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This report presents the findings of a 14 month exploratory study of Indigenous care leavers in Victoria. The study aimed to examine current leaving care and post-care systems available to Indigenous care leavers, paying particular attention to relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies, and differences in their approach to service delivery. Additionally, the project investigated the backgrounds and experiences of Indigenous care leavers, including their access to leaving care and post-care services. Finally, the study sought to identify programs or strategies that would assist Indigenous care leavers, in order to inform future policy and practice responses.
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Philip Mendes, Bernadette Saunders and Susan Baidawi
SOCIAL INCLUSION AND SOCIAL POLICY RESEARCH UNIT
DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL WORK
MONASH UNIVERSITY
INDIGENOUS CARE LEAVERS
IN VICTORIA:
FINAL REPORT
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Indigenous Care Leavers in Victoria
Final Report
March 2016
Philip Mendes, Bernadette Saunders and Susan Baidawi
Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit
Department of Social Work
Monash University
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Table of Contents
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations......................................................................................................... 5
Acknowledgements.................................................................................................................................. 6
Executive Summary ................................................................................................................................. 7
Background ............................................................................................................................................. 9
Indigenous children in out-of-home care .............................................................................................. 9
Transitions from care and post-care outcomes .................................................................................. 12
Current Policies ................................................................................................................................. 15
Aboriginal Child Placement Principle ............................................................................................. 16
Cultural Support Plans ................................................................................................................... 17
Aboriginal Leaving Care Support Initiative ..................................................................................... 18
Recent Victorian Initiatives ................................................................................................................ 18
Indigenous/Non-Indigenous Agency Partnerships ............................................................................. 19
Methods ................................................................................................................................................. 20
Findings ................................................................................................................................................. 25
Focus Group Consultations ................................................................................................................... 25
Current leaving care and post-care systems available to Indigenous care leavers ............................ 25
Nature of systems and processes .................................................................................................. 25
Self-determination, partnership and power .................................................................................... 27
Aboriginal Child Placement Principle ............................................................................................. 28
Identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Status ......................................................... 29
Relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies .................................................... 32
An historical legacy of a broken relationship .................................................................................. 32
Time constraints and a lack of strategic pathways ......................................................................... 34
A strong value placed on the work of ACCOs ................................................................................ 34
Perceived under-resourcing of ACCOs .......................................................................................... 35
Strengths of leaving care and post-care systems .............................................................................. 35
Availability of ACCOs ..................................................................................................................... 35
Dedicated workers ......................................................................................................................... 35
Increasing cultural awareness and sensitivity ................................................................................ 36
Strong endorsement of Cultural Support Plans.............................................................................. 38
Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People ............................................................. 39
Limitations of leaving care and post-care systems ............................................................................ 39
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Leaving care and post-care system limitations largely similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous
care leavers ................................................................................................................................... 39
Cultural considerations not a priority .............................................................................................. 40
Shortage of referrals and resources for ACCO delivery of leaving care and post-care services .... 41
Discharge from care or absent from placement prior to eligibility for leaving care ......................... 42
Difficulties accessing completed Cultural Support Plans ............................................................... 43
Limitations of child welfare systems in facilitating connections with family .................................... 48
Systems incompatible with Indigenous culture .............................................................................. 49
Limitations in cultural competency ................................................................................................. 50
Indigenous care leavers’ transitional needs and experiences ............................................................ 51
Differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous care leavers’ transitional needs ................. 51
Identity confusion and the development of a sense of self ............................................................ 52
Transgenerational effects .............................................................................................................. 53
Limited encouragement and support to engage with culture and community post-care ................ 54
Barriers to engagement with culture, community and Indigenous-specific services ...................... 55
Other barriers to engagement with culture and community ........................................................... 55
Need for greater guidance in supporting Indigenous young peoples’ connection to culture and
community ..................................................................................................................................... 57
Indigenous care leavers’ post-care outcomes ................................................................................... 57
Post-care return to family ............................................................................................................... 57
Indigenous care leavers’ family responsibilities ............................................................................. 58
Homelessness ............................................................................................................................... 59
Poor educational outcomes and involvement in youth and adult justice systems .......................... 59
High levels of resilience and positive achievements ...................................................................... 59
Practitioners’ recommendations for improving outcomes for Indigenous care leavers ...................... 60
A cultural support worker in the care team .................................................................................... 60
Matching Indigenous care leavers with mentors ............................................................................ 61
Staff training .................................................................................................................................. 61
Increase the resources targeted towards Indigenous young people .............................................. 62
Work with families pre- and post-reunification ............................................................................... 62
Strengthening the partnerships between ACCOs and non-Indigenous child welfare agencies ...... 63
Interviews with Indigenous Care Leavers .............................................................................................. 63
Case Study 1: Tamara ....................................................................................................................... 63
Case Study 2: Lena ........................................................................................................................... 66
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Reflection on the themes arising from the care leavers’ stories ......................................................... 69
Cultural connectedness ................................................................................................................. 69
Leaving care processes ................................................................................................................. 70
Post-care outcomes ....................................................................................................................... 70
Discussion ............................................................................................................................................. 71
Connection to culture ......................................................................................................................... 73
Leaving care and post-care planning and support ............................................................................. 74
Limitations ......................................................................................................................................... 78
Implications ........................................................................................................................................ 79
References ............................................................................................................................................ 80
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List of Acronyms and Abbreviations
ACCO Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation
ACPP Aboriginal Child Placement Principle
AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
CSP Cultural Support Plan
DH&HS Department of Health and Human Services
DHS Department of Human Services
FG Focus group
HREOC Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
MUHREC Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee
NAIDOC National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee
Resi. Residential out-of-home care
SNAICC Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care
US United States
VACCA Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
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Acknowledgements
This study was supported by an Innovation Grant - Youth (2015) from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable
Foundation. The authors wish to thank the project partners and other participating agencies for their
assistance in carrying out this research, and our gratitude to the young Indigenous women who
contributed their time, perceptions and experiences to the project.
The authors would also like to acknowledge the support and contributions of the project Advisory
Committee comprised of representatives from our partner organisations (listed below), as well as the
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, the Department of Health and Human Services,
and the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
Berry Street
Jesuit Social Services
MacKillop Family Services
The Salvation Army Westcare
Wesley Mission
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Executive Summary
Australian and International data indicate that Indigenous children and young people are over-
represented at all stages of child protection systems. Many factors contributing to this ongoing outcome
are identifiable, including consequences of past policies of forced removal of Indigenous children from
culture and community, intergenerational trauma arising from these policies and resulting socio-economic
disadvantage. In spite of this longstanding concern there has been limited research concerning the needs
of, and outcomes for, Indigenous care leavers in Australia. In the Victorian context, policy initiatives
including the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, Cultural Support Planning and the Aboriginal Leaving
Care Support Initiative each aim to ensure culturally appropriate supports and connections are provided
to young people. Yet there has been little reflection on the impact of these policies for Indigenous young
people transitioning from state care.
This report presents the findings of a 14 month exploratory study of Indigenous care leavers in Victoria.
The study aimed to examine current leaving care and post-care systems available to Indigenous care
leavers, paying particular attention to relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies,
and differences in their approach to service delivery. Additionally, the project investigated the
backgrounds and experiences of Indigenous care leavers, including their access to leaving care and post-
care services. Finally, the study sought to identify programs or strategies that would assist Indigenous
care leavers, in order to inform future policy and practice responses. The project was overseen by an
Advisory Committee comprised of representatives from partner agencies as well as the Victorian
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, the Department of Health and Human Services,
and the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.
Data collection occurred in two phases. Eight focus groups and one individual interview were initially
undertaken with a total of 36 staff of partner agencies and other child and family organisations (both
Indigenous and non-Indigenous) delivering Victorian out-of-home care, leaving care or post-care services.
These were followed by individual interviews with two Indigenous care leavers who each provided in-
depth accounts of their journeys during and since transitioning from out-of-home care.
The findings identified various systemic matters impacting on Indigenous care leavers, including issues
identifying Indigenous status, complex relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous services,
concerns around inadequate referral pathways to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations
(ACCOs), and limited funding for Indigenous-specific programs and supports. In particular, funding for
completion of Cultural Support Planning and, just as importantly for resources to implement plans, was
identified as a key barrier for cultural connectedness of Indigenous adolescents in care.
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The study found that Indigenous young people face the same complex and compressed transitions as
other young people leaving care, with additional attention required to address cultural needs. An
unanticipated finding of the study was that many Indigenous care leavers adopt caregiving roles in the
leaving care and post-care periods, not only for their own children but in some cases for younger siblings,
and extended family. Cultural expectations regarding sharing of finances and other material resources
(e.g. housing) may add further stressors during the transition from care. Conversely, cultural
connectedness was also seen to support resilience, identity development, social connectedness and
material sufficiency among Indigenous care leavers. Negotiating these potential benefits and challenges
of cultural connection in the post-care period may be one of the more difficult aspects of leaving care for
this group of young people. The potential value of family work for this group of care leavers was thus
widely supported by the key stakeholders interviewed.
The study also found that many Indigenous young people were either absent from the placement or were
discharged from care prior to being eligible for leaving care services. Anecdotal evidence from both
Indigenous and non-Indigenous services suggested that many re-engaged in the post-care period
seeking assistance and support. Earlier leaving care planning (e.g. commencing from age 14) and
lowering the age-threshold for leaving care eligibility were also identified as useful strategies for
supporting Indigenous adolescents in the transition to adulthood. This finding was reinforced by the
voices of the young people who were involved in the study. Future research could ascertain whether the
data supports the suggestion that Indigenous young people may miss out on leaving care supports for
various reasons, but may be accessing (or attempting to access) post-care supports at higher rates.
Respondents from both mainstream services and ACCOs suggested that the main shortcoming of current
systems supporting Indigenous care leavers was the under-resourcing of ACCOs, limiting the capacity
for direct service delivery and secondary consultation. While participants were unanimous in their
declaration of the need for, and value of cultural support and connectedness, a subtle though noteworthy
divergence in belief systems emerged. The majority of participants from non-Indigenous organisations
appeared to espouse the view that cultural connectedness and support is one of many hierarchical needs
of Indigenous care leavers, but not necessarily the primary need. Conversely, the alternative position
presented by many ACCO workers and some non-Indigenous staff from mainstream agencies is that
cultural connectedness is a primary and fundamental need of Indigenous care leavers, through which
their other needs may be fulfilled. Ultimately, the narratives of the young people involved in the study
were able to demonstrate that these two approaches are not inherently incompatible. There is a critical
need for attention to both mainstream leaving care planning and services as well as meaningful cultural
connections for supporting the transition of Indigenous young people from care.
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Background
Indigenous children in out-of-home care
International data indicate that Indigenous children and young people are over-represented at all stages
of the child protection system (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). For example, an
analysis of provincial and territory data in Canada suggests the rate of First Nations children in out-of-
home care (OOHC) is three to seven times higher than that of the general population. The identified risk
factors included substance use, poverty, limited housing, family violence, lack of social supports, and the
caregiver’s own history of time in state care (Fallon et al., 2015; Sinha & Kozlowski, 2013; Sinha et al.,
2011). Similarly, a New Zealand study found that Maori children comprised 51.7 per cent of those in
OOHC in December 2012 whilst totalling only 15 per cent of the general population (Fernandez & Atwool,
2013). While this trend is visible in many developed countries with Indigenous populations, the
disproportionality among Indigenous Australians is considerably higher (Thoburn, 2008). The most recent
data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015a) suggest that Indigenous children and
young people are far more likely to be the subject of substantiated child abuse and neglect, and also far
more likely to be on a care and protection order. Furthermore, the rate of Indigenous children on care
and protection orders has been steadily increasing; from 2010 to 2014, this rate grew from 40.3 to 53.1
per 1,000 children, while the rate of non-Indigenous children remained relatively stable over the same
period (increasing slightly from 5.5 to 6.0 per 1,000 non-Indigenous children) (AIHW, 2015a, p. 43)
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. At
30th June, 2014 Indigenous children and young people were estimated to comprise just over one third
(14,991) of the total of 43,009 children and young people in out-of-home care nationwide (AIHW, 2015a,
p. 100). In 2014, the rate of Indigenous children and young people in out-of-home care ranged from 29.0
per 1,000 children (Northern Territory) to 71.3 per 1,000 (New South Wales) (AIHW, 2015a, p. 51).
