Child protection services have been a part of Helen Eason’s life for 16 years.

She is a former drug user and alcoholic, has been in and out of prison four times and has had all five of her children removed from her care at various points in her life.

“One child I fought seven years for and got him back,” Ms Eason said.

“My mother founded Grandmothers Against Removals when my last baby was taken.”

Now Ms Eason has founded Nelly’s Healing Centre, a place for Indigenous women in Sydney to go to for community support and healing – the Aboriginal way.

“We need somewhere to heal, and it needs to be culturally appropriate,” Ms Eason said.

Ms Eason said she has had this vision for many years now.

“I’ve wanted to do this since I was young because of the struggles I went through … I fell through the service gaps,” Ms Eason said.

Nelly’s Healing Centre will provide a comprehensive range of services once it is fully operational, around issues such as domestic violence, sexual assault, culture, children and parenting, finance and housing, and mental, emotional, and physical health.

Each of these services will be tailored individually to women and families as needed, with services such as physical health including dental health, sexual health and antenatal care.

Nelly’s will also assist in family reconciliation, helping families find lost siblings, parents or children and helping re-connect families once reunited.

Ms Eason said there is currently no support services for families when children are taken away and once children are returned.

“There needs to be something else for our mothers instead of them just taking our babies,” Ms Eason said.

“It’s about educating and empowering our girls. That’s where the government fails.”

While Ms Eason said the centre is aimed only at Aboriginal women for now, she said Aboriginal men need to be included in this vision too.

“We need to heal our men as well … we’re healing together,” Ms Eason said.

To ensure services are culturally competent, Ms Eason said the centre will have Indigenous workers only and frequently involve everyone gathering together and going out on country for activities such as fishing, camping and telling stories around the campfire.

“I’m very passionate about this – it comes from lived experience.”

Ms Eason said Nelly’s Healing Centre is designed to go on a journey of healing with Indigenous Australians who are seeking support.

“No one can walk a journey on their own,” Ms Eason said.

“It’s about us walking that journey with them and we will never stop walking with them.”

She said the Australian Government has been ignorant of Indigenous Australians for years.

“The government doesn’t know how to do anything for our people,” Ms Eason said.

“How can they put together a service when they don’t understand us?”

Ms Eason said dealing with the symptoms of trauma, such as substance abuse and domestic violence, will help Indigenous Australians heal from trauma.

“It is time for us to heal.”

By Hannah Cross