of the school target.”
Then there are health targets. Kirstie Parker, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, draws a direct line between the two. “The over-representation of our peoples in the criminal justice system … is both cause and effect for the poor state of health, education and employment of so many of our families and communities,” she said.
Stuart Ross agreed: “I think one of the big issues for indigenous disadvantage is where you have communities with large numbers of people being imprisoned; that in turn has significant impact on child development, it has an impact on economic participation, on health and so on.”
The need for action is critical, advocates say, because of the high numbers of juvenile Aboriginals in detention. “Our young people make up 5% of the general population, but 53% of the population in detention centres. Fifty-two per cent of those are unsentenced; 91% are young boys,” Perkins said.
On the 25th anniversary of National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day, SNAICC has called on Australian governments to take heed of embarrassing international criticism of Australia’s efforts to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“NAICD has been held on 4 August each year since 1988 to honour our children and celebrate their achievements and acknowledge the hard work of parents, families and communities in raising healthy and resilient children,” SNAICC Chairperson Dawn Wallam said.
“It’s a day we celebrate the family and cultural connections that are nurtured and maintained every day of the year, and the rich diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and practices across Australia.”
But since its inception, Ms Wallam said, the day had also been a time to reflect on progress in improving the quality of life of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
“The reality is, after 25 years, our children and young people remain the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians,” Ms Wallam said.
“As the recent United Nations (Geneva) report on Australia found, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children still face serious and widespread discrimination in accessing health, education and housing services.
“The report also expressed deep concern about a number of issues that should make uncomfortable reading for leaders of an affluent country such as Australia — and inspire some urgent action.
‘These issues included inadequate standards of living, higher suicide deaths, homelessness, high levels of family violence and the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the out-of-home care and criminal justice systems.”
Ms Wallam said the Australian Government’s latest Closing the Gap report had provided encouraging news on Indigenous child mortality rates, access to early childhood and education outcomes.
“It’s pleasing that there has been some progress in these areas. And we welcome the Government’s decision to establish a National Children’s Commissioner. They throw a glimmer of light on an otherwise grim picture,” Ms Wallam said.
She said child protection was one area that required bold and urgent action, as highlighted by the Geneva report.
“In June 2011 there were 12,358 of our children in out-of-home care, representing almost one third of all children in out-of-home care,” Ms Wallam said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have unacceptably high rates of contact with child protection systems and, if placed in care, a precarious chance of remaining connected with their families and culture.
“Solutions lay in tackling the underlying causes that lead to the dramatic number of children in out-home-care, improving the delivery of preventative and early intervention programs and empowering Indigenous organisations to play a more pivotal role in delivering out-of-home care services.
“We also need to strengthen the way the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is applied in the various states and territories — and ensure that it always works in the best interests of the child — as well as improve support for carers.”
In the early childhood education and care sector, Ms Wallam said the push to mainstream services had served to “disconnect our children from culture and community, and impact negatively on their sense of identity and wellbeing”.
“On the other hand, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s services provide flexible, holistic and affordable programs that meet the needs of children and families — and foster cultural identity and pride,” Ms Wallam said.
“Services such as Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services (MACS) provide a link for children between home, community life and the transition to school. They are fundamentally important for the development of our children at a crucial stage of their lives — and are entitled to better support from government than they currently receive.”
Ms Wallam said SNAICC had consistently argued that the key to sustained improvements in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was supporting Indigenous people and organisations to design, develop and deliver services for their own communities.
“We need a greater say over government policies and programs that impact on our lives so that funding is better tailored to meet the specific needs of communities.
“For this to happen governments must genuinely engage and partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities.”
For more information: Frank Hytten, SNAICC CEO, on (0432) 345 652;
SNAICC has cautiously welcomed the Australian Government’s announcement that it will review Budget Based Funding (BBF) Program, under which many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood services are funded.
SNAICC Deputy Chairperson (Early Childhood) Geraldine Atkinson said SNAICC had long advocated for changes to the BBF program to enable better delivery of services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
Ms Atkinson said SNAICC saw the review as an important opportunity to improve support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and remove some of the factors inhibiting their capacity to deliver programs. These include heavy administrative and reporting workloads, inadequate funding and a single-year funding model that creates uncertainty and prevents long-term planning.
“Our services have been significantly under-funded for the past 20 years, despite a growing demand and the fact they provide holistic, affordable and flexible programs that meet the needs of parents, and the cultural and educational needs of our children at the most crucial stage of their development,” Ms Atkinson said.
“We expect the evidence that emerges from a genuine consultation process will demonstrate the real need for further operational funding. BBF services should not be expected to operate for far less than other services.”
However, Ms Atkinson said SNAICC was concerned the Government’s discussion paper was not opening any scope for increased funding to the BBF program — a critical issue currently forcing many services to become mono-functional.
She said it was crucial the review took into account the various important roles that these services play in the community beyond childcare.
“Our services, including the Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services — or MACS — are very distinct from mainstream services. They serve all the children in the community, not just those who walk through the door.
“They are community hubs, providing a range of services including outreach to families in need of but not accessing support, and a link for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids between home, community life and school.
“The child, family, culture and community are central in the MACS model.”
Ms Atkinson said SNAICC was pleased the Government recognised the importance of reviewing how the BBF program can “better be targeted to support access to ECEC (early childhood, education and care) services where market failures would otherwise exist”.
“Access to affordable services is vitally important to the wellbeing and future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities in rural and remote areas,” Ms Atkinson said.
She said the success of the review would hinge on the consultation process.
“We call on the Government to ensure its consultations — with families, services and communities — are culturally appropriate, genuine and will enable meaningful discussions.
“This requires significant notice to people to participate, requires time to sit and yarn with people on the issues, and requires openness about what the solutions may be.”
Ms Atkinson said the Australian Human Rights Commission has developed clear and simple principles for consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and called on the Government to use these principles to conduct its review.
She urged everyone to get involved in the consultation process — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, services, peak bodies and community organisations.
“This review has potential to strengthen support for our children and enable us as services to ensure strong development and learning outcomes are achieved.”
For more information:
Frank Hytten, SNAICC CEO, on (0432) 345 652;
Emma Sydenham, SNAICC Policy and Research Manager, on (0415) 188 990