Various underlying factors have been cited as drivers of the ongoing over-representation of Indigenous
children in the Australian child welfare system, including consequences of past policies of forced removal
of Indigenous children from culture and community, intergenerational trauma arising from these policies
and resulting socio-economic disadvantage (AIHW, 2015a; Baidawi, Mendes, & Saunders, 2013;
Briskman, 2014; Gray, 2015; HREOC, 1997; Libesman, 2012; Tilbury & Thoburn, 2009). Other systemic
factors have also been suggested as contributing factors, including “an over-reliance by the statutory
child protection system on high-end (tertiary) responses and a lack of meaningful collaboration between
government services on the one hand and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agencies on the other”
(Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, 2013, p. 351). Further evidence also suggests
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See also (SCRGSP) (2016) for latest figures
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deficiencies in cultural competence within child protection services concerning Indigenous family, culture
and traditions (Community Affairs References Committee, 2015; Fejo-King, 2015).
Jackson (cited in Bamblett and Lewis (2007, p. 45)) identifies five factors contributing to this over-
representation, including:
“The child protection and placement system may be overly interventionist in relation to
Indigenous children, due to limited understanding of cultural differences and the impact of history
on Indigenous families;
Fear, distrust and/or antipathy by Indigenous parents towards Child Protection authorities due
to previous government policies, therefore reducing access to less-interventionist options which
require cooperation;
Indigenous disadvantage which creates greater risk of abuse and neglect;
Absence of Indigenous specific universal and prevention services; and
The disproportionately large population of young people in Indigenous communities creating
greater pressures for care.”
Though no data could be located comparing the average age of first entry to out-of-home care for
Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, the available evidence suggests Indigenous children are more
likely to enter care at a younger age compared to non-Indigenous children (Australian Institute of Health
and Welfare, 2015a; Cummins, Scott, & Scales, 2012; Osborn & Delfabbro, 2006). For example the
Report of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry found that a significantly higher proportion
of Indigenous children entering care in 2010-11 were aged less than 10 years (Cummins et al., 2012).
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare similarly indicated that the over-representation of
Indigenous children in out-of-home care was most marked for those aged one to four years, who were
11 times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be in care in 2014 (Australian Institute of Health and
Welfare, 2015a).
There is a lack of consensus regarding the relative amount of time that Indigenous and non-Indigenous
young people spend in care in Australia. However, two separate reports suggest that there is not a
significant difference in the time each group spends in care (one South Australian report based on a
research sample (Barber, Delfabbro, & Cooper, 2000) and a more comprehensive Victorian report based
on official state data (Cummins et al., 2012)). The Victorian report found that Indigenous children and
young people who exited care in the 12 months to June 2011 had spent similar periods in care as non-
Indigenous children: 52.7 per cent had been in care for less than 12 months; 22.8 per cent one year to
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less than two years; and 24.5 per cent more than two years (Cummins et al., 2012, p. 244). In contrast,
Tilbury (2009) conducted a secondary analysis of AIHW data and determined that Indigenous young
people tended to be in out-of-home care for longer periods; the author attributed this to the greater use
of kinship care with this population, which tends to be associated with longer and more stable placements.
Similarly, Osborn and Delfabbro (2006), in a national study of children with high support needs in out-of-
home care, also found that Indigenous children in their sample (n=65) had spent a longer period in care
(11.7 years) compared to the non-Indigenous children (9.99 years). However, this sample was not
representative of all children and young people in out-of-home care, therefore limited conclusions can be
drawn from this particular study.
The issue of relative time spent in care by Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people does warrant
further investigation given the ambiguity of the available findings. Additionally, issues of location should
be factored into such analysis as there is some evidence that Indigenous young people in care in
metropolitan locations may spend longer in care than those in rural locations (Barber et al., 2000).
Compared to non-Indigenous children, the available data indicates that Indigenous children and young
people were more likely to enter the child welfare system as a result of neglect in 2013-14 (40.6% vs
22.1%) (AIHW,2015a, p. 79). Conversely, non-Indigenous children were more likely to have been the
subject of a substantiated notification relating to physical abuse (20.6% vs 16.9%), sexual abuse (15.3%
vs 8.9%) or emotional abuse (42.0% vs 33.7%) (AIHW, 2015a, p. 79).
According to a report published by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (Aboriginal
& Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, 2008, p. 13), the prevalence of neglect among the
type of maltreatment experienced by Indigenous children in out-of-home care is reflective of “what we
know about the socio-economic conditions of many Indigenous communities”, and it is the disadvantage
associated with these conditions which “breeds neglect”. Yet other authors point out the need for social
workers to query the extent to which subjectivity and cultural relativism influence definitions of neglect
(Briskman, 2014; D'Cruz, 2004).
Briskman (2014) and others (Carriere & Richardson, 2009; D'Cruz, 2004; Queensland Child Protection
Commission of Inquiry, 2013, pp. 351-352) have argued that the continuing lack of understanding of
Indigenous cultures (including the significance of extended family) has a role in perpetuating this over-
representation, particularly in how neglect is construed. These issues have equally been raised in the
context of the Canadian child welfare system, which has major parallels to Australian systems in relation
to historical policies of Indigenous child removal and contemporary over-representation of Indigenous
children and young people. One example given is the naming of extended family living together as
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overcrowding (Briskman, 2014, p. 106). Additionally, child protection services’ adoption of Western
concepts of primary attachment (in preference to more Aboriginal concepts of belonging and
connectedness) can result in viewing the care of children by multiple relatives as negligent (Briskman,
2014; Carriere & Richardson, 2009). These issues are worthy of consideration especially given the
greater prevalence of Indigenous child welfare intervention relating to neglect, as opposed to other forms
of child maltreatment.
Conversely, Briskman (2014, p. 107) also cautions that “invoking cultural relativism” and desire to avoid
“further contributing to cultural decimation” cannot be used to justify ignoring children requiring care and
protection. Similarly the recent Queensland Child Protection Inquiry (2013) warned that efforts to reduce
Indigenous over-representation in child welfare systems should not result in a different standard of
protection being afforded to this group. Bearing these contexts in mind, it is easy to recognise the
complexity of the issue of child and family welfare responses in Indigenous families and communities. It
is from this background that we begin to consider the transition of Indigenous young people from the
statutory out-of-home care system.
Transitions from care and post-care outcomes
Despite the long-standing over-representation of Indigenous children and young people in out-of-home
care systems, there has been limited research concerning the needs of, and outcomes for, Indigenous
care leavers in Australia (Mendes, Johnson, & Moslehuddin, 2011). While national data are lacking,
information from Victoria suggests that Indigenous young people comprised 13 per cent of those aged
15 to 17 years who exited care in 2009-10 (Cummins et al., 2012).
Information concerning the average age of leaving care for Indigenous care leavers is not available.
However data published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2015a) indicate that Indigenous
young people comprised more than one quarter (27.3% or 1,719 young people) of the Australian out-of-
home care population aged 15 to 17 years. While Maunders et al. (1999) found only a slight difference
between the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous care leavers who were discharged from care
before the age of 18 years (42% Indigenous vs 38% non-Indigenous), anecdotal evidence from peak
Indigenous bodies suggests that “many Indigenous children leave out-of-home care to live independently
from an earlier age than non-Indigenous children, many for example from the age of 14” (SNAICC, 2011,
p. 6). Such young people may not be entitled to leaving care assistance if they were not subject to a
formal statutory order on their 16th birthday (for example, those living under voluntary kinship
arrangements). This issue warrants further investigation, given previous evidence associating earlier
transitions from care with poorer post-care outcomes (Stein, 2006). Recent national data showed that
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only 59.5% of young people aged 15 to 17 years in out-of-home care had a leaving care plan to support
their transition to independence, as per statutory requirements, however no data could be located which
compared the proportion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous care leavers having such a plan (Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare, 2015b).
Data from generic leaving care studies and other sources outline particular challenges faced by
Indigenous young people transitioning from care, including the following:
Poorer educational experiences: The group of young people who are the focus of this study
bear the compounding risks of both Indigenous status and out-of-home care status, two groups
which tend to have poorer educational outcomes than the general population (Harvey,
McNamara, Andrewartha, & Luckman, 2015). For example, a recent evaluation of the
Springboard leaving care program in Victoria found that 76.9 per cent of Aboriginal males and
75 per cent of females were not engaged in education, training or employment compared to 69.9
per cent of the young people overall (Baldry, Trofimovsl, Brown, Brackertz, & Fotheringham,
2015).Two separate national reports from the CREATE Foundation have found that compared
to non-Indigenous young people in and leaving care, Indigenous care leavers were more likely
to report attending four or more primary schools while in care (McDowall, 2013), and were less
likely to have completed Year 12 (27.8% vs 35.3%) (McDowall, 2009). Conversely, a third study
from South Australia found that Indigenous young people in care were somewhat less likely to
have been expelled or suspended from school compared to non-Indigenous young people in
care (20% and 30% respectively) (Barber et al., 2000).
A recent study concerning higher education participation of care leavers similarly suggested that
Indigenous care leavers experience the same “soft bigotry of low expectations” as other care
leavers, in addition to cultural challenges and responsibilities (Harvey et al., 2015, p. 6). The
report of the study recommended that specific strategies be developed to support the transition
of Indigenous care leavers into tertiary education (Harvey et al., 2015).
Disproportionate levels of youth justice involvement: Both Indigenous young people and
young people in care are significantly over-represented in Victorian and Australian youth justice
systems (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2015c). For example, the Victorian Youth
Parole Board (Youth Parole Board, 2015) reported that 39 of the 230 young people who received
youth residential and youth justice centre orders during 2014-15 were Indigenous. Barber and
colleagues (2000) similarly found that Indigenous young people in care in South Australia were
more likely to report having a criminal conviction than non-Indigenous young people (27% vs
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17%). In the 2009 CREATE Report Card, Indigenous care leavers across Australia similarly
reported significantly higher levels of involvement with youth justice systems than non-
Indigenous care leavers (McDowall, 2009). These outcomes are paralleled in Canadian
research, which also found that Indigenous youth in custody were more likely to have come from
care backgrounds (68.9% and 81.8% of Indigenous males and females, respectively) than non-
Indigenous youth in custody (30.8% and 32.9% of non-Indigenous males and females,
respectively) (Corrado & Cohen, 2002).
Variable connection to culture and community: Despite policies which attempt to maintain
links to culture and community for Indigenous children in out-of-home care, three separate
Australian reports have found that approximately 30% of Indigenous children and young people
leaving care report having a poor knowledge of, and connection to, their cultural heritage
(Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, 2010, 2012; McDowall, 2013).
McDowall (2013) found that only 10% of Indigenous young people in care around Australia
(n=310) were aware of the concept of a cultural support plan. A report from the Commission for
Children and Young People in Victoria (2015) found that the residential care system eroded the
connections of Aboriginal children to culture and community given that most of the staff had little
cultural training. Similarly, the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People
warned that some Aboriginal children in care were isolated from family, community and cultural
connections which left them vulnerable to further disadvantage (Jackomos, 2015). Research
from Queensland found that Indigenous young people who had a carer from the same cultural
background were significantly more likely to report feeling in touch with their community (80.3%
vs 57.5%) and having a cultural plan (26.9% vs 13.8%), compared to those with a carer from a
different cultural background (Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian,
2012). These findings were similar to those of a qualitative study from Canada (Rutman, Barlow,
Hubberstey, Alusik, & Brown, 2001, p. 32), in which Aboriginal care leavers were appreciative of
foster carers who “actively facilitated their learning about Aboriginal traditions and who helped
instil in them a sense of belonging and connection with their heritage”.
Contact with family and returning to family post-care: Indigenous young people in care
appear to experience significantly more contact with siblings and grandparents than non-
Indigenous young people in care (McDowall, 2009). This is likely to be attributable to the greater
use of kinship care within the Indigenous care population, amongst other factors. Some studies
have also drawn attention to the fact that Indigenous care leavers are likely to return to their
biological families after leaving care, highlighting the need for ongoing family services, even after
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the removal of a child (Higgins, Bromfield, & Richardson, 2005; Mendes, Johnson, &
Moslehuddin, 2012). The strong ties to extended family and community are also identified as a
protective factor for many Indigenous care leavers.
Identity: Understanding one’s personal history and having a positive sense of identity are
understood as important components of positive transitions from care for young people
(FaHCSIA, 2010; Tweddle, 2007). The 2013 CREATE report card found that compared to Anglo-
Australian young people and young people from other cultural backgrounds, Indigenous young
people knew less about why they were in care, and reported having received less information
about what they could expect would happen during their time in care (McDowall, 2013).
