Working for a better future and outcomes for our children
Where to next with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Led Decision Making in Queensland
The Queensland Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DCCSDS) funded a trial of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Led Decision Making (ATSIFLDM) from April 2016 to August 2017. Final report details are soon to be released from implementation partner, SNAICC – National Voice for Our Children, and independent evaluation partners Winangali Pty Ltd and Ipsos Australia.
The trials sought to empower families and communities to lead decision making in regard to their children and to keep children connected to family, community and culture. Four service providers across Queensland trialled ATSIFLDM for families at risk of entering, or already involved in, the statutory child protection system.
Services involved included Kummara Inc. Family Support Service in Ipswich, Aboriginal and Islander Development and Recreational Women’s Association (AIDRWA) in Mt Isa, Wuchopperen Health Service Ltd. in Cairns and Port Kennedy Association in the Torres Strait.
During the trials, 88 families were supported at three different stages along the child protection continuum. This included early intervention, investigation and assessment, and families on child protection orders.
The Queensland Government has committed to invest in family led decision making for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families through the Changing Tracks Action Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families 2017-2019.
Future statewide roll out of ATSIFLDM is supported by recent amendments to the Queensland Child Protection Act that require independent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander entities to facilitate family participation in decision making.
On a national level, the Family Matters campaign advocates for ensuring that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations participate in and have control over decisions that affect their children, which ATSIFLDM provides a vehicle to achieve.
Through legislative amendments, state and national initiatives such as Changing Tracks and Family Matters, change can be achieved to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia’s child protection systems and to instead see children and young people grow up safe and healthy at home, on country, in community, with family and proud of who they are.
The Murri School – A Healing Initiative
The Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School (the Murri School)
The Murri School is a coeducational non-government school established in 1986. The school is Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-controlled. The Murri School was originally a primary school but it now educates children from prep to grade 12. With a proven track record in assisting students to attend and remain in school, the school aims to promote the development of Indigenous students as independent and skilled people who are culturally, morally and socially responsible; employable, capable of self-fulfilment and of contributing to society.
The School adopts a holistic approach that supports the educational, health, social and emotional wellbeing, and cultural development of children and their families. The Murri School provides children with a safe space where they can (re) connect with education and takes an approach which considers the whole child – their spiritual, health, emotional and educational needs in the context of their families, their school and the wider community.
Since 2012, the School has implemented a trauma informed approach to responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families. This Healing Initiative has demonstrated its ability to both identify service gaps and respond in flexible, child-centric, culturally safe ways to engage highly marginalised families in processes of healing and change. An evaluation in 2014 proposed that sustained funding should be obtained for the Healing Initiative as a core component of a wider “community of care” including family support and community development initiatives for vulnerable children, families and communities at the Murri School.
The 2014 evaluation found that the Healing Initiative program had successfully met its short-term outcomes regarding participation, safety, enhanced care and engagement in healing activities. The analysis also identified that the initiative had resulted in improvements in the following longer-term goals and national outcomes for the intergenerational trauma initiatives auspiced by the Healing Foundation (see Evaluation p.13):
• Improved social and emotional wellbeing of young people
• Improved resiliency of young people
• Improved relationships between young people and their families
• Improved service coordination for young people and their families.
It is noted that the implementation of trauma and healing informed approaches including through government resourcing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop their own healing approaches, and the development of a trauma informed child and family service workforce is one of four key evidence-based strategies required to drive the reduction in the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia’s child protection systems and advance the safety and wellbeing of children (see Family Matters Discussion Paper, February 2016). The other three key strategies highlighted in the Discussion Paper are: increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in decision-making, supporting families and communities to stay together, and embedding accountability.
Further, Deloitte Access Economics conducted a cost benefit analysis of the school’s operation in 2016 (see Attachment D). Findings included: improved educational attainment, improved mental health, less contact with the child protection system, and lower contact with the justice system. Tangible benefits attributed to the Murri School equalled $6.2 million or approximately $27,009 per student. The largest benefit identified was the savings from decreasing usage of child protection services ($17,105/student) followed by the improvements in mental health ($4,425/student). Other potential reductions have been identified which are located in page V Executive Summary.
To view the Deloitte Access Economics cost benefit analysis report go to this link
To view the evaluation report by the Healing Foundation 2014, go to this link
I feel very fortunate to be part of the Family Support Team at the Murri School and contribute to the overall work of the School. The team has myself as Coordinator, 2 full-time Family Support Workers in Lenny Cresdee and Natalie Low and a part-time Psychologist Sally Frye. The Family Support work at the school is high volume face to face contact work on a daily basis. The Team is accessible to the students and families every day of the school semester Family Support is also based in a large, comfortable and welcoming space at the school for students and families. The staff also assist with participation in Family Healing Camps that are run over the school holidays
The Family Support staff work from a trauma based model – the crux of which is providing safety and stability to young people so that they can develop trust and in turn have the ability to form healthy relationships across their lives – both within and outside of the school. This process helps with their overall healing. The resilience of the students and families we see is evident on a daily basis and this combined with the overall sensitivity of the staff positions the Murri School well.
