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Indigenous out-of-home care services transferred to community hands

Sarah Smit -

One of Australia's largest providers of out-of-home care will transfer service for Indigenous children to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled services.

Life Without Barriers (LWB) currently delivers services to around 25,000 people per year across 400 communities and is partnering with the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) to guide the transition.

LWB CEO Claire Robbs said though the organisation provided cultural support for Indigenous families, there was no substitute for the children being in the care of community.

"We have been providing services to children and families in out of-home care for decades now and we absolutely believe that if we are to be an organisation that really acts on our commitment to Reconciliation, this is a very critical step we must take," she said.

"The ongoing intergenerational impact of children and families being separated is well documented and distressing."

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and community have clearly stated how important it is for children to grow up connected to culture and in community and we simply must heed this call."

The move is underlined by the Closing the Gap target of reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care to 45 per cent by 2031.

This target is currently not on track to be met.

SNAICC CEO Catherine Liddle said moves towards children being cared for by community are essential to improve outcomes for mob.

"It has to happen," she said.

"It has to happen because the trajectory for our children without fundamental transformational reform doesn't look good."

The transition to community control of the services will take place over the next decade, with Liddle saying the time allows for capacity-building in the community controlled sector.

"There are a significant number of Aboriginal community controlled services out there with the capacity to be able to do this, but historically, the funding has gone to those larger organisations like Life Without Barriers," she said.

"That has meant that our Aboriginal community controlled sector hasn't had the opportunity to build the infrastructure and the processes that they needed, and hasn't had the investment in it to actually lead this space."

Liddle said the transition will move quickly in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, where funding has already begun moving to the community controlled sector, but every jurisdiction will require a tailored approach.

"It really is mapping out what's there; we have to scope it and say, 'okay, who's out there who wants to step in this space? What is needed to get it done? And how do we do this together?'"

The move comes as part of the Closing the Gap framework, which requires State and Federal Governments to prioritise service delivery and funding to Aboriginal community controlled services.

"These things are moving but they don't move overnight ... it's absolutely going to be rocky. And we're going to end up with sore heads at periods of time. But will we continue to work to make sure this happens? Absolutely." Liddle said.

SNAICC Catherine Liddle. Photo Supplied SNAICC Facebook.

Liddle called the deal historic, saying the move was the first of its magnitude in the country.

"Certainly, we didn't see it coming," she said.

"In every room we go to, we lay it down and say, as a provocation, 'what are you going to do? Because [community control] is coming, so how are you going to help us start taking greater leadership?'"

"To have a major service provider step up to the mark like this is very exciting."

By Sarah Smit

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