A Western Australian trial of Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making (AFLDM) in the Perth suburb of Mirrabooka is set to begin in October, but it’s a date the Shadow Child Protection Minister says has been too long coming.

The State Government has invested $715,000 into the trial, which gives at-risk Aboriginal families more input into decisions made for their children.

Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk says the pilot reinforces efforts to reduce the high number of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up almost 57 per cent of the children in out-of-home care in WA, so this overrepresentation can only be addressed through a combined effort by all,” she said.

The trial will work preventatively with at-risk families planning for the arrival of a child and with families in Intensive Family Support, as well as working towards the reunification of families with children in care.

During the pilot, at-risk families will be able to have input in the decision-making process through meetings facilitated by an independent Aboriginal convener.

The convener will meet with the family and facilitate a discussion to support the family to understand the Department of Communities’ safety concerns.

Family members will then have ‘private family time’, providing a culturally safe space, to identify strategies to address the safety concerns.

The convener will share the family’s safety plan with the Department of Communities.

A spokesperson for Minister McGurk said the process will help families take greater ownership of the safety plan and hold each other accountable.

“For families who are reluctant to engage with the Department of Communities, AFLDM provides a pathway that is culturally safe, enabling greater participation in making decisions about their children’s safety and wellbeing.”

Applications are currently open for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to apply for the Aboriginal convener contract.

“Aboriginal organisations need to lead this work — they are the experts and we must work alongside them to deliver culturally appropriate solutions that will help to keep children and young people safe at home,” said Minister McGurk.

But Shadow Child Protection Minister Nick Goiran has called the WA Government’s implementation of the trial “tortoise-like”, saying the merging of the Department of Child Protection into the Department of Communities has made the process inefficient.

“It took repeated calls from the Noongar Family Safety and Wellbeing Council for Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making to be enshrined in legislation and the Opposition’s insistence that this be urgently considered by a parliamentary committee to trigger the McGowan Government to finally announce a two year trial in August last year,” Goiran told NIT.

“It is therefore very disappointing that the Minister’s answer to my parliamentary question last week now reveals this trial will only start some 14 months later in October this year.

“Sadly, this ongoing tortoise-like speed in addressing child protection reforms is the legacy of the McGowan Government’s ill-considered decision to amalgamate child protection into the mega-department of Communities, something that has only been made worse by their recent decision to treat the position of Director General like a game of musical chairs.”

The program will also be trialled in Geraldton and run in tandem with a $10.3 million dollar funding extension of the Aboriginal In-home Support Service (AISS).

AISS has operated since 2018 as part of the Early Intervention and Family Support Strategy (EIFS).

AISS is delivered by Wungening Aboriginal Corporation and provides intensive, in-home practical support to at risk families through practical parenting support and skill development, focusing on living skills, child mental health, education, safety and protective skills.

Wungening chief executive Daniel Morrison called the service a success, and said he expected the program to “be of great support to our community” over the two-year extension.

By Sarah Smit