Connect to Culture Children’s Day

Last Friday staff from the Office of the Guardian joined in the celebrations of this year’s national Children’s Day at the Aboriginal Family Support Services’ Connect to Culture Children’s Day event.

Now in its third year, the event, which was held at the Parafield Gardens Recreation Centre, was a great way to celebrate the culture and strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and learn about the importance of culture, family and community in their lives.

There were a number of activities for children and adults alike, including weaving, painting, boomerang making, face painting, balloon twisting, jumping castles and live music.

To the delight of the children (and adults), Oog also made a surprise appearance and even busted out a few moves on the dance floor.


Aboriginal Family Support Services Cultural Advisor, Barbara Falla organised the third Connect to Culture event.

Quarterly advocacy report sees rise of in-mandate enquiries

There has been a 58 per cent increase in the number of enquiries within our mandate (i.e. in relation to children and young people in care) received by the Office of the Guardian in the last financial year, compared with the previous financial year.

The Office of the Guardian’s quarterly summary of individual advocacy data from April to June 2019 showed that in the last quarter 115 in-mandate enquiries were received, bringing the total of in-mandate enquiries for the 2018/19 financial year to 406, an increase from 256 from the previous year.

It is difficult to be sure about the reason for the dramatic increase but Assessment and Referral Officer Courtney Mostert said the increased presence of the Office of the Guardian’s staff out in the field and identifying individual needs for advocacy certainly contributed to the rise. The increase of children living in state care could also have been a contributing factor.

Of the 406 enquiries received, the majority of children were aged 10 to 17, lived in residential care and were requesting advocacy support.

The top four issues remained unchanged from the 2017/18 year, with having a secure and stable place to live being the greatest concern. This was followed by issues around having contact with their birth and extended family, not feeling safe, and feeling like they’re not playing an active role in the decision-making process for the issues that affect them.

Office of the Guardian celebrates NAIDOC Week

This NAIDOC week we were fortunate to be involved in a number of events celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This year’s theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future‘ acknowledges that Indigenous Australians have always wanted a greater role in the nation’s decision making processes.

Office of the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor staff at the NAIDOC Family Fun Day

Office of the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor Unit staff joined in the celebrations at the South Australian NAIDOC Family Fun Day at Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square). The event followed the NAIDOC March and included more than 40 stall holders from government and non-government organisations.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather kept Oog away, but the staff team had valuable discussions and shared some of our resources.

Voice. Treaty. Truth. poster painted by Arrin Hazelbane

Arrin Hazelbane from the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People kindly allowed us to display his poster at our stall after the march.

Office of the Guardian resources at the stall

New mural celebrates the talent of young people in care and detention

Some of the creators of the Office of the Guardian’s new foyer mural got to see it in place for the first time at a special party. Guardian Penny Wright complimented the young artists in care and in detention on their work and thanked artist Fran Callen and the many others in child protection and youth detention who helped bring the project to fruition over the last eight months.

NZ remand homes emphasise culture and connection

In 2017-18, half of the young people detained in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre were on remand, awaiting trial or sentencing.  Though not convicted of an offence, they are removed, often far, from family, community and culture adding to their stress and social dislocation and placing them into contact with young people already experienced in serious offending.

Faced with a similar situation, youth justice authorities in New Zealand have trialed a different approach.

Te Whare Awhi or ‘the home of support’ is a community-based remand home in Palmerston North in New Zealand’s north island. It opened in late 2017 and is one of five of its kind across the country. It provides an alternative to youth justice detention or police cells for young people on remand.

The intention is to create a safe home-like environment for young people going through the court process without taking them away from their community.

The length of stay depends on the circumstances, but the average is 30 days.

Kyle Kuiti is the Operations Manager of Youth Justice Residences and was previously Manager of Youth Justice Residence in Palmerston North, including Te Whare Awhi.

‘Taking them away from community strips them of everything…’

Mr Kuiti said this new approach sets residents up for a far more successful transition back to community.

‘Taking them away from community strips them of everything and then we’re left wondering why they fail,’ he said.

