Term of Reference (c)
the health, welfare, education and security of children in regional and remote
Shared understanding of the importance this issue
There is no disagreement about the primacy of this issue: the health, welfare,
education and security of children in Indigenous communities is acknowledged as
being of critical importance. Commonwealth, state, territory and local
governments, the non-government sector, industry groups and indeed communities
themselves are in agreement that more must be done to ensure that children are
provided with environments and conditions which guarantee their safety and
provide adequate care, nutrition, good health, education and development. The
committee shares this view.
Submissions addressing this term of reference, and indeed research in
the area, confirms the complexity of the issues involved in creating optimum
conditions in which children are able develop and grow to their full potential.
Several of the submissions related to this term of reference indicated a
level of frustration with the lack of progress made in securing healthy and
safe communities for children. Dr Lara Wieland and Dr Richard Heazelwood
express this in the following way:
are hearing much now about the level of disadvantage and social dysfunction and
the concomitant damage being done to women and children in many remote
indigenous communities in many parts of Australia. For some it is too gruesome and painful to even read
about so imagine what it is like to live it?
Cape York has it's own identity and different culture and in some ways appears
to not be so beset by these problems on the surface, all of those on the
ground, including many of the Cape York people and almost all of the children
know about the hell that lies just beneath the surface for so many Cape York
is a shameful contrast that some of this country's most disadvantaged people
are in the very backyard of one of the world's premier tourist destinations and
the playground of the rich – Cairns and the Far North. One drives through places like
Port Douglas where Presidents and movie stars holiday on the way to these
disadvantaged communities with third world conditions and widespread abuse and
neglect of women and children.
Submissions suggest holistic responses to child wellbeing, noting that
child health and development is linked to other determinants of community wellbeing
such as the provision of adequate housing, education, primary, secondary and
tertiary health services and good governance systems.
This is acknowledged by the Commonwealth government which in its
discussion paper on the development of a national framework for protecting
abuse and neglect cannot be easily disentangled from issues such as poverty,
homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, mental health
issues and social isolation. Understanding the ways these factors inter-relate
and developing strong connected solutions require the effort and attention of
all levels of government, non-government organisations providing key services
and support for families, and the broader community.
This is confirmed by international and domestic research in the area. This research also indicates that individualistic
responses to child wellbeing do not substantially improve conditions for
Indigenous communities or families and that community based responses provide
the best long term chance of increasing the health, development and wellbeing
The impact of inadequate housing on children was raised on a number of
occasions with the committee during its inspection visit as an example of the
interdependencies and multiple factors that influence the wellbeing of
children. People question how the community can expect children to go to school
and learn if they are unable to get a good night's sleep in an overcrowded
house, or have somewhere to do their homework.
Statutory protection frameworks
Submitters agree that a strong statutory framework is required for child
protection and that adequate policing resources are required to investigate and
pursue criminal allegations of abuse and neglect.
However this framework can only operate as a safety net, with a broader set of
measures for child and family wellbeing seen as the most effective way to
The South Australian government submission explains how the state of South
Australia has implemented changes to its statutory protection framework as a
result of a state government inquiry. In 2006 the Children's Protection Act
1993 was amended to create three statutory bodies to improve the monitoring
of the care and protection of children:
- the Guardian for Children and Young People;
- the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee; and
- the Council for the Care of Children.
The South Australian government also refers to its 2007 Children in
State Care Commission of Inquiry, conducted by former Supreme Court Judge, Ted Mullighan
and the extension of this inquiry into the sexual abuse of children on the Anangu
Pitjatjantjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in northern South Australia. The
Commission provided its report to the state government on 30 April 2008 and in it documented major child safety issues throughout the APY Lands.
The committee is keen to find out what impact the creation of these
statutory offices and the implementation of recommendations of Justice Mullighan's
inquiry will have on life outcomes for Indigenous children in South Australia,
and will consider this as part of its inquiry up until 2010.
Services for child offenders and those who have themselves been victims
of sexual abuse has been raised in the joint submission by the Central
Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and North Australian Aboriginal Justice
Agency. This submission cites an example of a 13 year old convicted of sexual
offences who had been the victim of sexual abuse himself. The court accepted
that the offender was mimicking acts that had been done to him. The submission
is critical of the absence of services to arrest this cycle of abuse.
This issue was also raised with the committee on its visit to Fitzroy Crossing.
Health and wellbeing
Maternal health and access to primary health care for mothers and their
children received significant attention in the submissions, with the National
Rural Health Alliance calling for Australia to develop world's best practice
programs for supporting pregnant women and their babies in the first few years
of life. Supporting and tapping into the nursing and midwifery workforce to support
these programs was seen as a way of improving access to Indigenous women and
children in regional and remote communities.
