In recent years the Queensland Government has been a leader amongst other states and territories in promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families as decision makers in child protection matters.
A series of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-Led Decision Making trials that took place from April 2016 to June 2017. The trials aimed to provide direction for ongoing processes that empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to lead child protection decision making. This will ensure that more children stay connected to their families, communities and cultures.
On 28 March the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women hosted a presentation and discussion on the evaluation findings for the trials.
Key parties associated with the trial evaluation were involved, including SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and implementation partner for the trials; Winangali and Ipsos Australia, independent research partners that evaluated the trials; and QATSICPP, the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak.
SNAICC, represented by John Burton, began with a brief overview of the trials, which took place in four locations across Queensland (Ipswich, Mt Isa, Cairns and Thursday Island) and at different points in the child protection continuum (early intervention, investigation and assessment, and ongoing child protection orders).
SNAICC’s role as implementation partner was to develop guidelines for the trials in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Association and in consultation with trial sites and QATSICPP. SNAICC provided training to trial staff on family-led decision making, as well as ongoing support for implementation at the trial sites. SNAICC also reported on the trials’ progress and findings.
Mr Burton highlighted key recommendations, including the need for adequate resourcing to be provided to enable family-led decision making, particularly in relation to preparation time with families. It was also advised that convenors be supported with community of practice opportunities and regular meetings with departmental staff to enable an exchange of ideas and values, which contribute to a shift in mindset, roles and relationships between community convenors and departmental staff.
Research findings compiled by Ipsos Australia and Winangali Pty Ltd echoed these findings, with Kylie Brosnan from Ipsos Australia noting that “any approach used with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families must address trauma and the historical context to build the capacity and strengths of communities to feel able to make decisions about children’s wellbeing.”
The evaluators found that when the family-led process was implemented as intended there was a shift in practice, from community-controlled organisations providing cultural advice to the department, to convenors respecting the cultural authority and leadership of families and communities in regard to the safety of their children.
Ms Brosnan emphasised that decision making in a culturally safe space required independence, choice, private family discussions and time. When preparation and meetings were not rushed, emotional triggers could be diffused and healing from past removals or interventions could occur.
Cultural ways come forward when dictated processes subside.”
– Kylie Brosnan, Ipsos Australia
Noel Niddrie from Winangali emphasised that being allowed adequate time is not just important for families but it is also an essential element of the family-led decision making process. Adequate time enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander convenors to conduct business on country in a way that meets cultural obligations.
Both the Implementation Report (by SNAICC) and the Evaluation Report (by Winangali and Ipsos Australia) are available on the SNAICC website. The roll out of family-led decision-making processes across the state is expected later this year through funding of the Family Participation Program provided by Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.
‘Place, Power and People’ emerged as a theme from the evaluation, which will be promoted in the future.
No one is more invested in the wellbeing of children than families themselves, and their communities. We need to trust that.”
– Natalie Lewis, QATSICPP CEO