Initially, the remand homes were for young people on the lower end of the offending spectrum but they now house those charged with more serious offences for whom it is judged likely to be effective.

Before remand homes were established, there were few options for young people on remand. As in South Australia, young people were placed in youth justice detention because there was nowhere else for them to go.

The remand homes keep young people charged with minor offending away from more serious offenders and help prevent them returning to the justice system.

During their time in the remand homes, young Māoris remain part of the community. They’re encouraged to get involved with sporting clubs and other positive social activities and encouraged and supported to engage with education.

Kyle Kuiti said that initially communities were tentative when the remand homes were opened but now attitudes have changed.

‘When we do community projects now, the neighbours come in to give their support,’ he said.

New Zealand’s Māori young people are over-represented in the youth justice system, as are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Australia.

‘Everything we do is wrapped around culture…’

Mr Kuiti said incorporating Māori culture in youth justice is vital and that it’s at the centre of their practice.

‘Everything we do is wrapped around culture. Prior to this, we would talk about culture but we didn’t invest in it,’ he said.

Te whare tapa whā is a Māori model of care. It identifies four areas of Māori health—taha whanau (family health), taha tinana (physical health), taha hinengaro (mental health) and taha wairu (spiritual health).

The model envisages each of these as the four walls needed for the house to be strong. If one wall is weak or out of balance, the house is not stable.

Kyle Kuiti said this approach and model of care works with all young people, not just young Māoris.

‘We might just need to adapt it a little to fit with their culture. It’s not about trying to squeeze a family to fit into the model, it’s about working with them to make it fit for them.’

The remand homes are part of the community, not removed from it. Across New Zealand, iwi—Māori communities or extended kinship groups deliver a range of social services. Kyle Kuiti said it involves working with communities, rebuilding trust and connecting families with available services.

‘It’s about empowering communities to take care of themselves and working with families to determine their needs.’

‘We want to help young people realise they would rather be in communities than in a youth justice residence,’ he said.

The importance of a strong connection to culture

From observations and conversations with young residents, the Training Centre Visitor Unit has stressed the importance of a strong connection to culture for residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre – and the New Zealand model has appeal.

‘Allowing young people awaiting trial or sentencing to stay close to their community in a homelike facility would mean they could maintain vital kinship and cultural connections,’ said Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright.

In May this year, New Zealand’s Office of the Children’s Commissioner conducted a review of Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children and looked at remand decision-making for young people and their whānau (extended family or local community of related families). Its recommendations include that Oranga Tamariki significantly increase the number of community-based remand and specialist care options and that these facilities be located close to whānau and staffed by people experienced in working with young people.

National principles for child safe organisations

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found many organisations had failed to protect children and to respond appropriately when information about abuse was disclosed.

In response to findings and recommendations from the Royal Commission, the Australian Government commissioned the development of the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell led the development of the National Principles, in consultation with relevant peak organisations, children and young people, and Commonwealth and state governments.

Reflecting the ten child safe standards recommended by the Royal Commission, the National Principles go beyond sexual abuse to include other forms of harm to children and young people.

The National Principles apply to government, non-government and commercial organisations, including early childhood services, schools, out-of-home care, sports clubs, churches, youth groups, health services and youth detention services.

The ten National Principles put the best interests of children and young people front and centre. They cover all aspects of what organisations need to do to keep young people safe—from the culture of the organisation and the role of families and communities, to the recruitment and ongoing training of staff and respecting equity and diversity.

Many organisations across the country already work hard to ensure children and young people are protected from harm. The National Principles are not intended to override existing measures, but create a national minimum benchmark.

How will they be implemented?

In February 2019, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the National Principles.

Alongside the National Principles, the National Office for Child Safety (NOCS) was established in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the Australian Government’s response to the Royal Commission. The NOCS will work with state and territory governments and organisations to lead the implementation of the National Principles.

In South Australia, the Department for Education will lead the implementation of the National Principles with state-specific resources and supporting tools to be developed. Organisations providing care to children and young people will need to continue to meet the Child safe Environments: Principles of Good Practice while the implementation of the National Principles is progressing.

