- Monday 7 November 2016
- Written by Peta Cooper
BDAC’s involvement in the Section 18 Rural Pilot Program aimed at improving outcomes for vulnerable Aboriginal children is another step along the road to self-determination...
For Raylene Harradine, the concept was a no-brainer.
The Department of Health and Human Services was looking for a regional Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation willing to take on more responsibility in the child welfare arena.
As CEO of the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative, Ms Harradine saw it as an opportunity to introduce positive changes, to ensure cultural sensitivities were respected, and to give Aboriginal communities a say in the future of some of their most vulnerable members.
“The mainstream child protection system has often failed Indigenous families, and this was evident from hearings held as part of the Taskforce 1000 investigation into Aboriginal children in out-of-home care,” she said.
“In many instances, this stems from a lack of cultural understanding and the failure to recognise that people are often doing the very best they can with the limited resources around them.
“Sitting on the T1000 panel in Loddon and hearing some of the stories of systemic deficiencies, I was determined that we should and would take on the Section 18 Rural Pilot Program to offer at-risk children and families a holistic cultural approach to their safety, healing and connection.”
Ms Harradine put her hand up on behalf of BDAC and the department approved a 12-month trial under Section 18 of the Children, Youth and Families Act. It started in July 2016.
This effectively means BDAC now has more involvement in the decision making, planning, and case management of children and parents, specifically those who are subject to Family Preservation or Reunification orders made by the Children’s Court.
Up to 15 local families can be involved at any one time.
BDAC Section 18 Project Manager Rachel O’Dowd said she was confident it offered better outcomes by promoting cultural consistency and being more inclusive of families.
She said the difference could be something as simple as having an Aboriginal community member in the room with a vulnerable family during welfare meetings, which encouraged trust.
Or ensuring children and parents remained on country, rather than being unsettled by having to travel hundreds of kilometres away from home to attend crucial discussions about their future.
Or linking Aboriginal families with other culturally appropriate services offered by BDAC or external agencies, that could help them throughout their journey.
“In countries like Canada and New Zealand, Aboriginal organisations have for many years been allowed to work with vulnerable children on court orders,” Ms O’Dowd said.
“This allows a larger Aboriginal voice to be heard on a bigger platform. It is Aboriginal people talking about Aboriginal people and that promotes more buy-in about cultural awareness.
”Taking into account the Stolen Generation and the impact of white settlement, it tries to ensure Aboriginal parents don’t feel disenfranchised even further.”
Section 18 of the Act that endorses the pilot program came into effect in 2005, yet this is just the second such trial of its kind in Victoria and the first outside of metropolitan Melbourne.
It only applies to Family Preservation Orders (where at-risk children remain at home and strategies are put in place to avoid removal) and Family Reunification Orders (where out-of-home care is provided while the family addresses the issues that led to protective concerns).
Families must agree to be part of the program; the Principal Officer of the organisation running it must be Aboriginal; and DHHS remains involved for support but can intervene if needed.
Ms O’Dowd said local feedback to date had been encouraging.
“From our experience, it makes such a difference to families to have Aboriginal case managers or even just an Aboriginal presence in the room for that cultural connection.”
She said central to that success was taking a “strength-based approach” to case management, which focused on the positives, what was working well within families, what their strengths were and how they could be applied in areas that need improving.
This was in direct contrast to the historical “deficit-based approach”, she said, which targeted the problems, highlighted people’s weaknesses, and was a more negative way of seeking solutions.
Ms O’Dowd said the Section 18 pilot was a learning curve for everyone, and ongoing education and evaluation would be important to its long-term implementation locally and further afield.
“BDAC has shown great leadership and strength of character that they are prepared to step up and take this on,” she said.
“But it is a big step forward for self-determination, where Aboriginal people are going to be able to make decisions around the vulnerable children in the community.”
● As well as the department, BDAC is working closely alongside Anglicare, Mallee Family Care and Njernda Aboriginal Corporation in Echuca to deliver the Section 18 Rural Pilot. For more information, contact BDAC on 5442 4947.