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Victoria puts Aboriginal people in driving seat of child protection reform

Rachael Knowles -

Victorian Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan announced $11.6 million for a national first pilot program which empowers Aboriginal-led teams to respond to child protection reports.

Announced during the online Aboriginal Children's Forum last Thursday, the programs will allow the teams from Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to work alongside the Department of Health and Human Services to support Aboriginal families within the child protection and care services system.

The Victorian 2020-21 budget recently invested $85.8 million over four years which will expand the Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement â€" the first ever tripartite agreement between the Aboriginal community, child and family services sector and the Government.

The investment designated $44.2 million to enable the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care (ACAC) program which provides ACCOs legal responsibility of Aboriginal children on protection orders.

The newly announced $11.6 million is an expansion of the ACAC. It will be provided to Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative and Njernda Aboriginal Corporation to fully implement the program and assist the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) Cooperative in expanding their work.

"Through this Australian first pilot we're taking action to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care and ensuring Victoria leads the way on addressing this important issue nationally," said Victorian Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan.

"Victoria's Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations do a fantastic job helping kids remain connected with their community and Country and supporting reunification with their families wherever possible."

Njernda Aboriginal Corporation Family Services Manager Hazel Hudson said the funding will enable the team to have greater decision-making responsibility.

"What is generally a nasty process, some of the stress and trauma can be alleviated â€" as much as possible for both families and children â€" if we're able to go in and work with them in a culturally appropriate way," she said.

"Kids in out of home care are extremely vulnerable, they are subject to a lot of trauma, they come from families that have experienced a lot of trauma.

"In the Echuca and Moama area, when we have kids in out-of-home care they are usually moved out meaning now we can work harder to stop that.

"There will be instances where we have to remove children, but we are able to do that in a culturally safe way where we mitigate the trauma that the children experience and what the families go through."

The funding will enable VACCA to expand their Nugel progam.

"What we have been able to do since the program is that more children are going home and more children are staying home safely," said VACCA CEO Muriel Bamblett.

"The department's rate of reunification is around 12 per cent, the Aboriginal community reunification rate is 22 per cent. More children are going home when Aboriginal organisations are in control of decision making.

"When children are in the care of mainstream services there is a two per cent chance children will go home. What we have found is that children under Aboriginal organisations, there is a five per cent rate of them going home. It demonstrates that Aboriginal communities can get children home and get them home safely."

Bamblett believes that with Aboriginal people in the driving seat, things will change.

"We don't see people as numbers ... we know our community. We quite often know the families, we know the history, we know exactly what they need and how to respond. And of course, the best way we respond is to have those services and support to wrap around families," she said.

"We can't address the issue of systemic racism and systemic bias unless we have more Aboriginal people taking control."

Currently in Australia, Victoria is leading the way with 79.1 per cent of Aboriginal children placed with kin or an Aboriginal carer compared to the national rate of 64.3 per cent.

By Rachael Knowles

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