The Secretariat of National Aboriginal And Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has issued recommendations
in 2011 relating to the transition from care for Indigenous young people (SNAICC, 2011). Some specific
suggestions included that:
leaving care planning commence from at least age 14, and that it should include the
identification of Indigenous young people having a likelihood of early independence;
sustained support services be provided for the parents and extended family of Indigenous care
leavers;
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) be mandated participants in leaving
care planning for all Indigenous care leavers, and that ACCOs be adequately resourced to
have this input;
carers also be included as participants in the leaving care planning process;
Cultural Support Plans are developed and adequately resourced, and that re-establishing
connection with family, community and culture form a key component of leaving care planning
and support for Indigenous care leavers; and
mechanisms for monitoring leaving care planning be introduced.
Current Policies
The removal of Indigenous children has resulted in disconnection from not only family but from community
and culture. Historically this severance was deliberate. Forcible child removal legislation and policy in
each state and territory aimed to “merge” or “assimilate” Indigenous peoples following the European
colonisation of Australia (HREOC 1997). The “overwhelming majority” of children so removed were not
permitted contact with family, community or culture, including their prohibition from speaking Aboriginal
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languages (HREOC, 1997). A sustained cultural genocide essentially resulted, the effects of which
remain apparent (HREOC, 1997).
Today, child welfare jurisdictions in Australia have adopted legislation and policy that aspires to preserve
Indigenous children’s family, community and cultural connections when these children have been
removed from their parents’ care. Two key components encompass the notion of “cultural care”. Firstly,
children and young people require information regarding their own history and heritage, including the
names of parents, family and ancestors, the country to which they belong, the clans to which they are
connected, stories associated with their country and their totem (Libesman, 2011). Secondly, support and
resources to initiate or maintain connection with their community and culture form an ongoing component
of cultural care (Libesman, 2011). In the Australian state of Victoria where this study was conducted,
legislative and policy provisions aiming to support cultural care include the Aboriginal Child Placement
Principle and statutory mandates for Cultural Support Planning.
Aboriginal Child Placement Principle
Victorian government policy directs that Indigenous children and young people should be allocated
placements in out-of-home care in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP).
The principle outlines the following order of preference for placement of Indigenous children and young
people in out-of-home care:
with the child’s extended family
within the child’s Indigenous community
with other Indigenous people
with non-Indigenous people
This principle aims to protect the right of Indigenous children to be raised within their own culture, and
acknowledges the importance of family and kinship networks in raising Indigenous young people (Lock,
1997; Monohan, 2002). In accordance with the ACPP, recent data indicates that 67.4% of Indigenous
children in out-of-home care were placed with relatives/kin, other Indigenous caregivers or in Indigenous
residential care in 2014, and this figure had slightly decreased from 70.5% in 2010 (AIHW, 2015a, p.
101; 2015b). However, it is important to note that in 14.8% of these cases, Indigenous children and young
people were being cared for by non-Indigenous relatives or kin (AIHW, 2015a, p. 101). The inference
here is that placement of young people in accordance with the ACPP does not necessarily ensure
connection to Indigenous community or culture.
17
Compared to the national average, Indigenous children and young people in Victoria are more likely to
be placed within a non-Indigenous and unrelated placement setting (47.8% (Vic) vs 32.6% (Aust)) (AIHW,
2015a, p. 101). One of the issues in relation to the placement of Indigenous children in care is an
apparent shortage of sufficient numbers of Indigenous carers to meet the placement needs of the growing
Indigenous out-of-home care population (Bromfield, Higgins, Higgins, & Richardson, 2007; Higgins,
Bromfield, & Richardson, 2005). This issue is compounded for Indigenous young people with complex
issues, such as physical or intellectual disabilities and those requiring emergency placements, particularly
in rural or remote locations (Higgins et al., 2005; McHugh & Valentine, 2011). Additionally, it is unclear if
and how the ACPP is applied in the context of leaving care and post-care planning and placements for
young people.
Cultural Support Plans
In accordance with Section 176 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, a Cultural Support Plan
(CSP) is required for each Aboriginal child in out-of-home care in Victoria who is subject to a guardianship
order (DHS, 2013). CSPs form part of the child’s or young person’s case plan and aim to identify culturally
appropriate strategies to maintain connection to family, extended family, community and culture. A
Cultural Support Plan program is in place across the state and it provides funding to ACCOs to prepare
CSPs for children and young people on guardianship orders (DHS, 2013). Information from the
Department of Human Services also indicates that a CSP brokerage initiative is in place to enable Child
Protection Services to action cultural experiences outlined in these plans (DHS, 2013). But a 2013
Victorian audit found that only eight per cent of Aboriginal children subject to cultural support planning
under statutory obligations had a completed CSP (DHS, 2013). Additionally, only seven per cent of
Indigenous children in Victoria were living in placements provided by Aboriginal Community Controlled
Organisations in 2013 (Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and Community Service
Organisations, 2013).
At the same time, recent reports have noted difficulties with adherence to statutory obligations around
cultural support planning for Aboriginal children and young people in care (DHS, 2014; Victorian
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and Community Service Organisations, 2013). In its Five
Year Plan for Out of Home Care Services the (then) Victorian Department of Human Services (2014)
identified variable performance in the timely development of CSPs as a challenge for out-of-home care
services, but did not provide specific explanation regarding potential factors driving this outcome.
Similarly, the ACCO submission to the Victorian government plan drew attention to the failure to meet
legislative requirements concerning cultural support planning for Indigenous children in out-of-home care;
18
this submission (albeit indirectly) suggested that the under-resourcing of ACCOs was a key reason why
development of these plans are inhibited. The submission noted that effective implementation of CSPs
was impeded by both a lack of resources and services to support such work, and by operational and skills
deficits within the child protection workforce to action these plans (Victorian Aboriginal Community
Controlled Organisations and Community Service Organisations, 2013).
Aboriginal Leaving Care Support Initiative
In 2012, the Victorian government introduced the Aboriginal Leaving Care Support Initiative, which
involved the identification of one ACCO in each departmental region which is able to provide support to
eligible Indigenous care leavers (Department of Human Services, 2012). The initiative involves the
delivery of funding to ACCOs to facilitate or provide:
advice on the identification of Aboriginal young people who require transition and leaving care
support, particularly young people up to 21 years of age no longer in out-of-home care;
cultural advice and consultation on the transition needs of individual Aboriginal young people
whilst they are on custody, guardianship or long-term guardianship orders whether placed with
Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal agencies;
active support to Aboriginal young people who have left care up to 21 years of age including
facilitating access to leaving care brokerage;
liaison with regions, mainstream Post Care Support, Information and Referral Services and
Housing and Community Building Leaving Care Housing and Support Initiative providers to build
the capacity of these services to meet Aboriginal young people’s needs and to ensure equitable
access to these supports.
Recent Victorian Initiatives
In 2013, following recommendations arising from the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry
(Cummins et al., 2012) the state of Victoria appointed its first Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and
Young People, Andrew Jackomos (DHS, 2014). To date the Commissioner has provided ongoing input
into a number of policy-related documents and activities, including:
The Victorian Department of Human Services’ (2014) five year plan for out-of-home care;
Current development of a complementary plan for Aboriginal children and young people;
19
The activities of Taskforce 1000, co-chaired with the Secretary of the Department of Human
Services, including a critical review of cases and experiences of Aboriginal children and
young people in out-of-home care, and taking action to respond to any identified needs.
Consultations to date indicate that most Aboriginal children in out-of-home care are not
placed with an Aboriginal carer; consultation with the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice
Support Service occurred in the majority of cases; and the Aboriginal Child Placement
Principle was applied in the majority of, but not all cases (State of Victoria, 2015).
The current study is consistent with the key priority areas identified in both state and national child
protection policy. Since the commencement of this study, the Victorian Department of Health and Human
Services (DHHS) initiated its Roadmap for Reform: Strong Families, Safe Children project, which has
involved consultations with the child and family welfare sector to set long-term reform directions for the
state’s child and family services system. The Roadmap specifies the promotion of Aboriginal self-
determination as one of five key priorities, with a focus on placement prevention, connection to community
and culture, strengthening Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, and ensuring cultural safety
of all organisations (Department of Health and Human Services, 2015). The Roadmap also highlights
improving outcomes for young people leaving care as another priority.
On a national level, the most recent Third Action Plan (2015-2018) identifies improving outcomes for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families as a cross-cutting focus area under the
National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children (Department of Social Services, 2015).
Additionally, the Action Plan emphasises the need for ongoing attention to supporting young people’s
transitions from out-of-home care into adulthood (Strategy 2).
Indigenous/Non-Indigenous Agency Partnerships
Support systems for Indigenous young people transitioning from out-of-home care in Victoria function
within partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child and family welfare agencies. For
example, CSPs are created by ACCOs and require both the work of ACCOs and mainstream service
providers to be implemented, leaving care planning is delivered by either ACCOs or mainstream providers
(drawing on secondary consultation with ACCOs), while Post-Care Support is either delivered by ACCOs
(accessing brokerage through mainstream providers), or by mainstream services (potentially including
referral to ACCOs).
20
While partnerships exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous services in a variety of sectors, such
as health and housing, those in the child and family welfare sector are perhaps among the more complex,
given the historical context of trauma inflicted upon Indigenous peoples through colonisation and the
Stolen Generations of Indigenous children. Bamblett and Lewis from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care
Agency (VACCA) (2007, p. 51) identify that such cross-cultural inter-organisational links require
significant attention, and that these relationships must be understood in the context of:
Impaired trust;
Indigenous people being reluctant to access mainstream services because of historical
factors; and
Mainstream services lacking culturally appropriate skills and understanding.
Similarly, Halcrow (2014) explored some of the complexities and lessons learned in partnerships between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies in the New South Wales out-of-home care sector. The author
acknowledged the necessity of a critical focus on relationship-building (including the acknowledgement
that this takes time, and willingness to engage in healing conversations). These relationships are
complicated due to both “non-Indigenous guilt for past wrongs, and intergenerational trauma amongst
Aboriginal workers and families” (Halcrow, 2014, p. 69). It is suggested that building cultural competency
in mainstream child and welfare agencies requires moving beyond basic training to ongoing learning in
the context of trusting relationships with Indigenous services communities (Halcrow, 2014). Bamblett and
Lewis (2007) suggest capacity building is necessary for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies
in such relationships, in terms of adequate resourcing and supporting the capacity of Indigenous services,
and supporting cultural competency in non-Indigenous services and programs.
Methods
This exploratory research project investigates Indigenous care leavers’ needs and outcomes, with a view
to identifying areas of policy and practice change which can lead to better outcomes. The study received
ethics approval from the Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee (MUHREC) and was
supported by a grant from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. The project involves a partnership
between Monash University and a consortium of child and family welfare agencies: the Victorian
Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), Wesley Mission, Jesuit Social Services, Berry Street, MacKillop
Family Services and the Salvation Army Westcare.
21
Aims:
1. Examine the current leaving care and post-care systems available to Indigenous care leavers,
particularly:
a) the inter-relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies delivering
services to this group, especially the use of consultation;
b) The differences in approach and service delivery between Indigenous and non-
Indigenous leaving care and post-care services/processes;
2. Expand our knowledge about the demographic backgrounds, care experiences and post-care
trajectories of Indigenous care leavers, particularly any differences in the needs and
experiences of Indigenous and non-Indigenous care leavers.
3. Understand the access of Indigenous care leavers to leaving care and post-care services, and
identify any hindrances to accessing supports and services. For example, which groups of
Indigenous care leavers are accessing these services? Which groups are notably absent?
What is the level of access to leaving care and post-care services by Indigenous young people
who do not meet conventional criteria, but may still be eligible for support (for example, those
whose statutory order lapsed before they turned 16 years of age)?
4. Enhance our knowledge of existing or potential programs or strategies that would assist
Indigenous care leavers, so that this knowledge can inform future policy and changes in
practice responses.
The study draws on multiple sources to gather data required to address these research aims. Phase one
of the study involved focus group consultations held with staff of partner agencies and other child and
family organisations (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) delivering out-of-home care, leaving care or
post-care services.
Recruitment: The study was advertised to partner agencies and other organisations who invited staff to
be involved in focus groups conducted by the researchers. Participants were therefore self-selecting (that
is, a non-probability sample) from the project partner agencies and other organisations.
22
Data collection: Semi-structured focus groups were conducted with key stakeholders. Data were
gathered around seven key issues relating to Indigenous care leavers, including:
Strengths and limitations of leaving care and post-care systems for this group;
Strengths and limitations of collaboration and consultation mechanisms between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous services;
Use and relevance of the ACPP with Indigenous care leavers;
Strengths and limitations of Cultural Support Plans and planning;
Strategies for improving connection to community and identity, and challenges faced in this area;
Post-care outcomes; and
Experiences and ideas concerning good practice with Indigenous care leavers.
