AbSec conference blog:
Day 3, Friday 24 November
Our biennial conference ended on a positive note, with a palpable mood of optimism and empowerment – exactly what we had wanted to instil through the last three days.
Making a difference: why we must do it
AbSec CEO Tim Ireland began the day with an address reminding our Aboriginal practitioners that they do important work every day, and while change may be slow, they are making a vital difference. He complimented the passion and expertise of the Aboriginal staff with us today, numbering over 100, and their unwavering commitment to our communities.
Tim then gave an outline of AbSec’s Youth Ambassador Program, which gives 10 young people the opportunity to consult with other young people across the state and make their views heard. It was a privilege to hear from Isaiah Dawe, one of our amazing youth ambassadors, who displayed great courage in sharing his story of growing up in foster care. Isaiah has been through abuses that no child should ever be subjected to, and while Tim’s speech had told us that we can do better, Isaiah’s story reminded us that we must.
Overcoming challenges, effective consultation, art therapy and health
After hearing from Isaiah we broke into four workshops on diverse topics. Scott Wesley from Wesley Consulting spoke about the unique challenges faced by not-for-profit and community organisations, and ideas for how to combat these challenges. He outlined some of the key barriers we have to overcome, including a lack of funding to devote to internal capacity-building activities such as leadership training, and the inability to compete with the private sector on staff salaries.
Candice Butler and Nadia Currie from Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak (QATSICPP) again took to the podium, sharing the success story of their Knowledge Circles community consultation program. While private sector groups had previously been given funding to consult Aboriginal communities on their concerns and ideas, in the end QATSICPP managed to do this far more effectively and extensively, with much less investment. It’s yet another great example of the power of Aboriginal-controlled solutions.
Siobhan Lowthe and Sarah Versitano from KidsXpress spoke about the benefits of art therapy for children, particularly for children who have experienced trauma. Finding the words to express our emotions and worries can be hard for anyone, and it’s even more of a challenge for young people. Siobhan and Sarah showed us how art can bridge this gap and give expression to complex feelings.
At AbSec we’re excited to partner with KidsXpress to deliver a new art therapy program for Aboriginal children, which we’ll be able to tell you more about soon. Watch this space!
Meanwhile, Sharnee Townsend and Emily Goldsmith from NSW Health spoke about current health services provided for Aboriginal people, families and communities, as well as new projects and strategies currently in development.
Family law, the NDIS and the Care Act
In our final workshop session, Judge Stephen Coates talked about the work of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, while two AbSec staff members presented on their areas of expertise.
His Honour Judge Stephen Coates explained for our attendees how the Federal Circuit Court deals with family law cases across Australia and the thinking that goes into their decisions. He encouraged parents to exercise their right to show up in family court hearings and be informed of the process in family disputes.
Mick Scarcella from AbSec gave a general introduction session to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and its relevance to Aboriginal people. Mick told us that while Aboriginal people experience disability 70% more than non-Aboriginal Australians, we represent just a “drop in the ocean” of NDIS participants and NDIS funding. The NDIS presents an opportunity for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to expand their services and provide much-needed disability supports under the NDIS to our community members.
AbSec’s Paul Gray also delivered a policy hack-a-thon session, looking in detail at the NSW Department of Family and Community Services’ proposed legislative reforms to the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act. There are a number of areas of uncertainty and concern within these proposals, including the intent to relax provisions around guardianship and adoption of Aboriginal children.
And that’s a wrap!
Paul Gray also led the final session of the conference, a wrap-up and discussion of the events of the last three days. Attendees told us that their highlights included the addresses from John Tamihere on day 1 and Isaiah Dawe today, and reiterated their belief that the NSW Government needs to lift its game in providing effective, well-resourced services for Aboriginal children and families.
We hope that all attendees leave beautiful Coffs Harbour today with a much clearer understanding of the current system, how it helps Aboriginal kids and how it needs to improve to help our people achieve greater health, happiness and wellbeing. Most importantly, we hope you’ll take these discussions home with you and keep talking about what we can do better – empowering our children, families and communities across NSW.