Article provided by Alf Davis, Family Support Team Coordinator, from the Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School (Murri School) at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane.
Port Kennedy Association Inc. Torres Strait Recognised Entity
The R.E. program is based on Thursday Island and is part of Port Kennedy Association Incorporated. The R.E. Team provides services to all Islands within the Torres Strait Islands Region. Whilst based on TI the region comprises neighboring islands which are separated by 2,500 square kilometers of water, which incorporates such a diverse cultural background and influence.
Family Matters Campaign Update
Family Matters is the National Campaign for eliminating the disproportionate representation of our children in statutory child protection systems in Australia. As the national Co-Chair, I am proud to report that the first half of 2017 has seen significant momentum for the Family Matters campaign, with a focus on collaborative political strategy, mobilisation of local champions for change and a very successful inaugural National Week of Action in May.
QATSICPP took the lead in promoting Family Matters and securing QLD Government Support for foundational campaign activities such as publishing the Queensland Family Matters Position Paper, the inaugural Queensland Family Matters Forum hosted in August 2016 and the Post Forum Report. The Family Matters Leadership Group in Queensland, co-chaired by Aunty Rachel Atkinson and Dr Gerald Featherstone, was pleased to celebrate the launch of an Australian first: a 20-year strategy to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, Our Way, along with Changing Tracks, a three-year action plan authored in partnership with the Queensland Family Matters Leadership Group, but importantly, drawn from the solutions and recommendations put forward by OUR sector, community leaders – during the Family Matters Forum.The Family Matters Statement of Commitment continues to garner support. Current support includes:
- 102 organisations
- 32 state, territory and federal parliamentarians
- 9 children’s commissioners, advocates and guardians.
In Queensland, we continue to focus on the recruitment of local champions, as we recognise that it is through their leadership, within their families, organisations and communities that the most significant and sustainable change can be cultivated. We invite all QATSICPP Members and Supporters to sign the Statement of Commitment (organisations) and sign the Family Matters pledge (individuals). We would welcome your participation on the Queensland Family Matters Leadership Group, so if you are interested, please get in touch with us at QATSICPP, or through the National Campaign Coordinator, Fleur Smith.
To find out more about Family Matters, please click here.
Families across Queensland have a voice in decisions for their children
Queensland Government announced its commitment to invest in family-led decision making when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Changing Tracks: An Action Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families 2017- 2019. This comes after a trial was conducted in four sites across Queensland from April 2016 to end of June 2017 and is a testament to the quality work undertaken during the trials.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-led Decision Making trials involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers from Ipswich (Kummara), Mt Isa (AIDRWA), Cairns (Wuchopperen Health Service) and Thursday Island (Port Kennedy Association) employing family-led decision making convenors to support families to keep children safe and connected to family, culture and community. Funding was provided by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.
Some participating families were already involved in the child safety system, and other families were at risk of department involvement if family dynamics impacting on the children did not improve. Services focused on building up support networks and empowering families to voice their concerns and what they’d like to see change for their children’s futures.
To work with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander convenor, either outside of or along with the Department, gave families hope for change and self-directed steps to take to “get child safety out of our lives”.
One father was so engaged and motivated by the process he urged his family to be the first in the trials to complete all the actions they identified for themselves in their family plan. He also returned to the service at a later date asking for another copy of their plan when he felt the need to self-review. Child Safety Service Centre staff supported this process by empowering the service to lead family meetings and the process of engaging family, community and kin.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead the process and were able to build trust and rapport with families, speak in language and explain child safety worries in ways family could understand, listen to families own concerns and worries, engage children and young people for their viewpoints, and reconnect family members where shame, distance, isolation or previous traumatic experiences had broken contact. Cultural strengths and children’s sense of belonging were at the heart of family meetings and decisions.
One convenor reflected on her role and her ability to provide culturally safe and sensitive support throughout the process of meeting families including the children, preparing them for a family meeting, and then holding a family-led decision making meeting: "They [families] are happy to do it [family led decision making] with us because we're murri's. I think that's the bottom line".
Convenors carried a caseload of up to 6 families at one time, with support lasting from three weeks to nine months or more. Each family is different, with some families needing several family meetings over a longer period of time while other families found that issues were sorted during the preparation phase and a family meeting was not necessary.
The key differences of this approach include:
- Child safety is not present when family first learns of the worries which allows time for processing the information before moving into a meeting
- Family plans are created in the family’s own words
- Family members and support people choose for themselves what they can commit to and provide for the safety of children
- Everyone focuses on building on what is working well for the family and the belief that the children can remain safe in family’s care.
SNAICC has supported the implementation of the trial through enabling peer sharing and support by convenors, as well as through training, site visits, practice support, collaborative discussions with department representatives, and engagement of an Expert Advisory Group for guidance and cultural advice throughout the trial.
The trials finished end of June and an external evaluation is underway. The evaluation is being conducted by Aboriginal consultancy Winangali, in partnership with international research company Ipsos. The evaluation will seek to understand what worked well for different families in different contexts in relation to this model and what can be improved to strengthen the family-led decision making model.
Evaluation findings will be used to inform planning and service delivery, and by the Department to make decisions about future design and funding of the model.
