Summer May Finlay writes:
Western Australia is often in the headlines for policies that are harmful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, most recently for hurtful comments by the Western Australian Chief Justice.
But the State also recently produced a fantastic report: “Listen to Us: Using the views of WA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to improve policy and service delivery”.
Published by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, WA, the report outlines ways of improving young Aboriginal peoples’ wellbeing. It is based upon consultations with 1,217 children and young people across the state.
This report is powerful because it shows the difference that it makes when people listen to us, and respect our views and knowledge.
While the Chief Justice’s stereotyping comments were reported by mainstream media, it is disappointing that that the “Listen to Us” report didn’t attract so much attention.
The report takes a holistic approach; if its recommendations are widely implemented by governments and other service providers, perhaps this would help to create some #JustJustice, and to reduce the over incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Hopefully, the Chief Justice will take note. And listen – especially to the young people telling us about the harmful impacts of stereotyping and racism.
Below are some of the important messages from the report.
Key approaches: “local, cooperative and, ultimately, community-led and controlled”
Drawing from identified good practice, relevant research and evidence, the work of the office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the guiding principles under the legislation and listening to the voices of the children and young people, there needs to be a collective commitment to the following four approaches.
1. Improving outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people, and their families, must be seen as core business for all agencies as there is an imperative to achieve truly integrated planning, funding and delivery of programs and services. This requires genuine partnerships between all levels of government, the community and private sectors.
2. Programs and services need to be flexible, understand and respect the diversity of Aboriginal children and young people and their communities, their language, their culture and their histories, and be able to respond to their unique circumstances, needs, strengths and capacities. This requires approaches that are local, cooperative and, ultimately, community-led and controlled.
3. Programs and services must recognise the importance of, and build on the strengths of, Aboriginal family and kinship.
4. Services and programs to support the safety and wellbeing of children and young people must be evidence-based and outcomes focused. This does not mean compromising the capacity to be innovative and try new approaches, but rather a commitment from service funders and providers to measure, evaluate and define meaningful and sustainable outcomes, to relinquish what does not work, and focus on what does.
Key strategies: “an ongoing commitment to listening and responding”
In responding directly to the views expressed by Aboriginal children and young people in this consultation, more focused investment is required in the following eight strategies.
1. Supporting the role and capacity of parents by investing in culturally appropriate early childhood services – including pre-natal support, universal and targeted parenting programs, child health and allied health services jointly delivered and co-located on or near school sites – must be a priority.
2. Recognising that culture is important to individual and community resilience, Aboriginal children and young people must be supported to learn and practice their culture, and communities supported to restore, strengthen and celebrate their culture.
3. There needs to be greater efforts to address racism and support reconciliation with a focus on building cross-cultural understanding and connection with all Western Australians, with schools being an important setting for this work.
4. Multiple strategies are needed across agencies to support engagement and participation in education, which include strong partnerships between schools, families and communities, and work to better identify and remove the barriers to school engagement.
5. Better access to mentoring, role modelling and support programs is required to provide long-term support and advice regarding education and pathways to post-school education, training and employment options.
6. Aboriginal culture, knowledge and identity need to be integrated more widely into educational programs and philosophies.
7. Neighbourhoods and physical spaces need to be designed with and for children and young people to support their development, encourage community cohesion and positive interaction.
8. All children and young people need to have access to a diverse range of age-appropriate, low-cost recreation, sport and cultural activities to support their active engagement and social participation. It is important to recognise these programs can and do provide an effective vehicle to access other supports that impact positively on the wellbeing of children and young people. Fundamentally, programs and services need to be underpinned by an ongoing commitment to listening and responding to the views of Aboriginal children and young people, and it is the role of all organisations that work with Aboriginal children and young people to ensure these meaningful conversations continue.
• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, a public health practitioner and a PhD candidate.
You can track the #JustJustice series here.
Croakey acknowledges and thanks all those who donated to support #JustJustice.
We also thank and acknowledge our premium sponsors, the Jesuit Social Services, and Frank Meany of One Vision.