The committee heard evidence of this strategy being used effectively
when it visited Derby in Western Australia. The Jalaris Kids Future Club told
the committee of the positive impact of connecting the community's child and
maternal health nursing program with the service provided by Jalaris. This had
allowed Indigenous mothers and their children to access a service they would previously
not have used, and demonstrates the importance of community partnerships.
Focusing on programs to support children pre-birth up until they start
school is promoted as a long term strategy to address disadvantage. This is
also seen as making good economic sense, with savings to be made over time with
reduced pressure on welfare systems as an outcome.
Dr Lara Wieland and Dr Richard Heazlewood propose the establishment of
early childhood and community centres as the hubs of community life. They could
be used to deliver parenting and nutrition programs, kindergarten and daycare,
antenatal care, early childhood education and provide access to nurses and
visiting specialists and therapists. Dr Wieland and Dr Heazlewood are critical
of the baby bonus saying that there is anecdotal evidence it is raising teenage
pregnancies and increasing the risk of violence, with women being forced to
hand over money by their partners or others that is then used for alcohol and
'Baby packs' providing essential items for mothers and babies is
suggested as an alternative use of the money allocated for the baby bonus.
While in Fitzroy Crossing the committee heard evidence of a successful
initiative of Nindilingarri Cultural Health Service providing baby packs and a DVD
as a way of connecting with young women to provide education and antenatal care
to support mums-to-be that would not ordinarily come into contact with the
service. As women in Fitzroy Crossing have to go to Derby to have their babies,
the DVD provides useful information about what women can expect in Derby when
having their babies. The committee was impressed with this initiative which
seemed to be a simple yet effective way of supporting women and their babies.
Legal Aid Western Australia documents its concerns about a number of
issues related to children and their wellbeing in Indigenous communities. Among
these are the problems experienced when trying to get access to mental health
professionals in remote settings. The submission notes that this access is very
important, especially in providing non custodial options and addressing treatment
and prevention needs for young offenders.
problem is more acute for children and young people. There is a lack of
professional assistance available; there are very few mental health
professionals whose expertise is in dealing with children, and few mental
health agencies willing to take children on...
Calls for more access to mental health services for children are
supported in other submissions.
Dr Rosemary Howard, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has worked in
Central Australia, explains how the conditions and problems experienced by
children and young people living in regional and remote Indigenous communities,
such as high incidences of child abuse and suicide, increases their
vulnerability to developing mental health problems, arguing the need for
specialist mental health professionals to be available in Central Australia to
fill the current void.
Issues related to mental health are also discussed in Chapter 4 in
paragraphs 4.34 – 4.41.
Preventing children and young
people from offending
The committee notes recent research which indicates that Indigenous
offenders are more likely to begin offending regularly and at a much earlier
age than non-Indigenous offenders.
This highlights the importance of preventative and diversionary programs
targeted towards children, and not just adolescents. The committee also notes
that a broad range of social and economic factors impact on the likelihood that
a young person will become involved in crime. Therefore improvements in areas
such as housing, education and health are likely to also reduce rates of
offending in young people.
Several submissions suggest that programs offering young people an
opportunity to learn about, and develop the skills needed to make healthy and
safe choices throughout their lives are a way of tackling relatively high
levels of offending. For example, Legal Aid Western Australia suggests that
access to recreation programs and facilities can help prevent or break the
cycle of offending.
The Central Australian Youth Link Up Services submission focuses on how
appropriate youth programs in communities can deal with a range of issues,
including identifying and referring children at risk to prevent abuse.
While in Fitzroy Crossing, the committee was made aware of a project that
brings young people at risk of substance abuse and offending together with elders
as a way of these young people reconnecting with their culture and country.
This program, the Yiriman Project, run through the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and
Culture Centre was short listed as a finalist in the National Drug and Alcohol
Awards in 2006 for its work with young people. The committee understands that
the community has had difficulty securing ongoing funding for this program and
considers that locally designed and implemented programs such as this one make
an important contribution to preventing children and young people from making
choices that lead them towards substance misuse and crime.
The issue of access to schools and quality education resources also
attracted attention, with several submissions calling for immediate action.
and Torres Strait Islander children deserve and must have the same school
facilities, curriculums, and teaching as other Australian children so that they
may choose how and where to live.
The submission from the Laynhapuy Homelands Association documents the
commitment of residents to educating their children on the homelands as a way
of keeping children connected to their family and kinship structures, and
preventing unhealthy behaviours linked to alcohol and substance abuse.
members are very clear that they want their children to be educated in schools
in the homelands for as many years of schooling as is possible. Parents regard
sending their children to Yirrkala or Nhulunbuy as very undesirable as it takes
them away from all the positive and supportive family and kinship
relationships, away from culture, law and the structures for discipline. In
Yirrkala young people are exposed to alcohol and related violence, other social
problems, and to behaviours and experiences that are not condoned by the
cultural or Christian values of many parents. Sending children away to boarding
schools has been tried by some parents but this has proven to not to be
This submission also states that abuse and neglect in the Laynhapuy
homelands has never been a significant problem as culture and law is still
strong and has processes in place to ensure children are protected. In addition,
there is little incidence of alcohol or substance use.