These topics were developed based on a review of the existing literature (Baidawi et al. 2013), and a
consultation forum attended by both the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and 16
representatives of 2 Indigenous and 10 non-Indigenous child welfare agencies. Aspects of the leaving
care system unique to Indigenous care leavers, and data gaps in the literature base relating to Indigenous
care leavers were identified based on these reviews and consultations, and these formed the focus group
topics. Focus groups have been established as an effective method for qualitative data collection in social
work research (Linhorst, 2002). This methodology aimed to stimulate discussion between agency staff
around the key issues, in order to generate responses that individual participants may not have previously
considered (Alston & Bowles, 2003).
Sample: A total of 36 individuals participated in eight focus groups and one individual interview during
this phase of data collection, as shown in Table One. While there was one individual interview conducted,
for the purposes of this report, phase one data are referred to as being focus group consultations. All
agencies involved were delivering child and family services, primarily in the out-of-home care and leaving
care sectors. Three of these agencies were ACCOs, while the remainder were mainstream child and
youth welfare services. Note that multiple focus groups and interviews were held at different offices of
Agency 8. Focus groups ranged from 39 to 84 minutes in length (average of 64 minutes) and were
primarily conducted at the respective agencies’ offices. The regional locations visited for the purpose of
this study were kept private so as to maintain participant anonymity. While participants were not asked
about their Indigenous status, a total of seven participants (five from ACCOs and one from each of two
other focus groups) identified as being Indigenous.
23
Respondent source
Victorian Department of Health and
Human Services (DH&HS) Regions*
Agency1
Northern & Western Metro
Agency2
8
Northern & Western Metro, Southern Metro
Agency3
Northern & Western Metro, Southern Metro
Agency4
5
Southern Metro
Agency5
Northern & Western Metro
Agency6
2
Non-Metro Region
Agency 7
Non-Metro Region
Agency 8
3
Non-Metro Region
Agency 9
Southern Metro
Total
Focus group participants held a range of positions including case worker, support worker, case manager,
program manager, team leader and regional director. The majority worked within the out-of-home care
and leaving care sectors, including in kinship, foster and residential care programs, as well as lead tenant
and post-care services, leaving care housing and mentoring, and youth justice support programs.
Participants also had experience in a variety of former roles that brought them into contact with
Indigenous care leavers, including work in kinship, foster and residential care, lead tenant and post-care
services, adult and youth justice, specific Aboriginal programs, Aboriginal legal services, employment
services, alcohol and other drug services, housing programs, and delivering individual and family
counselling.
Data Analysis: Focus groups were audio-taped and transcribed and the data were then entered into
NVivo10 for coding. An inductive content analysis approach (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008) was adopted. Open
coding, searching for the repetition of words, information and ideas led to the development of common
themes and sub-themes, and any alternative viewpoints, that as closely as possible, reflect the agency
staff’s contributions to the focus groups. Such an approach is appropriate given the limited literature in
this area and the study’s exploratory nature. Data analysis and theme development were conducted by
one researcher and a sample of focus group transcripts (four of seven) were then re-coded by a second
member of the research team to enhance rigour (Barbour, 2001). Cross-checking of themes relating to
cultural support planning found inter-rater agreement between the researchers. Themes reported in the
findings constitute those most commonly recurring across focus groups. Alternative or unique viewpoints
are also highlighted.
Table 1. Focus group consultations *DH&HS regions of participants’ work at the time of data
collection.
24
Phase two of the study aimed to access the perspectives of young Indigenous care leavers to generate
a more in depth understanding of their experiences of being in care (particularly their connection to
community and culture), their experiences of leaving care, and their post-care trajectories.
Recruitment: The study was advertised to a range of agencies (including partner agencies, 13 other
child and family welfare agencies and programs, and to every Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled
Organisation delivering leaving care and post-care services via an email supported by the Office of the
Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People).
Agency staff identified young people who met the following eligibility criteria, and who were currently or
previously accessing the agency:
Identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
Aged 18 to 23 years; and
Previous placement in out-of-home care (at least 6 months in kinship care, foster care, residential
care or lead tenant placements).
Convenience (non-probability) sampling was utilised given the difficulty of locating young people within
the target group. Interview location and time was either arranged by agency staff or by the research
assistant contacting the young person.
Data collection: Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with the young people covering
a range of topics, including out-of-home care history and experiences of out-of-home care, education and
employment history and experience, leaving care experience, and post-care experiences. Young people
also completed a short demographic questionnaire with the interviewer at the conclusion of the interview.
Sample: The sample comprised two young Koorie women aged 19 and 22 years who were interviewed
in June 2015 and January 2016 respectively. The interviews ranged from 51 to 54 minutes. Visual
timelines tracking events such as entry into care, changes in placement and schools, leaving care post-
care outcomes including housing, education and employment were created with each young person using
paper and pencil during the interviews. The young people were also asked about their connections to
family, community and culture throughout their lives. The young people were able to refer to the timeline
to describe temporal relationships between events.
Data Analysis: The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The transcripts were reviewed by
the research team, and case studies were developed from each transcript reflecting the major
characteristics, events and turning points of each young person’s account. Transcripts were then
25
analysed according to the themes emerging from the focus group consultations in order to determine
where the accounts supported the identified themes, contradicted these themes and presented new
information. Findings from the interviews with young people are presented in the next section, following
those arising from of the focus group consultations.
Findings
Focus Group Consultations
The findings of the focus group consultations are reported in six main sub-sections which primarily relate
to the study’s aims. Firstly data relating to current service provision and broad themes (including the place
of the Aboriginal Placement Principle in transitions from care) are examined. The subsequent two
sections outline the strengths and limitations of current leaving care and post-care systems for Indigenous
care leavers from the perspective of key stakeholders. Next, themes relating to the experiences and
outcomes of Indigenous care leavers are presented. The final section contains recommendations for
improving outcomes for Indigenous care leavers which emerged from the focus group consultations.
Current leaving care and post-care systems available to Indigenous care leavers
Nature of systems and processes
Focus groups with non-Indigenous agencies were unable to outline differences in the leaving care
services delivered by ACCOs compared to those delivered by mainstream child welfare agencies in
supporting Indigenous care leavers. Respondents suggested that both service types adopt a voluntary
model, and support Indigenous care leavers to identify their own needs. The services then attempt to
access appropriate supports and resources to meet these identified needs (for example, housing,
brokerage and the like).
Many respondents from mainstream services were not aware of any specific programs or differences in
leaving care and post-care processes and services available to Indigenous care leavers. However, it
should be noted that in some of these services, respondents had not experienced having Indigenous
care leavers as clients in their programs.
“So we [agency] are not an Indigenous-specific service. However from time to time we do
have Indigenous clients. I have to say that, even as the [Manager], I’m actually not familiar
26
[with] any specific Indigenous care leaver programs. My understanding is that it’s all the same,
so I would be interested to see with the … the outcomes of this research, if there is something
different that we don’t know about.” - FG4, A1
“I actually went back through all of, I can say for the last six and half years since I’ve been in
this program. We haven’t actually had any Indigenous young people that have left care. So
the oldest we’ve had ongoingly [sic] was 14. And we start leaving care processes at 15. And
then the one or two Indigenous young people that we’d had that were over 15, we’d only had
for maybe a couple of weeks, and they were case managed externally. So we’ve, as a
program in my six and a half years, we’ve never had a young person we’ve had to transition
into independence who’s been Indigenous.” – FG1, A4
“We only had in our program, transitional services, we’ve only had in my time, which is almost
three years, one young [Indigenous] person.” – FG1, A6
Where service provision is available, Indigenous care leavers can opt to receive leaving care and/or post-
care services either from an ACCO or non-Indigenous service:
“I know that if we did have an Indigenous child come in to out-of-home care one of the first
things that we do is we do contact [the ACCO]. And then we, we’re supposed to put, oh, well
we do put in a cultural plan for that child” – FG4, A3
Other participants indicated that secondary consultation with ACCOs would ideally occur for Indigenous
care leavers, and that this was the main difference between leaving care planning for Indigenous and
non-Indigenous care leavers from the perspective of mainstream services. However it was not clear
whether secondary consultation with ACCOs was standard practice for mainstream services in situations
where Indigenous care leavers opted to not be directly involved with ACCOs.
In contrast to the responses from non-Indigenous agencies, respondents from ACCOs stressed that
connection to family, community and culture is integral to the leaving care process. This appears to be a
difference in emphasis between Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaving care service provision. Some
ACCOs in regional areas were able to highlight how the agency was best placed to facilitate these
connections for young people:
27
“…obviously [non-Indigenous agencies] might not know much at all about Aboriginal culture.
And then they’re going to have to try and sort out who their family is and ring up, and I can
literally just go, “Hey, you know this one?” The person that sits next to me is that network, and
that’s going to help me out. You know what I mean? … we have unlimited resources here for
that type of stuff. Because like, you know a lot of us are the community and the professionals.
And that, I think that’s where it’s strength comes from.” – FG8, A3
Self-determination, partnership and power
Focus groups both with ACCOs and non-Indigenous agencies touched on concepts of Aboriginal self-
determination within leaving care and post-care systems. A number of discussions concerning the
complexities of power, partnership and Aboriginal self-determination emerged. For example, comments
concerning access to funding and other resources included:
There's a few things they're eligible for. They're eligible to get some funding for uni. But we
don't hold the funding… We do the paperwork and then send it to [the mainstream child
welfare agency], and [the mainstream child welfare agency] holds the money. I think that's
wrong myself” – FG6, A1
“I suppose as an organisation we see that we’ve got a lot of resources as I think I said before,
that actually belong to [the ACCO]. And the CEO’s quite open and happy to talk about that,
that we need to be thinking about the portability of those resources to follow over to [the ACCO]
which provides the scale for them to be able to provide a service that Aboriginal kids need.
That’s, you know, going to be more culturally appropriate.” – FG5, A2
“…one of the limitations is the fact that there’s not a great deal of self-determination… here
we are saying if we had a mainstream response, we had an Aboriginal specific response.
They’re questions for the Aboriginal service system, that you know that they haven’t yet
got to answer for themselves. What does an Aboriginal leaving care system look like? It’s not
for us to answer that question... So a lack of that self-determination I think is a big part of it,
in that … we in terms of our dominant white culture will continue to make mistakes while we
try and make the rules.” – FG5, A2
Finally, difficulties in power-sharing in order to establish genuine partnership with ACCOs were described
by non-Indigenous agencies:
28
“Something we need to get better at is actually working in partnership with ACCOs. So being
led and guided by their work, and not necessarily always taking the driver’s seat. Recognising
that we’re sometimes going to have to be in the passenger seat and, for CEOs and senior
exec, that can be challenging sometimes to sit with that. So it’s about letting go, that if you
want to work in this space, then you do have to fundamentally be respectful, and taking the
driver’s seat ain’t necessarily respectful.” – FG2, A6
Aboriginal Child Placement Principle
When discussing the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, focus group participants pointed out the
shortage (particularly in Metropolitan Victoria) of Indigenous carers. Furthermore, they noted the difficulty
balancing the principle of placing sibling groups together with the priority of finding an Indigenous carer
or placement:
“… we have such a small proportion of Indigenous people who identify as Indigenous living
in our area… we probably have six or seven Indigenous kids on our list, but only one
Indigenous carer … there’s a disconnect. Because there’s so many children who are
Indigenous in care, and [they are] five times as likely to be in care, but then you don’t have
any of the foster carers.” – FG3, A2
“You have your Best Interests Framework, which [means] kids should be placed together in
a sibling group. Then you’ve got the Indigenous framework, they have to be placed with an
Indigenous carer. When you’ve got three siblings, you just find whatever you can get to keep
them together. If there was an option for an Indigenous carer, [and] she only had capacity for
one child, I wouldn’t be putting one child in there and splitting up with the others. It’s sort of
like what you can find.” –FG3, A2
“…the first thing you’re thinking when you’re on duty… is where can I put these kids? Where
can I keep them together? Where’s closest to their school? So there’s all these competing
priorities of where the location is, [and] can they keep doing their extra-curricular activities?
Because unfortunately if they want to play basketball, that sits higher than, for them,
sometimes their culture. So it’s finding all these things. It’s just not realistic that you find an
Indigenous carer when you’re factoring in all these other things. It’s just impossible.” – FG3,
A2
29
In the leaving care and post-care periods, respondents commonly reported that finding any placement or
housing option for young people was the most pressing priority, rather than placement with Indigenous
carers or within Indigenous communities. It should be emphasized that this point was more commonly
expressed by participants working within non-Indigenous agencies.
