‘Looking for a better life for children is looking at the families first’: Jade’s story
Tuesday 23 April 2019
Jade Naden is a Wiradjuri and Gumbaynggir woman from Nambucca Heads, on the NSW mid north coast. At just 18 years old, she’s an early childcare worker, a Youth Ambassador with AbSec, and a proud advocate for her people and culture.
Jade says her path wasn’t always clear. She left high school in Year 11 and watched some of her peers lose their way. For a while she felt that she was destined to do nothing with her life, but it was the strength of culture that pulled her through.
“Being Aboriginal is the proudest thing in my life, to know that that’s my people. It made me so proud to see what we’ve actually done and how far we’ve come to this day,” she says. “It taught me that no matter what, I can still get up and do what I want.”
Jade realised that her passion lies in helping kids, particularly Aboriginal kids. Since she was 17 she’s been working at an Aboriginal preschool. She’s the youngest staff member there, but her youth helps her connect with the little ones.
At the moment, Jade’s focus is on completing her diploma in childcare and advocating for Aboriginal youth through AbSec. She is staunchly opposed to recent changes to the law in NSW that clear the way for more adoptions of Aboriginal children from out-of-home care. Across Australia, Indigenous children are 11 times more likely to be removed from their parents by child protection authorities.
Jade doesn’t hold back her words: she thinks the push towards adoption is the “stupidest” move in a while. “That shouldn’t have been put in place at all,” she says.
Under the new laws, parents of children in out-of-home care will have a two-year time limit to resolve the issues that caused their removal. Beyond this deadline, they will no longer have any chance of bringing their kids back home.
Yet the factors that cause children to be removed from their families – especially Aboriginal children – aren’t easily solved. They’re often related to poverty and intergenerational trauma. Services to address these issues are often not available or have a lengthy wait list.
“You’ve got kids and mothers and fathers that are trying to fight for their kids to come back, but now there’s a chance they get adopted,” Jade explains. “They’ve worked so hard to get where they are, and then all of a sudden, the kid gets adopted.”
Jade has never been in the child protection system herself, but her father was an out-of-home care caseworker while she was growing up. Jade attended cultural camps where she met and befriended several kids in out-of-home care, and was shocked by what she learned.
“It actually ruined their life being removed from their families, and being moved [between care placements] ruined it even more. I met a couple [of kids] who couldn’t read, couldn’t write.”
The kids attending the camps often had little knowledge of their cultural heritage. Amid the sadness, it gave Jade hope to see the smiles on their faces when they got to connect with country and learn traditional arts and skills.
“I grew up knowing all this stuff and it’s sad to see that they didn’t even know what culture they come from or what we used to do and all that.”
In her work as an AbSec Youth Ambassador, Jade has continued to interact with Aboriginal young people who’ve been through the child protection system. She thinks the system continues to be “really harsh” in its treatment of Aboriginal children and families.
“It breaks my heart to know that this is happening in a world that’s really advanced,” she says. “It shouldn’t be happening in these times.”
So what needs to change?
Jade says the solutions lie with families. She points to her own family, an extended network of relatives and community members who all look out for each other, and she says that many kids in the system have that same network back home.
“They need families. They just can’t be passed off to any living human that applies to become a foster carer,” she says. “Sometimes children just need family, even if they’re aunties, they’re uncles, they’re grandparents, if they’re cousins.”
Under the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, child protection authorities are meant to place Indigenous children with family or kin before looking for placements outside of their community. But Jade has talked to enough Aboriginal young people to know this doesn’t always happen in practice.
“Looking at a better life for the children is looking at the families first,” Jade says. “Stick to a family that’s going to willingly show them their culture and who they are.”
AbSec is calling on the NSW Government to stop removing Aboriginal children from their communities and culture. Please add your name to the call: https://absec.org.au/sign.