‘If you take a child out of the community, you’re taking life from them’: Tracey’s story
Thursday 21 March
Tracey Sauerbier wears two hats in her work with Aboriginal young people: she provides support as a Wellness Facilitator for Marathon Health, and kids come to her for guidance as a youth pastor at the local Hope Church.
“My heart is for a safe community and a safe environment,” Tracey says. She’s deeply committed to her community in Condobolin, a town of around 3,500 people in Central West NSW, where more than one in every five residents is Aboriginal.
As a Wiradjuri woman, Tracey’s people have been the custodians of this land for tens of thousands of years.
“When children grow up with community, their roots go deep. Our roots go deep with each other,” Tracey says. “And if you take a child out of the community you’re taking life from them as well, in a way.”
Tracey is a big advocate for keeping Aboriginal kids safe in their own community and culture.
“If you take them to a different community it’s not the same as where it’s their land. You take them from country, it’s just not the same.
“And you strip them of their identity when you’re taking them out of a community and placing them into another community, or even more so if it’s in a non-Indigenous family.
Kids in out-of-home care have already lost a lot, they don’t need to lose more than what they need to.
Tracey is all too familiar with the out-of-home care system – a system which currently impacts on the lives of Aboriginal children at 11 times the rate of non-Indigenous kids. While Tracey was growing up, her parents were carers for kids who couldn’t safely stay with their own families. Some of those kids were her cousins.
She describes a big and loving family, where people had their problems but everyone looked out for each other.
“My mother’s family, they have eight – four brothers and four sisters. They looked after their children’s children, so they were always a big family, close-knitted family. And if there was family that needed help, the aunties and uncles would take the children – so they sort of like pulled together to help,” Tracey says.
“When kids were going to be taken off their parents, my parents raised them until their family got on their feet, so I’ve had a lot of cousins come in and out of our home.”
Tracey says her parents did their best for the kids in their care, but they didn’t receive enough help from the system to address the complex trauma and mental health problems that hid beneath the surface. Some kids would arrive at the home and start running away, or kicking and punching people.
“I think because my parents were really good carers and really loving towards our cousins, they really took them in as their own and raised them as their own,” she says. “But when the children came into my home, into my parents’ home, Mum and Dad dealt with a lot of issues that they weren’t equipped to deal with.
I feel that there wasn’t enough assessment with the children to get the help that they needed. Like, they had a safe place to stay and they were being cared for and fed and clothed and loved, but there was a lot of issues that weren’t dealt with, and so they carried that through to their relationships as they grew up.
Some of those cousins have now had their own children who have entered the child protection system. Tracey believes there was a missed opportunity to provide effective counselling all those years ago and stop the pattern of trauma.
“It’s just like a cycle, it goes around and around again. There needs to be more mentoring and early intervention with a lot of the families – not to take the children away but to help the family as a whole, to try and rehabilitate themselves and learn how to live healthily as a family,” Tracey says.
She would love to see more early intervention and family support services in Condobolin, using the strength of culture to support Aboriginal kids.
“Aboriginal children need Aboriginal parents, but they need the support as well – kids who’ve been removed from their home need a lot of support with counselling and psychological help. They’ve come from traumatic lives and then they’re put into something that they don’t understand.”
From where she stands, Tracey believes the child protection system “isn’t working at all” for Aboriginal kids, especially for the many kids who are placed away from community and kin.
“They need to be around Indigenous families where they’re connected to culture – it’s probably not exactly like their own home, but it’s similar,” she says.
If you believe the best care for kids is community, please sign our petition to stop the NSW Government from permanently removing Aboriginal children: https://absec.org.au/sign.