Some participants also pointed out that while the ACPP continues to guide practice in the leaving care
and post-care periods, there is no legislative requirement to consider these issues after a young person
leaves care:
Aboriginal Childhood Placement Principle is in the vernacular of everyone in out-of-home
care. It’s not in the vernacular of people in post-care. So it’s such a big, big, big thing. Why
does it suddenly change when someone turns 18?” – FG5, A2
“Historically once… their order expires, society views them as independent individuals” – FG5,
A1
Identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Status
The identification of children’s and young people’s cultural backgrounds is integral to the provision of
culturally appropriate responses to young people in, and leaving, out-of-home care, systems.
Respondents noted difficulties, both for systems and for individuals, in identifying children and young
people’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, and the complexity inherent in this theme became
increasingly apparent as the focus group consultations progressed.
Asking the question: At a systems level, some respondents suggested that child protection and child
welfare services’ professionals did not always ask individuals and families about their Indigenous status:
“A2: …You know when they go in to do an intake, they don't ask are they Aboriginal… and
that's what we’re trying to get through to DHS, that that should be the very first question that's
asked. Are they of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent? They're not asking.
A1: Sometimes they're ticking the box… Ticking the box that says they have, and ticking the
box that they are Aboriginal. When we go to do Cultural Support Planning we find out that
they're not Aboriginal… Or we're told that they're not Aboriginal” FG6
Though respondents were unsure, they indicated that some workers may feel uncomfortable asking this
question of clients:
30
“A2: Well we've spoken to DHS workers and a lot of them don't want to ask the question.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A2: You know, it's like the white elephant in the room, isn't it, you know? FG6
Cultural confusion or denial: Participants also indicated that some young people, carers (including both
Indigenous and non-Indigenous carers) and families did not wish to acknowledge their Indigenous
heritage, preferring to keep it private. For example, workers from an ACCO spoke about working with
carers who did not acknowledge their grandchildren’s’ Aboriginality:
“A2: Because they're like... well some don't even want to acknowledge the fact that their
grandkids are Aboriginal ... you know they're white so... or they’re light-skinned.
A1: So you don't have to say that you're Aboriginal.
A2: Just shoosh.” – FG6
Though a variety of drivers were suggested for such attitudes, many participants acknowledged both a
fear of racism and cultural shame as being potential contributing factors:
“A3: …young people often don't want to identify with their culture. I remember one particular
young lass, who didn't particularly look Indigenous and she didn't want to identify as being
Indigenous.
Q: And what's your understanding of the reasons behind that?
A3: She told me in no uncertain terms she hated being seen as a piece of shit. Yeah.
A1: Because a lot of them see it as, that as limiting their opportunities for employment and
things like that as well. Which is not unrealistic.” FG7
Cultural uncertainty: Again over the course of focus group consultations, the uncertainty of young
people regarding their own Indigenous status was raised a number of times, often in relation to
intergenerational involvement in child welfare systems, and families’ resulting loss of connection with their
heritage, history and culture:
I have another young person who identifies as Aboriginal, but she’s not sure. She thinks
that her Dad might be.” FG5, A3
31
Like we've had some phone calls from some workers saying, "We've got such and such, and
we think they're Aboriginal. Have you heard of them?" FG6, A2
Often this was raised in relation to intergenerational involvement in child welfare systems, and families’
resulting loss of connection with their heritage, history and culture:
“It's really frustrating because most kids that are in care, their parents have been in care. So
it's like a...
A1: It's generational, it's generational.
A2: And so they don't know, the kid doesn't know, the parents don't know. Because I ring
everybody when I'm doing a [cultural support] plan … the parents, the aunties, uncles,
whoever's information I've got, I'll ring them and talk to them. And a lot of them don't know.
And I suggest to them that maybe they go into [the ACCO] and another worker, who's the
Bringing them Home worker and she can, you know, if she can take them on, which she can't
because she's got how many clients? 60? And she's only supposed to have 12.” – FG6
But I've got [a young person] that I think might be [Indigenous]. And I'm trying to support her,
if she's interested in going and learning about it... because her Mum, we've worked out her
Mum was in care, and we believe she's Stolen Generation. So we're working with Mum as
well.” – FG7, A2
Confirmation of Aboriginal heritage: Finally, focus group participants stated that Indigenous care
leavers may require confirmation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in order to access some
Indigenous-specific services or programs in the community. Given the aforementioned issues regarding
identification of Indigenous status, participants noted that for Indigenous care leavers (particularly those
coming from families with intergenerational child welfare involvement), meeting the requirements for
confirmation of heritage could be difficult:
A1: We have… quite a number of Aboriginal young people who are homeless. So we link
them up and … particularly to be eligible for housing, Aboriginal housing, you have to have
confirmation of your Aboriginality. Which is a bit of an issue…You have to get a [Statutory
Declaration] from someone…
A2: you’ve got to have linear lineage. So you’ve got to be able to prove genealogy. And
you’ve got to prove that you’ve maintained a connection with your community of origin. So
someone from a co-op has to sign off to that effect.” – FG5
32
Relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous agencies delivering services to this
group
Focus groups with mainstream child welfare agencies detailed that the relationship between their
agencies and ACCOs, as well as between individual workers in both organisations was vital to working
with Indigenous young people. All participating agencies believed the relationship between mainstream
child welfare agencies and ACCOs was adequate. However, most recognized a need to nurture these
relationships.
An historical legacy of a broken relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
and communities
It was acknowledged that child and family welfare agencies had inherited an historical legacy of a broken
relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and communities which had to be overcome
through ongoing attention to the relationship between services:
And I think that the question about relationship-building is primary in terms of the trust
issue. So if you’re working with some of the ACCOs in Victoria that we’ve experienced there
can be a fairly hostile kind of a relationship whilst you’re sussing out whether the mainstream
organisation’s okay, and how to fit in with the cultural sort of needs and perspective of the
Aboriginal organisation along the way.” - FG2, A2
“… we’re drawn to working in that space because we feel like we do have to leave something
of ourselves on the table, too. That’s not easy. It’s a challenging space to be in, when you’re
there. It takes time to build trust, and like anything, it gets eroded very quickly if you’re not
careful. You have to care for the actual, and nurture the relationship. But I think, personally,
my experience in working with ACCOs has been I’ve got a [lot] more out of it than I think they
probably have. So the rewards are incredible when you step into that space in your own
learning, both personally and professionally, and understandings around what it means to,
you know, work with and alongside Koorie people.”- FG2, A6
“I know Aboriginal friends, when I first came to [this agency] couldn’t understand why I was
coming here and I worked in Child Protection, right? And they said, Why would you go and
work there? They take children away. They take all the babies away”. So there’s still a big,
you know, so whether there’s a remnant of a disconnect with that in terms of the services that
the system has to connect with. They are very disconnected through generations … and a
great deal of distrust, which is starting to break down now, I would have thought. But you know
it’s not that long ago.” –FG5, A2
33
Though only forming a minority of responses on this theme, some individuals expressed views and
comments indicating higher levels of mistrust and misunderstanding between mainstream child welfare
agencies and ACCOs. For example, certain participants expressed views of ACCOs as being
disorganised rather than under-resourced. Additionally, perceptions of ACCOs being selective in services
and supports offered depending on the family origins of young people were relayed. Conversely, there
were consistent responses from ACCO staff believing mainstream child welfare agencies were not
providing information or referral to ACCO services for young people, for example:
They're all meant to come through [the ACCO], but we don't even know about some of them
until they've been here in [this town] for years. We just got a family of five not long ago that
have lived here for 8 years and have been in [the non-Indigenous agency’s] out of home care
system. But we didn't hear about them until they needed a CSP” – FG6, A1
“…there have been clients that just don’t ever get the option of [the ACCO]. And because… I
think it’s up to the mainstream organisation, if they get the referral, to see they’re Indigenous
and let them know there is an Indigenous service, would you like that instead? FG8, A1
“… the Leaving Care Programs wouldn’t see them because Child Protection’s not doing the
referral to us. That’s why we wouldn’t see it… we have the privilege of having Lakidjeka which
is, they’re like a specialist team … they have like a spreadsheet… this is how I get clients like,
[X] our worker will kind of give me a spreadsheet of the clients of age in my area. And I’ll like
trace that, alright that’s their worker, and I’ll go contact them. So I have to backwards like, kind
of go up the line and get the referral myself.” – FG8, A1
However, respondents of non-Indigenous child welfare agencies tended to state that such referrals are
made and may be refused by young people. It is beyond the scope of this report to either question or
critique these matters. However it seems apparent that issues of concern reside in the relationships
between the services which in turn may impact upon the efficacy of support offered to Indigenous care
leavers. Simultaneously, examples of strong relationships and collaborative practice were also evident.
For example:
The young Indigenous boy I worked with in leaving care, his brother's still in a foster
placement. His brother's 19, he's still there, getting... getting any sort of information out of this
young fella's [like getting] blood from a stone… he first came in with [X]… his Indigenous
[ACCO] leaving care person. When I spoke to the young fella, it was through [X], we were
sitting in this room. And so I was just filling out a referral form, and he was just constantly
34
looking at [X] for, "Oh yep, yep, and then [X] would sort of relay what I was saying.” – FG7,
A4
Time constraints and a lack of strategic pathways
Ideas emerged of opportunities for future strengthening of these relationships, such as cross-agency
learning about the services offered by each agency, and nurturing individual and team relationships.
However, time constraints and a lack of strategic pathways by which to strengthen these relationships
were recognised as limitations to developing stronger partnerships between services:
“I don’t think that there are formal pathways for organisations to… I’m talking from my end, to
kind of build each other’s capacity and work together, which I think is, you know, needs to be
focused on a bit more. FG2, A1
We currently do a range of different things across Australia in the Aboriginal space, but we
don’t… we haven’t nominated any kind of purposeful way of being able to negotiate that. So
a lot of that happens through individuals and the sorts of relationships that they build. FG2,
A2
A strong value placed on the work of ACCOs
The other major theme to emerge from mainstream agencies regarding relationships with ACCOs was a
strong value placed on the work of ACCOs including both consultation and separate work directly with
Indigenous young people. The following example was given of secondary consultation with an ACCO for
an Indigenous care leaver:
“My experience has been quite positive really, working in conjunction with [the ACCO] with
the leaving care worker. Mainly in a secondary consult capacity, because our client didn’t
really want to engage with [the ACCO], so I can only speak to one young person that I’ve
supported who identifies as Aboriginal and who has strong cultural connections and who has
been supported by [the ACCO] for a long, long timeat times she’s wanted to engage and
at others she didn’t, and at the time of leaving care she didn’t want to. So we just negotiated
with [the ACCO] and [the ACCO] still came to her care teams at that point in time the young
person herself wasn’t attending the care teams. So [the ACCO] came and just provided
secondary consult to us, so the leaving care planning was done primarily by us, but with their
input. And that worked really wellAnd so information was passed on to this young person
35
from [the ACCO] via us about things that were happening in community, things that she might
be interested in, Aboriginal Housing Victoria And that worked pretty well.” – FG5, A3
Perceived under-resourcing of ACCOs
This valuing of the work of these services was articulated alongside a frustration at the perceived under-
resourcing of ACCOs, as indicated in previous sections relating to Cultural Support Planning:
“I’m just really aware that they are pretty under the pump, and understaffed and overworked
and have …all of Victoria to cover. So that’s a really difficult sort of environment to be working
in and … it’s been my experience that that’s been a real sort of impediment to doing the good
work. And I think that yeah, in my experience, [ACCO] workers have been absolutely fantastic.”
FG5, A3
“They barely come to a case plan, really. You’re lucky to see them at a case plan, but then
they don’t know the kid, because they’ve got a case load of like sixty or something, you know?
You can’t get onto them, they don’t respond to emails.” – FG3, A1
Strengths of leaving care and post-care systems
Availability of ACCOs
The main strength identified of current leaving care and post-care systems for Indigenous young people
was the availability of ACCOs providing specific services for Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care:
“I think one of the strengths is that we do have, in Victoria at least, an Aboriginal Community
Controlled Organisation, that is funded to deliver Koorie-specific support to Koories who are
in the out-of-home care system. I think they’re under-resourced, I think they face significant
challenges in the work that they do. But I think as a starting point that’s not a bad place to
be.” – FG2, A5
Dedicated workers
Participants also identified a range of Indigenous-specific housing, legal, and health services in the
community which were highly valued as referral points for Indigenous care leavers. In addition to targeted
services, the dedication of workers in the leaving care and post-care service system was seen as a key
36
asset of these systems. This was noted of mainstream staff, and also of Indigenous staff working in either
mainstream agencies or Indigenous-specific services:
“…that’s been our experience too of many of our Aboriginal staff. They work 24/7. It just so
happens we pay them between nine and five FG2, A5
“… If our [Indigenous] staff didn’t have a job tomorrow, they would still be doing things through
obligation.” –FG2, A3
“… we’ve had incredible leaving care workers in our office downstairs… [X] does a huge amount
of work. And she’s out there ‘till midnight some nights. And I know that she probably works 60,
I would say that she works 60, 70 hours a week. And she’s there with them. If it wasn’t for her
I would see weaknesses in the program, but you’ve got these committed staff... because the
reality is you can’t do it within business hours. You know our job’s nine to five, and her job would
be nine to five. The reality is you’ve got to be out there with the kids at eight, nine, 10 o’clock at
night. FG3, A2
Increasing cultural awareness and sensitivity
Though acknowledged as an ongoing work in progress, participants of some mainstream agencies
identified as a key strength the increasing cultural awareness and sensitivity of the organisation in its
work with Indigenous communities, organisations and young people. This included basic initiatives such
as the provision of cultural training for agency staff and in a minority of cases, the hiring of Indigenous
staff in mainstream services. Actions taken at a strategic level were also cited as examples, including
organisations’ issuing of formal apologies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and
development of strategic plans concerning reconciliation and working with Indigenous communities.
