Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families
Since the Federal Government’s controversial intervention in the Northern Territory in 2007, reports of child abuse among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the state has doubled.
Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a crucial part of Save the Children’s work, both in Australia and overseas. But we know in order to conquer this issue, we must address the root causes and develop culturally appropriate solutions that meet the needs of the whole family. That’s why we run an Intensive Family Support Service to help parents with complex problems meet the emotional, developmental and physical needs of their children.
Why providing family support is important
In 2017, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory found that about 50% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory now come to the attention of the child protection system by the age of 10.
Many of these families experience complex issues that contribute to violence and neglect towards their children, such as intergenerational trauma, domestic and family violence, mental health problems, family homelessness and precarious housing, and parental drug and alcohol problems.
By addressing these issues and helping parents and guardians to develop healthier coping strategies for their children, we can help ensure children aren’t exposed to abuse or neglect, and families can work towards becoming healthy, happy, safe and strong.
Save the Children’s Intensive Family Support Services program
We aim to help families keep children in their homes, communities and culture, and out of the child protection system. We work with families who are at risk of recurring child neglect. Support is available to Indigenous and non-Indigenous families with children aged up to 12 years old.
Support Workers help families to develop and enhance their parenting skills in areas of care that are most likely to reduce neglect. They often visit families two to three times a week to make sure children are adequately supervised and have their physical, health, emotional, developmental and educational needs met. They offer practical support within a home, and help families reach out and attend services available to them, such as support for drug and alcohol addiction.
Our approach is culturally sensitive, intensive and tailored to the individual needs of a family. Support can be provided for up to 12 months – although extended when needed – so families have the time to make long-term positive change.
The Jones’s story
Most nights, the Jones* family slept on the riverbank. Their four children – aged between 4 and 17 – were often seen roaming the streets late at night, begging for food. They weren’t attending school and there were significant health concerns for the two youngest children.
Complex family issues, including substance abuse by their parents, a significant history of domestic and family violence, and the family’s ineligibility for housing in the Northern Territory, left the children homeless and vulnerable.
Despite the family’s reluctance to engage in Save the Children’s Intensive Family Support Service due to their shame and belief that nobody could help them, our Family Support Team persevered.
We used our strengths-based approach to slowly gain the trust of the parents and children. Over a few months, we were able to help the family become eligible for housing, and soon the children had a home to go to. Our Family Support Team connected the family to a local Aboriginal healthcare service, and the children now receive ongoing healthcare. The three eldest children are back in school and receiving support with completing their school work, as well as attending social and sporting events.
Our Intensive Family Support Service gave the family a renewed sense of confidence and self-esteem, allowing them to feel in control and respected. This confidence enabled both parents to face their biggest challenge of substance abuse and domestic violence. It’s still early days, but right now the whole family is thriving and planning for a safe and happy future where they are in control.
How we know we’re making a difference
Families, like the Jones's, who are involved in the program, receive flexible, practical and intensive support that is tailored to their individual needs, helping to create long-term change in how families support each other. In the last 12 months, we’ve received a significant increase in referrals, reinforcing the value of this program.
Banner image: Robert McKechnie/Save the Children
*Name has been changed