How can an organisation adopt the National Principles?

Each National Principle is accompanied by key action areas and indicators that act as a guide for organisations to ensure they are implemented in practice.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has developed a range of tools and resources to assist in the implementation of the National Principles. An introductory video provides further explanation on the development and future implementation of the National Principles and a Learning Hub and Practical Tools provide organisations further guidance.

For children and young people

The National Principles are about putting children and young people at the centre of practice. The AHRC has developed resources for children and young people and a version of the National Principles in child-friendly language. It also covers information for parents and carers how to identify an organisation is child safe.

 

National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week artwork

Penny Wright – Guardian and Training Centre Visitor

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is a time for all Australians to learn about, and celebrate, our shared histories, cultures, and achievements and to explore the part we can each play in reconciliation.

Each year, this special week runs from 27 May to 3 June, commemorating two significant dates—the successful 1967 referendum that effectively granted Aboriginal people the right ‘to be counted’ in their own land, and the High Court Mabo decision.

This year’s theme Grounded in Truth: Walk Together in Courage, highlights the importance of truth-telling in fostering positive relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community. To better understand each other, we must be willing to have—and encourage—honest and challenging conversations with each other and within ourselves.

That was certainly the experience of nearly 2000 South Australians at the NRW Breakfast hosted by Reconciliation SA on 27 May. It is the biggest event of its kind in Australia and in her keynote speech, Dr Chelsea Bond of the University of Queensland spoke unequivocal truth about power.

In our work, advocating for children and young people, there are many challenging conversations that must be had.

Across Australia, including in South Australia, Aboriginal children and young people continue to be disproportionately represented in youth justice and out-of-home care. In confronting this troubling situation, as well as the intergenerational trauma that brought us here, we must insist on the right of children to know their community and their cultural and spiritual identity. We must listen to, value and share the voices and stories of Aboriginal young people.

Residents of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre have expressed concern about the lack of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal cultural programming. We will continue to advocate for this, as well as the appropriate placement of young people.

These three things must be key in the lives of Aboriginal children:  culture, connection and community.

The Guardian’s Newsletter – May 2019

Check out the May 2019 edition of the Guardian’s Newsletter:

  • young artists making a final contribution to the mural celebrating young people in state care
  • a new focus on family in child protection brings opportunities and challenges
  • a Charter of Rights for Children and Young People Detained in Training Centres
  • and more…


A new focus on family

By Guardian Penny Wright and Malcolm Downes

The State Government’s newly announced strategy An Intensive Support System for South Australia’s children and families promises a more sustained and holistic response to child protection by shifting the focus to families.  Under the strategy the Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks (CFARNs), the Child Wellbeing Practitioner and Strong Start programs will be brought together in a new Intensive Support Unit to be formed in the Department for Human Services.

The family, in its many styles and structures, remains at the core of human society.  It is how we care for each other, a basic economic unit, a basis for our sense of who we are, a psychological comfort and a vehicle for raising our children.  It is also the site of some of our greatest problems, of violence, abuse and neglect.  Over generations it can perpetuate our noblest aspirations but also nurture our darkest failings.  For some families, problems with poverty, debt, unemployment, drug misuse, mental illness, family violence, insecure housing and contact with the justice system combine to create major barriers to the enjoyment of the relative wellbeing and wealth that our community has to offer.

Informed by the research commissioned on the back of the Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System in SA, the Department’s planned Intensive Support Unit promises to focus squarely on the families with the most entrenched and challenging issues.  It aims to work with families to identify issues they face and coordinate the services and supports they need in sustained way.  In the past we have striven to ‘rehabilitate’ the individual young offender or ‘cure’ the person with a mental illness without regard for the social circumstances they came from and to which, in all likelihood, they will return.  The Department’s new strategy will refocus the bulk of the family support, domestic violence and children’s support services that it provides and contracts on these families.