One thing that our agency here does is that they do offer, I think it’s once or twice a year
through [an ACCO] they run … an Indigenous cultural awareness one day training. And I’ve
done a couple of them through here, and that’s where actually I’ve sort of learnt more about
the history, and then my own sort of research.” - FG4, A3
“So one of the things that we’re doing at the minute, and I’m not sure about the model, but
the intent I think is a good thing, is around the idea of putting together a reconciliation action
plan. And really, the question in regard to this is not just about the issue of young Aboriginal
people leaving care. It’s about our experience of care and about our experience of family
37
systems, and what we consider to be the solution, and how you marry that with where
Aboriginal people are at in that respect as well. So you can’t build relationship, and you can’t
build trust unless you’re prepared to put your own cultural values on the line as well.” –FG2,
A3
“We’ve apologised, so there’s written apologies to Aboriginal people for mistakes of the past,
you know, those are up they are framed... So there were ceremonies and things that
happened there was a whole process internally but they’re markers as well for us as an
organisation. Which is a marker for the people here who might not be on board, too, to say,
Well if you’re not personally, that’s your business. But at [this agency] you’ll get the sack”.
So it’s really clear, you know?” - FG5, A2
Interestingly, one focus group participant indicated that a young Indigenous client had become aware of
the agency’s public apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
That was really important as well. Because this young person knew about that, had read about
it in the paper and we got to talk about that. She was like, “Oh, [the agency] apologised!”.
FG5, A3
However, this positive perspective was not espoused by all focus group participants, some of whom
believed that their workplace’s efforts towards cultural sensitivity and awareness were somewhat
tokenistic:
I know at [Agency Office] … probably about three years ago I approached someone to put
up some… there was no Indigenous artwork anywhere. And the person, well two people I
sort of approached just went, “Oh God, he’s one of those”. It’s like, well “Nah, I’m not ‘one of
those’ but it would be nice to see some Indigenous art in here”. So just to please me they
went and got on the internet and Googled some Aboriginal flag, printed it off and laminated it
and stuck it up, and there you go. And I was just like, “Really?” To me … that says to me a lot
about their attitude towards Indigenous culture.” FG3, A4
38
Strong endorsement of Cultural Support Plans
Where they were available, CSPs were strongly endorsed by focus group participants. They were seen
to benefit not only young people, but agencies (in providing a greater understanding of Indigenous young
peoples’ background) as well as families in some cases:
[Cultural Support Plans are] a great tool for us, you know not only us to be able to work with
that child or young person, but also for them to be able to see, you know, their genogram and
see who’s who, and look back on their heritage of where they came from.” – FG5, A5
“I think we were able to gain some more understanding. I can’t say that the cultural plan came
up with anything different than we had been doing through the case plan. But we had a
bigger understanding of the generational issues. We had more understanding of where family
were.” – FG1, A4
“I think for the young people to know a little bit more about their history. And in this case, the
parents weren’t forthcoming with the Department about a lot of information. And you know,
their experience with the Department hadn’t been the best, so there was a lot of fear and
anger. And I think that the plan opened up some discussions, and …. They saw the [ACCO]
worker as being independent. So they were a little more forthcoming with information about
family history and things like that.” – FG1, A4
“…it becomes part of your practice. When you’ve got a document that you’re accountable for,
it becomes just as important as health and education. Like it’s always at the forefront that
every time you plan for these kids that cultural identity always comes into it.” – FG5, A3
“Well I’ve only ever seen one, and it was very thorough … it was very thorough because the
person that had created it had known this young person for a very long time, and had really
good knowledge about her family and her links to community. So it was a really beautiful,
really well-presented document … it’s got a lot of information in it. A lot of information about
her family, about her culture, about her totem, lots of pictures, beautiful genogram, family tree,
little sort of excerpts of things that her relatives have said, little quotes.” – FG5, A3
Respondents from ACCOs also identified the importance of young people understanding their own history,
for a number of reasons, including identity development and safety in future relationships:
We really need more funding in the Cultural Support Plan area to keep the kids connected to
their traditional areas and to keep them, to let them know what resources are there, what famous
people come from that area. And we do have famous Aboriginal people, so ... it could be their
cousins, and their aunties or their uncles. Kids need to know that, so that they've got something
proud to talk about. Because our whole life really as Black people is put down, put down, put
39
down. This would build up, build up and make people more proud of who they are. Proud to
succeed…that they're not just a kid in out-of-home care. That they do have connections, that
they do have traditional country. FG6, A1
Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People
Finally, the recent appointment of the Aboriginal Commissioner for Children and Young People was
acknowledged as a strength of the Victorian leaving care system for Indigenous young people.
“I think the recent appointment of the Aboriginal Children’s Commissioner has been a
significant piece of work in Victoria in terms of being able to get some overview and looking
at some of the transitional patterns and I suppose some of the issues concerning transition.”
FG3, A3
Limitations of leaving care and post-care systems
There were seven key themes to emerge when respondents were asked to identify any limitations of
leaving care and post-care services for Indigenous care leavers.
Leaving care and post-care system limitations largely similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous
care leavers
The main theme emerging from mainstream services was that the limitations of leaving care and post-
care systems for Indigenous care leavers were largely similar to those experienced by non-Indigenous
care leavers, and that these arose from generic shortcomings of these systems. In particular, the limited
human and financial resources available to support care leavers in the post-care period were
acknowledged, alongside the compressed and early transitions to relative independence expected of
care leavers. Respondents highlighted the lack of developmental readiness of some care leavers to
negotiate, with limited supports, the tasks expected of them, including the capacity to engage with a
voluntary post-care service system. The lack of flexibility and resources of “overwhelmed” leaving care
and post-care systems was seen as a limitation for all care leavers, regardless of Indigenous status.
Most leaving care and post-care services were seen to be equally accessible to Indigenous and non-
Indigenous care leavers. However, the Springboard program, by virtue of primarily targeting care leavers
in residential care and lead tenant placements, was seen to be inadvertently less accessible to
40
Indigenous care leavers due to a preference for placement in kinship arrangements in this group. This
may explain why the numbers of Indigenous young people participating in Springboard (6.5 per cent of
the total group) are relatively small (Baldry et al., 2015). Additionally, while access to identity documents
is a central concern for all care leavers, focus group respondents in non-metropolitan locations noted that
an anecdotally high proportion of Indigenous care leavers may not have birth certificates or a registration
of birth, and many had arrived from other locations, including interstate, which complicated the process
of obtaining these documents. This in turn creates difficulties accessing services, for example, income
security payments from Centrelink.
Cultural considerations not a priority
A second and related theme emerging concerning limitations of leaving care and post-care systems
centred on the observation that cultural considerations were not a priority in the leaving care and post-
care period. According to most respondents from non-indigenous agencies, many care leavers,
particularly those transitioning from residential care or lead tenant placements, were seen to be facing
more immediate concerns (most prominently housing and financial issues) which took precedence over
attending to cultural considerations:
“A significant number of young people that approach post-care are in crisis. And I think that
when a young person is in crisis they don’t have any space for their cultural needs, they’re
focusing on “I have nowhere to sleep tonight”, or “I can’t pay my bills and I’m about to be
evicted”, or “my relationship has broken down” or “I’m experiencing family violence” - FG5,
A1
“I don’t know that they’re not interested in it. I just think it’s not a priority at that point
because there are other more stressful and pressing circumstances around their leaving care.
So it’s not something that they have the space nor time to consider at that point. It’s the, it’s
the more hierarchical, you know hierarchy of need, that is present when they’re leaving care.
So… until they’re in a space where they are safe and comfortable … there’s no room to even
think about I think.” - FG5, A1
“…from my observations going to leaving care meetings and post-care meetings, is that, that
organisations are stretched. And one of the main issues that they talk about at different
meetings is housing. You know everything else comes second, for, you know obvious reasons.
So I guess, talking about cultural identity at some of the meetings I go to, aren’t on the agenda.
And I guess that they need to be on the agenda, but that housing issue’s up here and then it
goes out. And the cultural identity is down here somewhere.” – FG2, A2
41
“I think the challenge too, is that we forget, you know in our work as mainstream providers we
forget. We’re too busy focused on you know, let’s address the housing, the employment, the
education the training, you know all these little tick-a-boxes in our head, that we forget about,
you know what it means to be Koorie, and what that specific life experience might have been
like, and that disconnection from family, and that no one actually, you know, as mainstream
providers I think we’re guilty, you know in ourselves. We just basically, we don’t do… we’re
often too busy to step outside of it actually and do something differently, and actually analyse
our practice.” – FG2, A6
“…when a young person is leaving care, you’ve got to take into account housing and exiting,
which is already limited as it is, so you’re just trying to find something for them. So [culture is]
not always going to be at the forefront of things.” - FG1, A6
Shortage of referrals and resources for ACCO delivery of leaving care and post-care services
While respondents from non-Indigenous agencies tended to emphasise generic limitations of leaving care
and post-care systems, simultaneously indicating that cultural considerations were not a priority in this
period, ACCO staff more commonly expressed the view that their agencies were under-resourced to
deliver leaving care services or were not sent referrals for leaving care planning:
“Their Child Protection worker might not realise there is [the ACCO leaving care service], they
might be new. So they just go to whoever they know is leaving care. Yep. So I think it’s about
awareness within Child Protection. They’re where the referrals come from.” – FG8, A1
Sometimes it’s also though that the kids haven’t necessarily been linked in with an ACCO
before. And now because there’s a bit more of a push that you know, mainstream orgs need to
be linking kids in, we seem to find that there’s quite a few you know, adolescents coming through
that haven’t had that connection … we’ve also had quite a few come through that didn’t
necessarily know that they were Aboriginal for the majority of their lives. And then someone has
connected them back to family in some way, and then they’ve found that information.” – FG9,
A1
“… our leaving care program is tiny. And I think that you know, if we actually had more resources
and more workers, and bigger targets, we would be able to do better. Because I think we have
nine targets in a year And obviously you know, as they leave the program more will come in.
But because the leaving care program is actually for such a long time, there’s lots and lots of
kids that in that time will miss out because if we’ve got a young person coming in at 15 and they
42
actually stay within the program for four years because leaving care is really complex, that
in that four years we’re holding that one vacancy and all of the other kids that have come through
aren’t able to get into the program.” – FG9, A1
In contrast to non-Indigenous agencies, respondents from ACCOs expressed views indicating that
connection to family, culture and community is from their perspective an integral part of meeting other
leaving care goals, and fundamental to a successful transition from care, for example:
“I think especially being a culturally-specific service, I think that’s a huge part of what we think
about - that connection to the family is cultural stuff, and … I think that’s one of the main factors
of a successful transition … to independence” – FG8, A3
Discharge from care or absent from placement prior to eligibility for leaving care
A forth limitation of leaving care systems identified was that many Indigenous young people were seen
to leave care or be absent from their placements prior to becoming eligible for leaving care. This theme
was mainly raised by respondents in non-metropolitan areas, who gave anecdotal evidence of Indigenous
young people who had been in care for many years then either being absent from placements and
becoming homeless (for example, couch-surfing), or returning to kinship placements deemed as stable
prior to age 16.
Participants observed Indigenous young peoples’ orders lapsing after being placed in kinship
arrangements which later broke down, or after being absent from placements after the age of 15. Such
situations created issues for the engagement of young people in leaving care planning and service
provision. For example, some young people become ineligible for leaving care services if they were not
under a care and protection order, as per legislative stipulations, while others were not able to be located
to engage in leaving care planning. Respondents observed these young people returning to youth
services via homelessness or youth justice service pathways when their circumstances degenerated, and
were identified as care leavers through these services. Participants also related that it could be difficult
to access proof of a young person’s eligibility for leaving care services under these circumstances.
