SNAICC News

Poverty and disconnection to family contribute to suicidal behaviour in Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander children

7 July 2014 | SNAICC NEWS

SNAICC has lodged a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission National Children’s Commissioner’s examination of intentional self-harm and suicidal behaviour in children.

The SNAICC submission examines the devastating rates of self-harm and suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. The suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females aged 15–19 years is 5.9 times higher than other young people in the same age group, while for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males the corresponding rate ratio was 4.4 times higher (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010).

The submission addresses factors that contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people engaging in self-harm and suicidal behaviour, and then describes programs and practices that aid prevention.

Suicide has complex, multiple causes including trauma-related issues affecting families and communities. SNAICC contends that factors around entrenched poverty and continuing disruption of, and disconnection from, family, community and cultural life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as a result of colonisation are contributing strongly to suicidal behaviours.

While suicide can be seen as an indicator of distress in communities, it also has a wide impact affecting many people resulting in suicide contagion and clustering. This situation requires urgent redress through measures that heal and strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, with a focus on cultural connection and community development.

Community control and empowerment are essential factors in preventing self-harm and suicide. Considerable efforts are needed to increase the role of our communities in child and family service design and delivery, so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are providing culturally strong service responses to the issues facing children and young people.

Long-term funding for community-controlled services and proven programs, along with new and promising initiatives, need to be prioritised to address the shocking rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and youth suicide and self-harm.

SNAICC is particularly concerned by the ongoing loss of cultural connection and identity for the high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are the subject of child protection intervention. Significant systems issues are identified as contributing to this problem, including inadequate participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in decision-making (an issue identified in the SNAICC paper, Whose Voice Counts?, 2013).

In the submission SNAICC also identifies a set of promising healing practices that give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities ownership of our own healing journeys, highlighting the importance of practices that reconnect people to spiritual and cultural identity, country and community.