This is also discussed in Chapter 4 at paragraph 4.21.
The committee was pleased to be able to visit the Luurnpa Catholic School
in Balgo community in the east Kimberley and witness the important work of the
school in contributing not only to learning, but also in providing broader care
such as nutrition and child health programs. The committee was impressed with a
local initiative led by directors of the Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation which
prevented the community store from opening until significant numbers of school
age children were at school. This decision was made by the directors as a way
of tackling low school attendance. It required support from the store and the
school and is an example of a locally driven initiative developed, owned and
supported by the community. While in Balgo the committee observed the positive
impact this decision was having on school attendance.
The committee notes that for many children in remote communities,
English may be their second, third or fourth language. It is therefore
important that teachers and schools are appropriately resourced to cater for
the diverse language needs of their students, and that children have confidence
in both Standard Australian English and their home languages.
Aboriginal Resource and Development Services Incorporated, working in
north east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, suggests that programs that
teach the whole community English will have the collateral benefit of allowing
children to learn more effectively in schools.
other parts of the world radio is used to teach English to whole masses of
people. Although ARDS has wanted to do this on Yolngu Radio it seems that no
one in Government is interested. Materials like this, once developed, will have
a hundred years' life, teaching generation after generation this important
information. Instead of forcing Yolngu children into schools where they will be
instructed in a foreign language and learn very little, why doesn’t the
government provide the tools necessary for Yolngu and other Indigenous people
to learn English?
go there. It will work as it has all across the world.
Rio Tinto, in their submission, suggest that education infrastructure
such as good school facilities and accommodation for children and students who
have to leave their home communities, is critical if educational improvements are
to be made for Indigenous people.
Programs supporting parents and carers to take an active role in the
education of their children were seen as a way of not only supporting a child's
learning but of providing entry points to adult education for themselves. Rio
Tinto detailed its Parents and Learning Program which it operates in
communities around Australia, citing this program as having a positive impact
on literacy and numeracy levels, attendance and behaviour.
Dealing with the significant levels of alcohol and substance abuse was
raised with the committee throughout its inspection visits in the Kimberley. In
Fitzroy Crossing the committee heard of the extremely positive impact takeaway
alcohol restrictions were having on the whole community. People who spoke to
the committee reported that more children were being sent to school because
many parents were now more capable of assisting their children get to school,
and were spending money on food for families rather than alcohol.
The women's shelter intake figures fell and domestic violence reports to
police in Fitzroy Crossing were 28 per cent lower than in the same period the
previous year. There was a 48 per cent reduction in the number of Fitzroy
Crossing residents presenting to the emergency department of the hospital with alcohol
related injuries between October 2007 and March 2008 when compared with the
same period in 2006-2007. School attendance also increased.
After six months, an evaluation of the restrictions was carried out by Notre
Dame University Australia on behalf of the Western Australian government's
Drug and Alcohol Office. This evaluation found that alcohol restrictions were
delivering major benefits to the community:
statistics clearly demonstrates significant improvements in health and social
outcomes. Indicators of alcohol-related violence and hospital attendances for
alcohol related complications are significantly reduced.
have reported significant improvements in the health and welfare of children.
They are now better supervised by heir parents, do not wander around the town
late at night and are attending school regularly...
The committee notes that the issue of alcohol restrictions can be a
sensitive and divisive issue for communities and that support for these
initiatives is required. The committee acknowledges the achievements of the
Fitzroy Crossing community who worked hard to get the restrictions in place.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
While in Fitzroy Crossing the committee was concerned to hear about the
problems experienced by parents and carers of children with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome
(FAS). The committee learned that there is also a spectrum of related disorders
referred to as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and that children with
FASD have a range of behavioural and learning difficulties. Children with FASD
require special assistance, as do their parents and caregivers to assist with
appropriate treatment and responses to these children's needs.
The committee understands that as yet FASD does not appear on the
relevant disability register which would allow it to be classified as a
disability and that this impacts on the ability of schools, parents and carers
to access resources and support that would ordinarily be available to children
The committee has been advised by the Commonwealth Department of Health
and Ageing that progress is being made to develop a national response to FASD
and that under the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs, a working party was
established in 2006 to advise on the developments in Australia and overseas in
regard to FASD and identify best practice approaches to reduce the incidence of
FASD, particularly in Indigenous communities.
The committee understands that a National FASD workshop was held in Adelaide
in August 2008. It was attended by paediatricians, neonatologists, research
officers, health professionals, policy makers in drug and alcohol, geneticists
and Indigenous representatives. This workshop will make recommendations to the
Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy about issues related to FASD and will
include recommendations on service needs. The committee will follow
developments in this area with interest.
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