The thing I don't like about is the fact that if they leave care before they're 15 and nine
months, then they're not eligible. Even though they might have been in care since birth. Why
is that the case? FG6, A1
43
“So sometimes when they're coming up to sixteen if, you know they might have absconded
or something, I don't know, and DHS might say or assume that they've returned to family, but
it has broken down, but it hasn't been reported. And then there's this whole sort of, I guess
grey area where they don't particularly chase it up because of their age, or I don't know, their
circumstance. But there is certainly young people out there that don't... they will quite often
just let it lapse” – FG7, A2
“I guess for us as service providers, one of the dramas when a kid comes in, and regardless
whether they're Indigenous or not, comes in through the homelessness services. They can
identify as being in care, or on an order at 16 or after 16. But if it's lapsed and closed or
whatever, for us to get the evidence from the Department whether they be in Bendigo, or from
Melbourne or in Gippsland or Horsham or wherever, is quite troublesome at times.” FG7,
A3
Difficulties accessing completed Cultural Support Plans
A fifth limitation of the current systems described was the difficulty in accessing completed CSPs for
Indigenous young people and taking actions to implement the goals identified in these plans.
Respondents from non-Indigenous agencies spoke of great difficulties in having CSPs developed in
partnership with ACCOs, or in the case of clients who are not contracted to the agency, by the Department
of Human Services
2
, in conjunction with ACCOs:
“A2: I’ve never seen [a Cultural Support Plan]
A1: I’ve never seen one…I’ve heard of it.
A2: I’ve never seen one. They’re supposed to and we’re not supposed to take a contract for
a kid until we’ve got one, never happens. Never seen it.
A1: I presume it’s just about how we’re going to meet their cultural needs. But, what are they?”
FG3
“We can’t actually kick them off. They have to be done by [ACCOs]. So they are mandated,
is my understanding, for every Aboriginal young person in out-of-home care. But we’re not
able to start them. And even when we take on case management, we’re not actually… we’re
allowed to be part of it, but we’re not actually able to start it.” – FG1, A4
2
Now the Department of Health and Human Services
44
“The Department have the responsibility to complete the cultural plans and they don’t do them.
You can ask them what the reasons are, but I’d imagine they’re busy. And so I wouldn’t be
surprised if [the agency] in the very near future starts to say, “We’ll just start doing them”. So
you know, unfunded, outside service agreement… that sort of stuff is generally how you make
change happen. You just start acting as if it is changed, yeah? So I imagine that’s what we’re
going to have to do, because Cultural Plans are not routinely done and they’re really helpful,
aren’t they?” – FG5, A2
“But we know of, you know, several young people who as a starting point wouldn’t have a
cultural plan, you know. That’s a shocking indictment when we don’t have the capacity or the
time… because clearly we’re not thinking in that space, if that’s not our starting point…”
FG2, A6
There appeared to be some role confusion with regards to who should or could initiate and complete
Cultural Support Plans for Indigenous young people in care. The contention that only ACCOs could
initiate Cultural Support Plans was articulated by most non-Indigenous agency staff. However one ACCO
staff member stated that:
It was only legislated that children on GSOs needed to have a Cultural Support Plan. It’s
not mandated that the Cultural Support Plan has to be done by an ACCO. They say
mainstream can do that. [The Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service
(ACSASS)] are supposed to endorse it, but that doesn’t always happen either.” – FG9, A1
Aside from questions about responsibility in relation to cultural support planning, a number of other
barriers to completion of CSPs for young people were identified:
Under-resourced ACCOs. Participants both from non-Indigenous agencies and ACCO’s most frequently
cited the fact that ACCO’s were under-resourced to deliver these plans:
“Cultural Support Plans you know I see as very important. However, they are a hefty
document and they are to be completed in collaboration with [the ACCO]. And we you know,
because they have huge caseloads and we don’t often get the support we sometimes require
early on in the piece, because Cultural Support Plans should be done, you know, as soon as
possible. Whereas they can be done quite you know years down the track, quite late in the
piece. And I’m not criticising [the ACCO] at all, it’s just they’ve got you know huge caseloads
and they’re clearly under-resourced.” - FG4, A5
45
“[The ACCO], I think I had difficulties as well in that again they were just completely
overwhelmed with all their cases, that if they had more time I think they would have loved to
sit down and really guide us to do a really comprehensive Cultural Support [Plan] but they just
didn’t have the capacity to do that. So we did it the best that we could, but I definitely think if
there was more resources and more time we could have done a lot better ones.” – FG4, A3
“… they’re saying there’s one [ACCO] worker for a certain region or something, and you’ve
got however many.. you’ve got an over-representation of Indigenous young people, and
there’s one worker.” - FG1, A2
Additionally, respondents from ACCOs outlined the degree of under-resourcing for completing CSPs and
the reality of the workload involved in this task. First, difficulties accessing information required to create
CSPs were described. This was attributed to the young person’s family not knowing this information; the
young person and their family coming from a different region to the one where the ACCO is located; and
the gathering of information from family raising traumatic memories particularly for family members who
are part of the Stolen Generations, and the subsequent emotional toll on workers involved in creating
CSPs.
“… there are more kids on GSOs
3
than we have capacity to make Cultural Support Plans
for … I think at the moment there’s like 37 kids on the list for Cultural Supports and that’s
just this year.” FG9, A1
A1: There's thousands of phone calls per document.
A2: It's exhausting and frustrating, and tiring and it's emotional… you ring the Co-Ops or the
other ACCOs around asking, "Do you know this family? Can you tell me a bit about them? Do
you have contacts that I can call?” – FG6
The limited capacity within ACCOs (which respondents attributed to resourcing issues), was also
problematic in that mainstream services indicated a need for guidance and input from ACCOs in care
planning for Indigenous care leavers and in implementing the goals identified in CSPs:
“The difficulty is you may not have the skills or the capacity or the knowledge or understanding
to do anything about it. That’s the challenge I think probably for mainstream providers in some
ways. So you rely on, well I think we should rely on Koorie expertise and Aboriginal expertise
3
GSOs Guardianship to Secretary Orders
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to inform that, and help in the development of plans that actually make sense. And of course
you’ve got to get the voice of the young person.” –FG2, A6
“…all along the way leading up to those transitions are numerous care team meetings, um,
involving Child protection, placement coordination but traditionally we’ve struggled to get
Indigenous people to those meetings from [ACCOs] those groups. So basically I think that’s
been an issue for us for a number of years.” –FG1, A5
“… often you don’t know enough, I don’t know a lot about Aboriginal culture or heritage or
what’s important or even using the terms mob and things. You pick up stuff, but there isn’t a
lot of interagency work once you’re hired.” – FG3, A2
Similarly ACCOs agreed that having a CSP alone was insufficient to maintain a cultural connection for
young people if resources are not available to action these plans:
“…there’s no money for you know cultural resources. There’s no money to run, you know, for
VACCA, you know to be running cultural programs that we have for our kids to participate in,
you know? There’s certainly nothing aimed at youth. I know that in the whole Southern Region,
that I’m aware of, is … there’s one Koori youth group. That’s run in Dandenong, and it’s like
once a week on the school terms. I know it hasn’t previously run because no one has
volunteered to run the program. Um… but even if there was Cultural Support Plans, there’s
no resources to make sure that the Cultural Support Plans are enacted by whether or not it’s
the foster carer, the kinship carer, the resi. unit” – FG9, A1
We need a full-time worker in Cultural Support Plans because once a Cultural Support Plan
has been done, then there needs to be a support worker that will go out and make sure that
the carer is keeping that child connected to their community… And also funding to go with
that… Some kids are not able to go home to their traditional areas until they're maybe 16…
We need somebody to monitor that, and that needs to be a full time role, and that needs to
be funded with brokerage.” – FG6, A1
Referrals not sent to ACCOs for cultural support planning. In contrast to the responses from non-
Indigenous agencies, respondents from ACCOs were more inclined to indicate that they did not receive
referrals for Cultural Support Planning at the frequency which they would anticipate.
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They needed a Cultural Support Plan. And they'd been here for eight years. Nobody ever
tells us. Because all carers know each other, or they get to know each other and they let us
know. They tell us. We hear about it through word of mouth, or a family member will say my
Aunty's got so and so. FG6, A1
Young people not motivated to engage. Thirdly, respondents from non-Indigenous agencies also
indicated that some Indigenous young people do not wish to engage in cultural support planning or
connection to community:
“I’d say that, you know I don’t think that, and you know from all of us whether it be the
Department of Human Services, agencies like [this agency], [ACCOs], that we um we don’t
put enough emphasis on Cultural Support Plans. And then in saying that, like I … a comment
I made earlier in terms of young people wanting to identify as Indigenous, and wanting to be
a part of their Cultural Support Plan, because it’s so much easier if we have young people
and family being a part of and feeding into that Cultural Support Plan. But if we don’t have
people giving us information and [the ACCO] only know limited information as well it’s actually
really hard to complete the hefty Cultural Support Plan that does exist.” – FG4, P5
However this was rarely reported by respondents from ACCOs, perhaps indicating that different
populations of Indigenous young people are being seen by ACCOs and non-Indigenous services. For
instance, one ACCO worker stated that:
“…the only reason really, they’re not interested is in them being in out of home care, or them
you know the stolen gen, their dad might have, their mum might have been a stolen gen
and it’s like intergenerational stuff. I don’t think anyone who would actually know… you know,
know some family and that would say, “I’m not interested”. I think everyone would be” - FG9,
A1
Family unable to provide information. The fifth barrier to completion of CSPs concerned information-
gathering. As indicated previously, participants outlined cases where family were unable to provide
information for CSPs, sometimes due to their own loss of connection to culture, or were otherwise unable
to be engaged in cultural support planning:
“A lot of the information, unless you can get it from the families directly, it is really hard to fill
out those, those documents. And you do the best that you can, and you resource it and you
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try to put together this plan that you think is … is right, but would be yeah… it would be great
to have more family input where possible.” – FG4, A3
Some of them I’ve found, you know they’ve had quite disrupted childhoods, the parents
themselves. And for a lot of them … there’s information in there that they don’t know either.
And we’ve actually done quite well in terms of us then contacting other family and getting little
bits and being that person that then puts all that together. But yeah, definitely directly from
family, and for them too there’s potentially a lot of trauma there as well. So we could be
opening wounds that they don’t want to talk about either. So it’s got to be very sensitively
done as well.” - FG4, A3
Limitations of child welfare systems in facilitating connections with family
A sixth theme centred on limitations of child welfare systems in facilitating connections with family.
Participants from both ACCOs and non-Indigenous agencies believed that Indigenous care leavers would
benefit from systems which were better able to facilitate connections with extended family and community,
and encourage family work even where children had been removed:
“A5: But it’s interesting because we’ve had referrals where workers have said, “don’t go near
the Mum”, you know, “she’s really dangerous, and just don’t have anything to do with her”,
whereas we tend to always work with the families. And in both those situations the workers
have engaged with the Mum, and it’s turned out really well.
A7: Because she’s allowed to be included for a start.
A3: Goes way back to that idea about the principle of… you’ve got to understand who the
people are you’re dealing with. Don’t fear because they’re different.” – FG2
“… we aren’t actually being proactive I guess, because we don’t have the resources to be like,
we’ve got a 17 year old you know, they’re in resi. or whatever. Or they’re in a kinship placement
with a non-Aboriginal family, or they’re in a foster care placement. How do we now start linking
them back in with people who may not have been appropriate before, but because they’re now
almost adults, and you know they have better skills to identify risks and make sure that they are
safe? We need to hold another family meeting. We need to talk about what cousins do we
have that maybe we can link this young person in with… and by doing that we can then look at
going back to country, we can look at connecting back to culture. But I think we’re in a really
good space at the moment where people are starting to actually take this on board, and starting
to listen to the fact that without these things, you will never help this child. FG9, A1
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What concerns me about this is we put all that money there, and we don’t build family in a
way. We completely ignore the issue of family because they’re too problematic, and we may
have some judgements about family that aren’t kind as well. And in the extended framework
you can always find people that are doing the right thing, that have a lot to give children that
come from their own people, and that in the end you don’t delay the question about how we
actually settle somebody in community, because it’s actually about being a part of your family
and your community. That should be where we aim. Rather than leaving anything, where are
we going to? And where have we come from?” – FG2, A3
Systems incompatible with Indigenous culture
The above quote illustrates a broader view embraced by a minority of respondents, comprising the sixth
theme, which was an observation that out-of-home care systems (and their post-care extensions) are
underpinned by principles, definitions and understandings which are at times antithetical to Indigenous
traditional practices, understandings or value systems:
“when you take a culture and a people outside of their own systems, so family and community,
and no matter how well-intended we are in terms of trying to provide… foster situations or
Aboriginal-specific, out-of-home care circumstances, those young people still are in a system
that’s alien to their own family and extended family systems…We fail in the primary
acknowledgement, which is to acknowledge individual Aboriginal people in a family system.