‘Troubled Families’

The rationale and structure resembles the Troubled Families program that has been in place in the United Kingdom since 2012. The program recently released its National evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme 2015-2020: Findings Evaluation overview policy reportIn the UK program, intervention is based on a keyworker who builds an understanding of problems and of the individual family dynamics. They look at the totality of what’s going on and use what the report calls ‘a persistent and assertive approach establishing a relationship with the family and working closely with them to make sure the family resolve their problems’. The keyworker agrees on a plan with the family and local services so that interventions are sequenced and coordinated and there is a shared ownership of outcomes among service providers.

The evaluation report shows some headline gains including an almost one-third reduction in children being taken into care after a 19-24 month intervention and a one-quarter reduction in young people receiving custodial sentences.  The economic benefits and net budget savings modeled in the report make a strong argument for the UK Government to persist with the program.

We should anticipate that the South Australian strategy, like Troubled Families, will encounter some challenges as it is rolled out.  Services will need to adapt their practice, data collection and information sharing to a family-based way of working – and being funded.  We can look to the NDIS as an example of the difficulties a change of service and funding model can produce for clients and providers if not well managed, no matter how well intended. The shift to a payment-by-results model can produce distortions in the provision of services and a gaming of the system if not well-conceived and managed from the outset.

Aboriginal families

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new strategy will be how well it addresses the outcomes for Aboriginal families. The last Closing the Gap report confirmed that, after more than ten years of investment, we still struggle to provide services to the Aboriginal community that are culturally safe, trusted and effective.  If we shift the focus to families we will have to understand and embrace an Aboriginal concept of family which is very different in how it operates to the white European model on which much of our current system is based.  On top of that we will have to translate what words like ‘disadvantaged’, ‘troubled’, ‘struggling’, ‘complex’, and the many other policy terms governments use, mean to Aboriginal families. It will need to develop an understanding of how Aboriginal families define their needs and what success means to them.

To its credit, the new DHS strategy explicitly acknowledges the necessity for serious Aboriginal involvement in the design and governance of the new system and in the decisions that affect the lives of Aboriginal families and children.  Getting this right for Aboriginal families will be a touchstone for the success of the strategy as a whole and its ability to serve the very diverse set of groupings and relationships that we call ‘family’ in the 21st Century.

The latest CREATE report highlights the good and bad for children in state care

For its latest report, the CREATE Foundation surveyed 1,275 young people around Australia with care experience, covering topics including health, education and connection to culture.

Out-of-Home Care in Australia: Children and Young People’s Views After 5 Years of National Standards reports that 93 per cent of young people felt safe and secure in their placement and 96 per cent had a meaningful connection with a family member that they expect to maintain. It also found 93 per cent had regular health checks.

Among the positive views from young people, the report also raises their concerns, some of which we examine below with a particular focus on the situation of young people in care in South Australia..

Split placements

Of the respondents with siblings, 36 per cent were separated from all their brothers and sisters. South Australia had the highest proportion of split placements with 53 per cent.

Sibling contact was high in this state, which the report suggests could reflect the higher number of split placements. The report recommends South Australia adopt a program like Victoria’s Keeping Connected program announced last year.

Connection to culture

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people continue to be over-represented in out of home care. About one third of Indigenous respondents of the CREATE survey felt strongly connected to their culture while one third reported little connection.

A cultural support plan is designed to maintain children and young people’s cultural identity. The CREATE Foundation report found that just 18 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people interviewed were aware of having a cultural support plan.

Transition plans

From the age of 15 it is expected that young people will start planning and preparing to transition from care. A plan to assist them in this process is created in collaboration with the young person’s caseworker and carer and covers things like housing, education, life skills and employment.

Almost one quarter of respondents 15 years old were aware of having a transition plan which increased to just 40 per cent for 17 and 18 year olds. Awareness varied across the states with South Australia having the lowest awareness at 18 per cent while Western Australia had the highest with 65 per cent.

The report found young people who were involved in developing their plans tended find them more useful.

Charter of Rights awareness

The survey found that around two thirds of young people across Australia were not aware of the existence of The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care in their state or the rights it described. This response was consistent across the states and territories. The report suggests that to be effective, statements of the rights must be properly implemented not be tokenistic.

The CREATE Foundation also released a young person’s report in a style more attuned to young readers.