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"Voice for the Dead and the Failed" calls for greater help for people in crisis

Jess Whaler -

Earlier this month protesters gathered at the Australian Capital Territory's Legislative Assembly in an effort to raise a 'Voice for the Dead and the Failed', a movement coordinated by Ngunnawal woman Selina Walker as a call to action following the early death of her cousin Nikkita Drazevich.

Nikkita's tragic story, and her family's experiences with Canberra's mental health and crisis support services, are not an isolated case. Nikkita's family were joined at the protest by families and friends of those who have been lost or let down by failures within protective care, mental health, crisis or community support services. The crowd called for change and improvement to the systems that are designed to support our vulnerable.

A young Aboriginal mother who has chosen to keep her name confidential told National Indigenous Times that Canberra's services are "shocking".

"If I had known how bad the domestic violence services, the police and all the other services were, I wouldn't have bothered. I am a strong person and had to advocate for myself and if anyone else was in worse shape, to have to go through all that… I worry for them," she said.

The young mum continued to share her story of needing to admit herself into Canberra Hospital's emergency clinic as a victim of violence.

"I told them I experienced domestic violence. They didn't offer any support or pain killers or any privacy. I had a broken tail bone and damage to knee and they made me sit down the whole time, I was there for ten hours."

The victim advised that she called the police herself and it wasn't until the police arrived that the hospital staff had started to listen "ACT police gave a mandated report and did not offer any referrals for support services".

She further added that "there was no follow-on support."

The victim made several calls to support services for women experiencing domestic violence and said there are many communication barriers and administration concerns.

She said the services need to listen to their clients and not apply a "one approach fits all" logic. She said the ACT needs a wraparound service that holistically meets the needs of victims, adding that follow-up services are critical.

The young Indigenous woman eventually received help from Canberra Community Law "who pushed for housing and worked with Care Financial Inc to alleviate financial distress".

"If they can't help they redirect you to help you... a lot of other organisations just drop you if they can't help."

To support others experiencing what she has endured, she started studying social work however the impact of domestic violence has made this difficult. Despite the challenges she has encountered, she hopes to return to her studies and help to influence the change needed within our systems.

Kristie Watson, another woman present at the demonstration, was marching for her two brothers, Nickholas who died at age 27 after a series of systemic failings, and more recently Shane aged 33, whose death is currently being investigated.

Nickholas was diagnosed with ADHD as a young child and although bright had issues with settling into school due to his neurodiversity. Nickholas started engaging in petty crime as a teenager and eventually found himself in youth detention where he first started experiencing mental health concerns.

He was in and out of jail for a number of years.

"In jail they didn't give them prescription medication, he was traumatised from experiences in jail and his mental health got worse," Ms Watson said.

She said transitional support out of jail was inadequate and due to stigma and mental health concerns Nickholas experienced issues with employment.

Nickholas' life changed when he became the sole carer of his daughter.

"The last time was the longest time he had stayed out and he really tried to change his life. My brother just felt like he could never get the help, he would give up for a short period of time and then try again. He would access mental health facilities for a week at maximum and they would let him go and he passed away three years ago. But he was good for a while… eight years," she said.

Ms Watson said she would like to see more funding to support these services, more support services more rehabilitation services, she stressed that Arcadia House a detox residential program

"We need less waiting times for rehabilitation or mental health support. Nickholas had waited six months to get into a rehabilitation centre, two days after he died they called to offer him a bed. The last year before he died, he begged for help, he cried to me… I took him to appointments, it broke me to watch him struggle," she said.

Ms Watson is now undertaking studies in the community sector and hopes to use her experience to advocate for change and support people that are struggling.

Following the recent protest, Ms Walker said there will be a series of upcoming community consultations as she plans to continue the conversation and movement around the Voice for the Dead and the Failed. The ACT's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Network will provide the public more information about developments and coming events.

A spokesperson for the ACT Government told National Indigenous Times that the government "acknowledges the harms of colonisation and dispossession that continue to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT and across Australia, as well as the ongoing impact of racism in all its forms".

"The Government respects the strength of the community in the face of these tragedies and hears its call to improve culturally appropriate services. The ACT Government is committed to self-determination and strongly believes in empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, the experts in their own lives, to lead decision making that impacts them directly," they said.

"This commitment is reflected in the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2019 – 2028, our partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB); and through the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, a partnership between all Australian Government's and the Coalition of Peaks.

"The implementation of these agreements requires ongoing investment to improve policy, services and programs in partnership with, and for the benefit of, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT. In line with the ongoing work under these agreements, the Government is committed to responding to the advocacy of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in good faith, and working collaboratively with the full diversity of the community."

The spokesperson said that the government's commitment to supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations "to strengthen and grow", enabling it to deliver more services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans, is "crucial to this work".

If this story creates distress connect with 13YARN on 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days) and talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter.

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