A second successful day of sharing, learning and robust discussions has been had at the 7th SNAICC National Conference, with almost 1200 child welfare experts gathering in Canberra to focus on strategies in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be safe and cared for within family and culture.
The conference had already provided several memorable performances, with local hip hop artist Gee Wiz delivering another to launch day two.
This was followed by a dynamic panel discussion between community and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, which was facilitated by Professor Larrisa Behrendt, Chair of Indigenous Research at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS.
The discussion between panellists Mick Dodson, Jim Morrison and Richard Weston centred on learnings from the Bringing them Home report in the context of increasing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care across the country.
The 7th SNAICC National Conference marks the 20-year anniversary of the Bringing them Home report and all panellists agreed that there had been little implementation of its key recommendations.
There are recommendations that are fully informed by the people who have endured the challenges themselves – who are best placed to formulate the answers to these problems – but those solutions sit on the shelves and gather dust.”
– Professor Mick Dodson, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at ANU
All panellists highlighted the interconnection between the enduring causes and consequences of the Stolen Generations in relation to the ongoing removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.
Richard Weston, CEO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, remarked that no government policy had ever addressed “the real breadth and depth of the pain” of the Stolen Generations.
Another sentiment echoed by all panellists was that moving forward and strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities required a better understanding of intergenerational trauma and recognising the strength of culture in processes of healing.
The things that I take from my interactions with members of the Stolen Generations are strength, courage, tenacity and the determination to survive.”
– Richard Weston, CEO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation
Mr Weston also acknowledged the need to promote the voice of children in these matters, as well as the strength of children and young people involved in a child protection system that he described as “broken”.
We have to have respect for our young people as well.”
“We’re asking a system that’s broken to fix itself.”
– Mr Weston
Panellists discussed the importance of self-determination in the fight to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.
We should be making these decisions, not some politician or bureaucrat. Their job is to empower us, to facilitate our decision making.”
“Self-determination as a public policy has never been tried in Australia.”
– Professor Dodson
Jim Morrison, Co-Chair of the West Australian Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation, also emphasised the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled and mainstream services to work together.
We need to work in a wrap-around approach; we need to work with other services; we need to be educating non-Indigenous Australians about what our concerns are. There are too many siloes, we need to be working together.”
– Jim Morrison, Co-Chair of the West Australian Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation
An audience response from Rachel Atkinson, SNAICC Board member, summarised the morning’s discussion.
We are making a difference – we’re fighting to do that – but we need to collectively come together and make a proper decision about how we’re going to protect our children from getting into the welfare system.”
– Rachel Atkinson, SNAICC Board
Throughout the rest of the day delegates moved between a further 30 concurrent sessions, learning about programs and services from around the country that are delivering real results for children and families in community.
A focus on self-determination persisted throughout these concurrent sessions.
Enabling family participation goes to the very heart of the right to self-determination. It ensures that those most affected by child protection decisions themselves – Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children and their families – are supported to find solutions. It recognises that while an immediate family may be experiencing challenges, there are strengths within extended family, kin and community networks that can be drawn on to support the safe care of children at home, or in connection with their culture.
Sometimes the best demonstration of cultural competency is when [non-Indigenous organisations] recognise that you are not the person who is best placed to do something and you hand over authority to the Aboriginal families, communities and organisations who are.”
– Natalie Lewis, SNAICC Board member
Many sessions explored how vitally important it is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait children in out-of-home care to remain connected to culture, including the critical role that foster parents play.
In one session, Aboriginal young people shared personal experiences of out-of-home care.
It’s OK not to know about Aboriginal culture; it’s not OK not to ask.”
“I’m so proud to be Aboriginal; so proud to be Koori – we have the oldest culture in the world.”
Many presenters stressed how essential it is that no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is left behind.
Often Aboriginal children with disabilities are hidden away, as there is a sense of shame, but these are the most vulnerable people.”
– June Riemer, Deputy CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network
This afternoon also saw the launch of the new joint Family Violence Policy Paper, Strong Families, Strong Kids: Family violence response and prevention for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families, a collaboration between SNAICC, FVPLS and NATSILS.
This paper pulls together the extensive knowledge and practice experience of three critical sectors: child and family welfare services; family violence prevention legal services; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.
There were several other sessions on the topic of family violence, with presenters discussing the need for strength-based approaches that address the multiple layers of oppression experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and prioritise cultural healing.
Crucially, speakers also highlighted the impact of family violence on children. There is a strong need for training, campaigns and resources that increase awareness of exactly how family violence also contributes significantly to our children’s over-representation in Australia’s child protection systems.
The conference will continue for a third day, with outcomes from these important discussions to shape renewed commitments to keeping our children safe, and a collective voice for departments, politicians and decision makers to listen and learn from.