The findings and learnings will enhance practice reforms currently underway in Queensland in regard to family support and wellbeing services provided through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers.
The picture shows the convenors and trial partners celebrating successes and the positive news that the government intends to continue increasing their empowerment of families and community organisations in decision making.
Reconnection: Relationships with Family, Community and Culture
The Department of Child Safety, Far North Queensland (FNQ) has commenced a project to reconnect Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out-of-home care with their maternal and paternal families, communities of origin and cultures.
‘Reconnection: Relationships with Family, Community & Culture’ commenced in late 2016 and focuses on the cohort of children who, due to historical Child Safety practices within the FNQ region, are most vulnerable to being disconnected from their families and communities, and who do not have healthy and meaningful relationships with their families and communities of origin. Reconnecting these children and young people with their family, community of origin and culture will support them to foster their identity and emotional, cultural and spiritual needs. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out of home care, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families involved in the child protection system and carers of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people are included in the target group for the initiative.
Supporting these Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people to develop strong, healthy relationships with family, community and cultures is a key aim of the project. These aims are strengthened through collaboration between Child Safety Service Centre (CSSC) staff and non-government service providers when identifying extended family who are able to support each child to achieve a sense of identity and belonging.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in CSSCs, Recognised Entities and Wuchopperen Health Service’s Culturally Appropriate Foster and Kinship Service are involved in the project, capitalising on their unique skills and local knowledge. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Safety Support Officers in each CSSC lead the ‘Reconnection’ work and assist Child Safety Officers to identify and support children and young people who are part of the initiative.
The project seeks to achieve true cultural identification of children and young people (Language/Clan/Tribal Group), potential community of origin placements, completion of meaningful Cultural Support Plans, respecting children and young people’s views and wishes to facilitate their healing journey, developing and nurturing relationships with significant family/community members, and engagement and true partnerships with community organisations/members.
Embedding culturally responsive Child Safety practice across the service delivery continuum in the FNQ region, including modelling to other sector partners across the service system is a strategic goal of ‘Reconnect’.
Kowanyama family reconnected
Photo courtesy of Ray Lennox and Stuart Barty (CSSOs Cape South CSSC)
Acknowledgement – FNQ Child Safety Service Area Leadership Team and FNQ Child Safety Child and Family Cultural Advice Team
QATSICPP would like to acknowledge Joanne Borg from The Department of Child Safety, Far North Queensland who leads the implementation of this project.
Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017 - Submissions Open
On 9 August 2017, the Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence (Minister Fentiman) introduced the Child Protection Reform Amendment Bill 2017 into the Queensland Parliament. The Bill proposes important changes to Queensland’s child protection laws and progresses the priority reforms arising from the review. Key proposed changes aim to achieve:
- permanency and stability for children, now and throughout their lives, including support when they leave care;
- the safe care and connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with their families, communities and cultures; and
- a contemporary information sharing framework focused on children’s safety and wellbeing.
The Bill has been referred to the Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee for consideration. The committee is required to report back to Parliament by 28 September 2017.
Call for submissions
The committee seeks submissions on the Bill and invites you or your organisation to make a submission. We would appreciate you passing our call for submissions on to anyone you believe might be interested in the issue.
An information sheet which provides guidelines on making a submission can be found here - Guide to making a submission
Written submissions should be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to:
Health, Communities, Disability Services, and Domestic and Violence Prevention Committee
Brisbane Qld 4000
Submissions should include:
- the author’s name and signature
- if the submission is made on behalf of an organisation, the level of approval (e.g. a local branch, executive committee or national organisation)
- mailing address (and email if available), and
- daytime telephone number.
Please ensure your submission includes the above information or it may not be considered by the Committee.
The closing date for submissions is Thursday, 30 August 2017 at 4.00pm.
Post-Conference Tour – 16-17 June 2017
The Post-Conference Tour was held from the 16th to the 17th of June 2017.
One of the first stops that we made was at a town called Masi which was the hometown of the conference coordinator, Christina Hætta. The government wanted to build a dam that would result in the town being flooded with water. The Sami people fought against this happening and the second picture on the left depicts their fight. It demonstrated to me the importance of people power and standing up for our land.
In Kautokeino, we had the opportunity to visit the Sami University (pictured in the top left). The three main departments are: Department of Linguistics; Department of Social Sciences; and, Department of Duodji (traditional Sami handicraft) and Teacher Education. FYI: they are super keen to form partnerships with Australia!
One of my highlights was visiting the Sami Parliament of Norway (the large building in the middle). The Sami Parliament was first convened in 1989. They work under the Sami Act and are a representative body for the Sami people.
I had the opportunity to visit a traditional sea Sami village as well as the northern most part of Europe – Northcape.
So, can anyone guess what’s in the photo on the top right? It’s a seagull egg and dried Moose heart. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an opportunity to taste either however I heard from my fellow tour buddies that the egg just tasted like a normal egg and the Moose heart was definitely different!
Overall, the Post-Conference Tour was a great way to hear more about the history of the Sami people and also to speak informally with the conference delegates.
Article by Candice Butler