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First Peoples

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Central Australian Aboriginal Congress’ response to: Productivity Commission discussion paper:

What is known about systems that enable the ‘public health approach’ to protecting children?
First Peoples child protection First Nations children First Peoples families First Nations youth Government relations with First Peoples Kinship care Northern Territory

Too many Aboriginal children in and around Alice Springs grow up in an environment marked by poverty, substance abuse, and lack of responsive care and stimulation, with low levels of formal education and school attendance coupled with economic marginalisation and social exclusion. This does not apply to all families – there are many who are working, and able to care for their children well. Nationally, in 2016–17, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 7 times (164.3 per 1,000) as likely as non-Aboriginal children to have received child protection services (22.3 per 1,000), and 10 times (13.6 per 1,000) as likely as non-Aboriginal children to be admitted to out-of-home-care (OOHC) during (1.4 per 1,000). The rate of children in Northern Territory (NT) in out-of-home care (16.8 per 1000) is nearly twice that of the national average (8.7 per 1000) with high rates due to numbers of Aboriginal children who had been removed from their families.

Key points:

  • The most important, measurable and achievable outcomes for families and children should include ensuring no child is removed from their family without a Family Group Conference prior to court proceedings, and with appropriate family members. As well as ensuring the majority of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care are in kinship care, with the carer identified through Family Group Conferencing.
  • To improve outcomes for families, Congress uses a bicultural worker model e.g. Caseworkers (e.g. social workers or psychologists) and Aboriginal Family Support Workers (AFSWs) working in pairs across all aspects of their work with families. Working in bi-cultural pairs combines the skills and knowledge of both workers to build an understanding of family functioning in both the formal world and informal world. Caseworkers bring particular skills in negotiating and understanding the formal world of the family, while AFSWs bring extensive knowledge and skills in negotiating and understanding the informal world of the family and a particular understanding of the cultural context. Moreover, Aboriginal staff with language skills are integral to family engagement and success of programs.
  • The main barrier to a public health approach to child protection is competitive tendering. It is the most difficult and inefficient funding process as funding is not directed to where it is most needed. For almost a decade, there has been an increased emphasis on competitive tendering in the allocation of funds in Aboriginal health, leading to a more fragmented and unstable service delivery environment.
  • To allow greater access to vulnerable Aboriginal families, services should be provided through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS). Aboriginal people consistently prefer to use ACCHSs over mainstream services giving them a strong advantage in addressing access issues. A high Aboriginal workforce supports this.
  • Communities report that repairs and maintenance of public housing is so inadequate that many houses fail to support healthy living i.e. working facilities for washing people, for washing clothes/bedding, for storing/preparing food, and sewerage (‘health hardware’). This has a direct impact on their capacity to protect themselves from key communicable diseases such as trachoma.
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