Toni Janke is a Wuthathi/Meriam woman from Cape York and Murray Island in the Torres Strait. Toni is Coordinator, Indigenous Services at Centacare Family and Relationship Services in Brisbane, and represents Queensland in the Family Matters Aboriginal Leadership Group.
To help raise awareness of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from family, Family Matters asked leaders from across the country to share their reflections during the National Week of Action – on what a new government should prioritise, on what a national strategy to solve this issue should look like, and on what future they’re working to help build for our children.
The gross over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care should be a national priority.
I want to live in country that values and respects all children by ensuring that they can grow up safely and be valued and active members of the community. Sadly, this is not the reality for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Why is it that after numerous reports, inquires and Royal Commissions, statistics are getting worse with the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care set to triple?
Our challenge to eliminate the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care by 2040 is indeed ambitious. But that does not mean that it cannot be done. We have to rise to this challenge. In the words of the Family Matters campaign National Week of Action: Because of them, we must.
Below are some immediate steps that the incoming Federal Government should take towards the elimination of the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care:
- The Federal Government should work with all State and Territory governments to develop priority check-lists for each jurisdiction on specific actions that need to be taken to reform the child protection system and service systems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. These actions should be drawn from the general principles and big-ticket items contained in the Family Matters Roadmap, and contain a timeframe for concrete action.
- Better utilise the family mediation model (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-Led Decision Making) to bring families together to work out arrangements for keeping Indigenous families safe and to strengthen them through services such as counselling.
- Fund healing and cultural programs for young people. Programs that support bringing youth back to country to further connection to land, culture and healing should be supported and resourced.
- Government to provide resources to educate practitioners and staff across the sector about the importance of culture, the complexity of trauma and the importance of reunification for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.
- All family support service practitioners, staff, judiciary, police and government employees to undertake cultural competency training.
- Set up a national Indigenous family hotline, similar to Lifeline or Kids Helpline, 1800 toll free number for all Indigenous people to use as a point of referral support and specialist information service: to be resourced by Aboriginal staff/counsellors; 24-hour service.
- Fund Indigenous parenting programs to help Indigenous parents develop parenting skills and confidence to rebuild their lives and get their kids back/reunification; working with intensive family support services, as well as providing ongoing case-management and counselling support for whole of family.
- Invest in culturally appropriate treatment and healing facilities for Indigenous people for issues with drug and alcohol and other substances. Centres to be set up on country and/or regional areas with links with Indigenous community and organisations.
- Governments and universities fund more evidence-based research into programs that work in early-intervention programs, as well as programs for supporting Aboriginal children, young people and families.
Despite the expertise, understanding, strategy and passion of various partners, Family Matters is not adequately funded or resourced to solve these issues alone. All services, government, non-government and community organisations need to work together to explore new initiatives to overcome some of the systemic issues and barriers that have been identified through the Family Matters campaign.