Throughout my time in Australia’s court systems, welfare services, and child protection services many practitioners have struggled with the controversial topic of how the system should approach addressing social issues involving the aboriginal community.
Even though only a relatively small percentage of the population identifies as aboriginal, aboriginal Australians disproportionately suffer from social problems. Aboriginal communities have disproportionately higher incidences of mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and domestic violence. In parts of New South Whales aboriginal families represent more than 50% of all child protection cases and nearly 70% of cases where children are removed from their families.
The aboriginal Australian community also has a long history of suffering abuse and discrimination by the Australian government. While spending time with aboriginal families, mothers, and elders I have heard horrific stories about the past and recent history of how the government interacts with the aboriginal people.
I have been told that colonists would “scrub” the aboriginal people with harsh brushes as they assumed that their skin was dirty because of its darker color. I learned that until the 1960s the aboriginal people were classified by the Australian government census as “flora and fauna” rather than being defined as human beings.
I heard stories about the “Lost Generation” where an entire generation of aboriginal children was forcibly and inappropriately removed by government child protection agencies solely because of their aboriginal identity. An elder described how the government stopped these children from learning about aboriginal culture, languages, and ways of life. She was adamant that the “Lost Generation” is still happening as aboriginal children are still disproportionately removed from their families.
She further explained that in order to better help both aboriginal families and non-indigenous families with issues of child protection and family violence we need to improve our system to encourage the government, Australian society, and the aboriginal communities to work together.
As she stated, “They may be named ‘Family and Community Services’ (FaCS) but they are not family focused. Their threats, broken agreements, broken promises, cold and clinical approach, and the people lost in the system cause more problems. They [FaCS] need to build our families up rather than tear them apart. We need long-term services that do not set our families up to fail. They [FaCS] normally are quick to grab the kids without even understanding what is going on in the family. They can come and introduce themselves and explain the reasons why they are here. They can ask the mother who her support is and allow the mother to have a support person there with her. They should ask what is going on, what support they can give to the mother, and ask the mother’s opinion. They should show more empathy. They should allow her to cry and get upset rather than calling her mentally ill when she gets emotional. When there is domestic violence involved they should hold her up and build her up rather than steal the children again and again. They need to take the time to understand our families. They need to communicate with us since we all have our own beliefs and ideas. We need to learn about each other. If we are a part of the problem, then we need to be a part of the solution.”
I believe in a family-centered approach like she described where families are the focus of child protection services and investigation. We need to engage our families who are struggling and we need to focus on supporting families so that we can help prevent the escalation of problems. I believe that we need to provide families with individualized supports, services, and plans to help them address the issues that are placing their children’s safety at risk. We need to focus on the protective factors to help address the risk factors.
I believe in a larger, community response. We need to engage the larger community, friends, and extended families in the process of helping one family.
In the past week with Dubbo’s Family and Community Services, I have seen how many dedicated child protection workers are working to have a more family centered approach.
I have seen how the Dubbo Family and Community Services focuses on including the family throughout the process of child protection investigations. I have seen how case workers do so much to try to work with families in order to prevent removal of their children as they try to make families “safe with a plan”.
I shadowed child protection workers who approached families with compassion, understanding, and an open mind. It was amazing to see workers spend time with parents as they tried to understand what parents were thinking, what parents were experiencing, and what supports parents want and need in order to help keep their children safe.
In a case that involved unsubstantiated serious allegations of neglect, physical abuse, and exposure to sexual abuse, rather than forcibly removing the children the case workers worked with the family to create a temporary family placement. A few days later the case workers then held a family meeting where they encouraged the mother to acknowledge her mistakes, helped the mother to feel empowered to engage in services and ask for help, and helped create a system of support and services for the mother that made it possible for the children to be returned to her care that same day.
This type of approach takes dedication, hard work, passion, compassion, and a genuine belief that child protection is not just about children in need, but families in need.
Seeing how hard the Dubbo CSC works to truly help these families further fuels my passion to advocate for children and families. I know that with more resources, more services, and more support these incredible caseworkers can do even more to really make a difference in the lives of families in need. By investing in our system and increasing our services we will be supporting our workers who are every day making the decisions and putting in the work that changes children’s lives.
Even though I only spent a few days with the Dubbo CSC it is hard to say goodbye. I appreciate how I was welcomed and how so many people took the time to talk to me, include me in their work, and get to know me.
A common theme of my year so far is that I am constantly amazed by how much can happen in such a short amount of time and how I can learn so much from so many different people. I have met genuinely wonderful people and have had incredible conversations during my 9 days in Dubbo.
My host, a 76 year old great-grandfather named Allyn, has gone above and beyond in welcoming me to his town and his home. I will always remember him telling me stories and jokes as we shared wonderful home cooked meals together.
I appreciate how he showed me how to care for his chickens, would joke when we would eat their eggs, and how he helped me try new foods including “chicken legs” and duck eggs.
He has truly gone above and beyond in helping me for the past week. On Friday night we enjoyed a date night as we shared a Chinese-Australian meal and then attended a raffle where I bought one ticket and won a meat tray.
The next day he took me to the zoo and we shared a wonderful morning looking at different animals.
It was a complete pleasure to keep him company and spend time getting to know him. He has proven to be one of the most generous and compassionate people that I have come across during my journey so far.
By talking to Allyn I have been reminded to embrace every moment of my journey.
As we talked about family, life, love, and relationships he reminded me to appreciate all of the little things in my journey and in life overall. It was refreshing to meet someone who shares many key aspects of my mindset and how I try to approach relationships, problems, and life.
Even though I only had a very short amount of time in Dubbo, my time spent in the small, rural, town has become one of the highlights of my trip so far.
As I leave Dubbo to spend my final week in Australia with a family in Melbourne, I look forward to all of the people I will meet and everything that I will continue to learn. 🙂