AbSec conference blog:
Day 1, Wednesday 22 November
We kicked off our 2017 biennial conference today in a rainy Coffs Harbour, welcoming around 170 guests to a jam-packed agenda on how to empower Aboriginal children, families and communities.
Guests were treated to a warm welcome to Gumbaynggir country from Uncle Barry Hoskins as well as traditional dances Girrwaa Galambilanyarr. Then it was straight into our Sector Conference keynote address from John Tamihere, CEO of Te Whamau O Waipareira Trust (an urban Maori authority delivering not-for-profit services).
Self-determination and strengthening
John spoke about the need to enact self-determination through Indigenous groups setting up their own services, ranging from everyday support to high-level research. He spoke on how using the “cruel, brutal tool” of the criminal justice system to manage people is not only “unacceptable” from a human rights perspective, but economically expensive and counter-productive.
The point that most resonated with our audience was that children and families are “not problems to be solved, but human beings to be developed”. We don’t ‘solve’ people, we strengthen them.
“Nothing will get better for Indigenous people on both sides of the Tasman until the powers that be, put power into brown hands,” John said. On the bright side, he believes we’re not far off a tipping point where this will become more of a reality.
Cultural connections, innovation and benchmarking
After morning tea we broke into three workshops. Stevie Kirby from AbSec facilitated an interactive workshop on creating cultural connections for Aboriginal children in care: a sneak-peek of our upcoming cultural connections workshop program, which will be offered (for a fee) to all child protection and child support agencies working with Aboriginal people in the near future.
Sidney Williams from Queensland child protection peak QATSICPP spoke about their new practice standards and supervision framework; exciting new processes for Queensland, with similarities to our existing ones in New South Wales.
Meanwhile Zoe Zeller and Alyssa Martin from the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation talked about NGO benchmarking and its benefits for Aboriginal organisations. The Department’s new benchmarking standards will act as a tool to help our organisations identify where and how they should build internal capacity.
Sector sustainability, reportable conduct and the new Aboriginal Case Management Policy
After lunch Candice Butler from QATSICPP spoke about the need to strengthen our sector and take care of ourselves as practitioners, as a first step towards building better outcomes for our children and families.
Julianna Demetrius from the NSW Ombudsman’s Office clarified some frequently asked questions on reportable conduct, and encouraged child protection practitioners to not be afraid of reporting to the Ombudsman – they’re there to help.
Cathrine Tarrant and Bruce Shillingsworth from AbSec explained the new Aboriginal Case Management Policy and Guidance which is nearing finalisation, and will guide future work in protecting Aboriginal children and supporting their families. We hope this policy will form a cornerstone of the child protection system and are very excited to present it to the hard-working practitioners in our sector.
FACS Permanency Support Program
The afternoon session provided an opportunity for participants to express their concerns regarding the Department of Family and Community Services’ (FACS) emerging Permanency Support Program. Simone Czech from FACS outlined the Department’s goals for Aboriginal children: to reduce their over-representation in the child protection system, provide earlier interventions and prevent removal from families, and promote long-term solutions to benefit their sense of security and development.
Attendees were relieved to hear that FACS does not consider adoption to be in the best interests of Aboriginal children, though at AbSec we remain concerned that the Department refuses to rule out facilitating further adoptions. Our position remains unchanged: that adoption will never be appropriate for our children, as it represents a permanent separation from family, culture and community.
It was good to see FACS reiterate their target to increase Aboriginal families’ access to early intervention services, with a 30% funding target for services delivered through Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
Time for change
AbSec CEO Tim Ireland concluded the day with a clear call-to-action, to reduce the worsening rate of Aboriginal children removed from their families and placed into state care. At our previous conference two years ago, around 5,000 Aboriginal children were in the NSW out-of-home care system; now, that number has risen to over 6,000. It’s unacceptable, and we cannot accept complacency.
Tim also had the honour of introducing the new AbSec Learning and Development Centre, a registered training organisation offering accredited courses from early next year. We will offer training in child protection, community services and organisational governance, with a focus on cultural proficiency. We are now accepting Expressions of Interest to enrol in a Diploma of Leadership and Management; the form can be downloaded from the new AbSec LDC website.
That’s a wrap on day 1, as we prepare for tonight’s dinner function featuring performances from singer Rochelle Pitt and comedian Kevin Kropinyeri. Tomorrow our Workers Conference begins, where Aboriginal sector workers will enjoy a further two days of informative and thought-provoking sessions. Catch our updates on Facebook and Twitter, and look out for tomorrow’s blog at the end of the day.