7th SNAICC National Conference – Bring Them Home: Securing the rights of our children
October 12th, 2017
The 7th SNAICC National Conference focused on the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to grow up safe, healthy and strong in their families and communities.
The conference theme ‘Bring Them Home: Securing the rights of our children’ served to reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Bringing them home inquiry report(link is external), which documented the stories and experiences of children forcibly removed from their families and the lasting trauma it caused for members of the Stolen Generations. The conference was an opportunity to consider the progress made since the report’s release and to explore how outcomes can be improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
In his opening address, Professor Mick Dodson1 reflected on the findings from the Bringing them home report, highlighting that most of its recommendations are yet to be implemented(link is external). In light of the continued over-representation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care, Professor Dodson argued that little has improved since the report’s release 20 years ago and urged for reparations2 as an appropriate response to address intergenerational trauma.
Dr Sarah Kastelic3 discussed recent initiatives(link is external) to improve the implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act in the USA that call for “active efforts” to provide responsive, culturally appropriate services to support Indian families to stay together or to reunify – a message that resonated with those seeking to improve the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle in Australia. Dr Kastelic noted that ‘kinship care’ and ‘adoption’ are modern terms for traditional Indian family practices that operated prior to colonisation, and emphasised the strength and safety of culture for Indigenous families.
Self-determination was a major theme of the conference. Delegates heard from a range of presenters working on various initiatives across Australia to embed the principle of self-determination into practice. Examples include:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-Led Decision Making initiatives that encourage family members to participate in decision making in child protection cases;
- Partnerships between government departments, community sector organisations and Aboriginal community controlled organisations (ACCOs) to transfer greater control over services to Aboriginal people; and
- The Marram-Ngala Ganbu (Koori Family Hearing Day) pilot program based at the Children’s Koori Court(link is external) in Victoria that encourages children and families to have their say in court proceedings.
Professor Muriel Bamblett4 said that, despite the strengthening of policies and practices over the past few decades, Aboriginal families continue to confront a range of systemic issues, including poverty, a lack of understanding about Aboriginal families within child welfare services, and the lack of coherent strategies to build Indigenous workforce capacity. Professor Bamblett reiterated the need to promote self-determination to address these issues – not just at a community level, but at an individual level.
Healing for intergenerational trauma
Healing for intergenerational trauma was another major theme of the conference, particularly in relation to ending the over-representation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care. A panel discussion, reflecting on the legacy of the Bringing them home report, repeated calls to implement its recommendations in order to help heal intergenerational trauma and promote self-determination. Richard Weston5 discussed the need to forge a different relationship between government and Indigenous organisations; one which recognises the widespread effects of the Stolen Generations and facilitates the transfer of power to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In a closing panel discussion, speakers encouraged delegates to stay the course, to bring solutions to community problems, and to develop strong partnerships with governments.