After three days of incredible presentations and rigorous conversation, the 7th SNAICC National Conference has drawn to a close.
In the morning plenary session, Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett AM and Commissioner Helen Milroy gave powerful keynote speeches addressing causes, consequences and responses to historical and ongoing removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.
Professor Bamblett, one of Australia’s leading experts on Aboriginal child welfare and CEO of VACCA, highlighted that nearly all the systemic issues that drive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into out-of-home care that are documented in the 1997 Bringing them Home report are still present today.
With thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continuing to enter out-of-home care, Professor Bamblett spoke of the urgent need for practical action to make headway against the tide.
We know strong families and strong culture raises strong children. We need to work with our children in the system to ensure they remain connected to their culture.
“We need an Aboriginal children’s commissioner in every state and territory to keep government and the service system accountable.”
– Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett AM, VACCA CEO
Professor Bamblett also emphasised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations working in child welfare and early education must prioritise the self-determination of children.
Our Aboriginal children need to shape their chosen outcomes; we need to support their self-determination.
“We must ensure that our children are not only safe but that they grow into strong Aboriginal people and take their place alongside us in the future.
“No child should ever be forgotten.”
– Professor Bamblett
Commissioner Milroy generously shared insights from her involvement with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, now in its fifth and final year.
She discussed the impacts of abuse and trauma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experienced many generations of removal and identified the key factors of trauma-informed and culturally-appropriate care.
How do we heal? Children need strong, safe and enduring relationships.
“Healing is not a one step process, it is a lifelong journey.”
– Commissioner Helen Milroy, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
The final collection of concurrent sessions encompassed diverse presentations showcasing many successful stories and programs supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people around the country.
In one of these sessions, Kim Davison from Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation presented a frank and insightful discussion of working with the child protection system in the ACT from the perspective of an Aboriginal organisation. Davison’s powerful words received a standing ovation from the audience.
Gugan Gulwan is not funded for child protection, but we do this business because our community needs us. Our greatest stakeholders are our kids and our families.
“The kids are the reason that I get up in the morning, but they are also the reason I don’t sleep at night.”
“Government and mainstream try to fix us, further traumatising us. We know what we need. We don’t need review after review after review to tell us what we need.”
– Kim Davison, Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation
In the afternoon, delegates treated to an expert panel discussion between Aboriginal leaders dedicated to fighting for justice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The discussion was chaired by Mick Gooda, Commissioner for the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, and comprised:
- Andrew Jackomos PSM, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Victoria
- Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission
- Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
- June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
Andrew Jackomos highlighted the urgent need to address the demonstrated link between the out-of-home care system and the juvenile justice system. He also stressed the importance of strong partnerships between Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, mainstream services and government.
If we work together and we get all our kids home, we can make a difference. I know we can.”
– Andrew Jackomos PSM, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Victoria
This was echoed by June Oscar.
We all have the collective responsibility of reinforcing the message that you cannot achieve change without us.”
– June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
Dr Jackie Huggins highlighted the fundamental need to invest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early years services for early intervention and prevention.
Funding cycles and funding regimes are out of whack. Why can’t we invest from conception?”
– Dr Jackie Huggins, Co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
Megan Mitchell reminded us of the self-determination of children, and how we must empower them to recognise and realise their rights.
Children everywhere are fundamentally full of hopes and dreams and we need to give them capacity to fulfil them.”
– Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission
Nurturing and empowering our children is the only way we can grow the next generation of strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
June Oscar spoke summed up the last three days when she said:
We must have hope; we cannot lose hope. Our peoples have been on this part of the world as the longest civilisation on Earth. We are not about to give up!
“Our children are worth fighting for.”
– Ms Oscar
As the final session of the conference, this session gave delegates an opportunity to reflect on key themes, providing insights full of wisdom, determination and encouragement for the challenges ahead.
Closing the three-day conference, SNAICC Deputy Chairperson Geraldine Atkinson delivered a conference communiqué that examines the discussions that had been held in Canberra, and outlines calls to national and jurisdictional decision-makers on behalf all delegates.