Queensland Government announced its commitment to invest in family-led decision making when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Changing Tracks: An Action Plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families 2017- 2019. This comes after a trial was conducted in four sites across Queensland from April 2016 to end of June 2017 and is a testament to the quality work undertaken during the trials.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family-led Decision Making trials involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers from Ipswich (Kummara), Mt Isa (AIDRWA), Cairns (Wuchopperen Health Service) and Thursday Island (Port Kennedy Association) employing family-led decision making convenors to support families to keep children safe and connected to family, culture and community. Funding was provided by the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.
Some participating families were already involved in the child safety system, and other families were at risk of department involvement if family dynamics impacting on the children did not improve. Services focused on building up support networks and empowering families to voice their concerns and what they’d like to see change for their children’s futures.
To work with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander convenor, either outside of or along with the Department, gave families hope for change and self-directed steps to take to “get child safety out of our lives”.
One father was so engaged and motivated by the process he urged his family to be the first in the trials to complete all the actions they identified for themselves in their family plan. He also returned to the service at a later date asking for another copy of their plan when he felt the need to self-review. Child Safety Service Centre staff supported this process by empowering the service to lead family meetings and the process of engaging family, community and kin.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead the process and were able to build trust and rapport with families, speak in language and explain child safety worries in ways family could understand, listen to families own concerns and worries, engage children and young people for their viewpoints, and reconnect family members where shame, distance, isolation or previous traumatic experiences had broken contact. Cultural strengths and children’s sense of belonging were at the heart of family meetings and decisions.
One convenor reflected on her role and her ability to provide culturally safe and sensitive support throughout the process of meeting families including the children, preparing them for a family meeting, and then holding a family-led decision making meeting: “They [families] are happy to do it [family led decision making] with us because we’re murri’s. I think that’s the bottom line”.
Convenors carried a caseload of up to 6 families at one time, with support lasting from three weeks to nine months or more. Each family is different, with some families needing several family meetings over a longer period of time while other families found that issues were sorted during the preparation phase and a family meeting was not necessary.
The key differences of this approach include:
- Child safety is not present when family first learns of the worries which allows time for processing the information before moving into a meeting
- Family plans are created in the family’s own words
- Family members and support people choose for themselves what they can commit to and provide for the safety of children
- Everyone focuses on building on what is working well for the family and the belief that the children can remain safe in family’s care.
SNAICC has supported the implementation of the trial through enabling peer sharing and support by convenors, as well as through training, site visits, practice support, collaborative discussions with department representatives, and engagement of an Expert Advisory Group for guidance and cultural advice throughout the trial.
The trials finished end of June and an external evaluation is underway. The evaluation is being conducted by Aboriginal consultancy Winangali, in partnership with international research company Ipsos. The evaluation will seek to understand what worked well for different families in different contexts in relation to this model and what can be improved to strengthen the family-led decision making model.
Evaluation findings will be used to inform planning and service delivery, and by the Department to make decisions about future design and funding of the model.
The findings and learnings will enhance practice reforms currently underway in Queensland in regard to family support and wellbeing services provided through Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service providers.
The picture shows the convenors and trial partners celebrating successes and the positive news that the government intends to continue increasing their empowerment of families and community organisations in decision making.