And in a family system that has an extended framework that promotes solutions that our
system doesn’t look at.” – FG2, A2
Respondents gave various examples illustrating this theme, one of which was previously described in
relation to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (see p. 11). Difficulties were described in balancing
this principle with other Best Interests principles in out-of-home care, including keeping sibling groups
together and prioritising placement permanency. In other examples, various participants raised the idea
that Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures understood the concept of family differently:
““Where are you from?” is the question, more than “Who are you?” So I belong in Swan Hill.
So someone from Swan Hill will have a connection to you that’s nothing to do with attachment
- they don’t know you, they may never have met you…The system’s not good at facilitating
those familial pathways in the same way as more traditional family, which is all about person
and emotion and connection.” – FG5, A2
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A further example given was the concept of ‘leaving’ or transitioning from care:
“In a sense that really illustrates the difference around, you know service system that’s
mainstream, even if it’s Aboriginal people running that, there is a leaving component. Whereas
if you’re an Aboriginal person, and you live in this community, you always care, and you’re
always interested in what happens to your people. So there’s no leaving anything.” –FG2, A3
Others pointed out the disconnect within the idea of cultural support planning:
“It’s a tool that the Department’s developed and it’s meant to be a conduit into an Indigenous
community which there’s no interconnection between. It’s an imposed tool, not something
that’s been developed or had input or understanding by the communities that are meant to be
working within that plan, or to that plan. FG2, A7
A final example was given concerning financial management post-care, which is often only regarded from
an individualistic perspective when considering economic outcomes for care leavers:
“Often for young people there’s a responsibility or an expectation by community … that their
funds are pooled. So you know, part of our process when we’re looking at approving
applications for young people leaving care, is “What is their contribution?”. So you know, they
might say we need a household set up. Well, you know, “What is the young person’s income?
What are their expenses? Are they able to contribute towards something? What’s a
reasonable cost?”. But for some young people, all their money is pooled. And so they don’t
have the resources, you know, like you go, “Oh well … they’ve got a part-time job” or “they’ve
got Youth Allowance” or whatever. And they should be able to afford such and such. But often
we’ll get feedback from the [ACCO] worker that the young person is supporting their extended
family or, you know, this is post-care, so they haven’t got any money. Even though they might
have an income, their income is …being guarded by or they’re helping to support their
younger brother or whoever.” – FG5, A1
Limitations in cultural competency
Related to this was the seventh and final theme, which concerned limitations in cultural competency
among mainstream child welfare agencies. This was primarily recognised by staff of these agencies, and
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included staff concerns about their own level of knowledge and capacity to work with Indigenous young
people and agencies. Additionally, while recognised as a key asset, certain respondents remarked on
difficulties in recruiting and supporting Indigenous staff to work within mainstream non-government
agencies.
“I feel tentative. I feel more confident now, but I’m much older now. But felt tentative, even
though I was confident as a worker, [I] would feel less confident because there’s all this history
and this baggage and this stuff. You know and it’s just hard. But when you realise that [when]
you just start talking about it, it’s actually easier.” – FG5, A2
A4: I think I'm pretty good at building relationships with young people. It's one of my strengths.
And I am good with Indigenous kids, on a personal level, one on one. But just, my cultural
background is so removed...
A1: Yeah same for me. I didn't even grow up in a neighbourhood where there was an
Indigenous person.
A4: I have cultural awareness and cultural understanding, but cultural competency and
cultural connection - I don't have it. FG7
Indigenous care leavers’ transitional needs and experiences
Differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous care leavers’ transitional needs
As in the previous section outlining participants’ views concerning limitations of leaving care and post-
care systems for Indigenous care leavers, many respondents (particularly from non-Indigenous agencies)
believed there were few differences in the transitional needs and experiences of Indigenous and non-
Indigenous care leavers. However, this should be qualified with the understanding that few participants
reported working with Indigenous care leavers in the post-care period.
Conversely, respondents from ACCOs tended to emphasize the importance of connection to culture as
a necessary, though neglected, transitional need:
I think especially being a culturally-specific service, I think that’s a huge part of what we
think about. That connection to the family is cultural stuff, and I think that’s … one of the
main factors of a successful transition FG8, A1
“… the only way that they cannot be lost is if they are connected to their country, their family,
and their culture. But we’ve got generations of kids that weren’t getting that, because it wasn’t
52
in legislation… we’re in this era where we’ve got you know, 17 and 18 year olds who have
never been connected to anything… we actually need to address that. We can’t just say. ‘well
the system stuffed it up, we can’t fix it, there’s nothing we can do’. Well yes, there are things
that we can do, and that’s part of the leaving care stuff” FG9, A1
Identity confusion and the development of a sense of self
Others did note differences, particularly concerning some Indigenous care leavers’ identity confusion and
the development of their sense of self. Respondents noted that this could be particularly challenging for
young people having a weaker connection to their culture.
The needs of Aboriginal children leaving care are the same, but then I think the negotiation
of your identity and some of the things that we’ve, when I say we, the system’s done to
children in terms of not knowing who they are, in a worse way, from coming into a substitute
family And then really hard to engage with the services, because the services also
[question], “Who are you? You’re now a white girl. We used to know you, you used to be a
family name that we know”. Do you know what I mean? And now it’s a whole process of
reconnection with that, which is nothing that other cultures have to negotiate. Now leaving
care’s hard enough, it seems to me that that’s a layer and a dimension that’s an added.”
FG5, A2
…to embrace your people from a country perspective I think is crucial to knowing that part of
your identity, but to build your strength in identity as you go forward as well. Otherwise you’re
just being cut adrift from one system that unfortunately probably leads you into the adult
justice system or somewhere else along the way. FG2, A3
“… if they're connected to their community and their traditional area, with funding to support
that, then the leaving care program becomes easier because they know who they are. And a
lot of kids' problems when they leave care [has] stemmed from not knowing who they are.” –
FG6, A1
Respondents from mainstream agencies expressed the most concern for Indigenous care leavers in non-
Indigenous foster or residential care placements, where connection to culture often was seen to be
heavily dependent on foster carers’ support.
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“…the placement they’re in is with a [religion] church-goer, so she’s… they have to go to a
[religion’s] church on a Sunday. So you’ve got these Indigenous kids who don’t have any
connection to their own culture. And [the ACCO] hasn’t gotten involved and you’ve got
these Indigenous kids sitting in a [religion’s] frigging church. They don’t want to be there! And
it’s this struggle between respecting the carer and letting her know that it’s okay for her to
follow her faith, and that’s her one time on a Sunday, that’s really important to her that she
goes and connects with her culture. And you’ve got these kids who just sit there on their iPads.
And so they identify probably stronger with [their religion’s] faith than they do with Indigenous
faith.” – FG3, A2
“… we’ve got a great deal of flexibility, we’re federally funded for this, it’s a pilot… to have
somebody like an [Indigenous cultural support worker] walk into, you know the residential
care provider, they loved it. They just went, “Bloody brilliant!” Like they’re crying out, “We’ve
got no idea, help us out.” So I think providers would be really open to that, but once again we
need to resource, you know, Aboriginal people to be doing that in mainstream providers.”
FG2, A6
I think there is something there about Koorie kids being in mainstream care without … any
connection to their culture that’s deeply problematic.” –FG2, A6
In contrast, respondents from ACCOs expressed more concern for young people residing with non-
Indigenous kin who were not supportive of connection to Indigenous culture:
“It's more the kids that are in kinship with their white families... We have foster carers who
they've just got their kids permanent. They take their kids home to Torres Strait Island, you
know? They learn about the kids' cultures and I find more foster carers are more open to
learning than ... [non-Indigenous] grandparents, say” – FG6, A2
Transgenerational effects
While the parents of non-Indigenous young people were also commonly seen to have had their own Child
Protection involvement as children, respondents indicated that the added dimensions of history and
culture resulted in a different experience of these transgenerational effects when working with Indigenous
young people, particularly those in non-Indigenous placements:
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“…we had [a young girl] in the residential setting, and I remember dealing with her family,
her mother specifically. And it was very different. It was very different dealing with her than
dealing with say kids that you know, aren’t Aboriginal. And there were a number of
comments that she made over the time that the young girl was in care, around racism and
you know, being white and I guess, maybe reverse racism, as in being white and … not
understanding the culture.” - FG4, A1
“When an ... Indigenous child comes into care, first port of call is [an ACCO]. They always
try and put Aboriginal children with Aboriginal families. If that is not available, that is when
we would get those referrals. On the rare occasion when we have had an Indigenous child
in a residential unit or in one of our resident- in one of our home based care placements,
we don’t actually have any Indigenous carers. So then that’s when that transgenerational
trauma might come up, where you’ve got you know an Indigenous child effectively being
cared for by non-Indigenous carers… look I don’t know what [the ACCO] does in terms of
promoting carers and getting more carers, but it would be great if… if our service wasn’t
required. If that there were enough Indigenous carers out there that could actually take
these kids.” – FG4, A3
Limited encouragement and support to engage with culture and community post-care
Participants noted that there was more time to work with connecting Indigenous young people to
community and culture during their placement in out-of-home care compared to post-care, where services
are entirely voluntary, and reliant on young people to drive the process in terms of identifying their own
needs. In the post-care period, as indicated previously, the respondents noted that young people tended
to present to services only with immediate needs such as housing. Thus, post-care, there was limited
encouragement and support to engage with culture and community:
“…we can do everything we can while the child’s with us and in care, but as soon as they hit
that 18, and child protection services close, then they’re pretty much … they’re on their own.
So if we can set them up as much as we can prior to getting to that. But then who’s going to
remind them at 19? And prompt them and tell them when festivals are on? … That’s going to
be another challenge that you’re going to have… So I guess we do our best to get all that
happening for them before they turn 18 so they can independently continue it.” – FG4, A3
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Barriers to engagement with culture, community and Indigenous-specific services
Other barriers to engagement with culture and community and Indigenous-specific services were noted
for Indigenous care leavers. Most commonly, participants reported that some Indigenous young people
did not want to engage with culture and community for various reasons, including:
Culture not being a priority for some Indigenous care leavers;
A lack of experience and familiarity with traditional culture;
“We would encourage him. But we sort of found that this wasn’t something that his parents,
like he was Indigenous but his parents hadn’t actually sort of … he’d never done these things
before. So we started introducing this to him, and he was like, “Oh this… this isn’t me. This
isn’t… you know I might be Indigenous, but that doesn’t mean that I want to do this
Indigenous service that you’ve then, you know, now recommended that I do”.” – FG4, A3
Wanting to fit in or identify with non-Indigenous carers culture. In some cases, carers lacked
knowledge, support or willingness to assist Indigenous young people to engage with their own
culture:
“It’s difficult with this young person, because she was in a foster care placement that was
not supportive of her culture. In fact was quite the opposite… just sort of growing up between
two worlds, and not really having… I’m not sure if she’s got much of an understanding about
all of the sort of… the background behind why her family have struggled with drugs and
alcohol.” – FG5, A3
Avoiding re-connection due to previous negative experiences of community, or concerns about
engaging with family:
“I think adolescence is a hard time, whether you’re Indigenous or not. We had a young
person who didn’t want to [connect with the ACCO] because they were concerned that their
family would find out about where they were, because their family was still quite connected
in with, in particular in the Aboriginal Health Service. So they, even though culturally we
needed to take them there, they didn’t want to be taken there because they knew that mum
and dad still frequented that service, didn’t want anything to do with it.” – FG1, A4
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As indicated previously, respondents from ACCOs presented a different viewpoint, indicating that they
had rarely encountered Indigenous young people who were not interested in connecting with community
and culture. Other identified barriers to engagement with culture and community included:
Young Indigenous people not being from the area. This often compounded difficulties connecting
with their own mob due to distance and local cultural activities potentially being inappropriate;
It's not easy finding the kids' families. [This is] a very transient town, and kids come from
everywhere, even kids that are actually living here don't come from here.- FG6, A1
“…there were a couple of cultural things that we started with working on the land and things like
that as well. But they were run by different branches of the communityif you weren't [from
that mob] you couldn't do it. And a lot of ours weren't [from that mob], so they couldn't become
involved in it. So there's that cultural thing, as well, is that division amongst themselves often
because of where they're from. And if you come from out of town as well, the idea is you look
afteryour own here before you look after someone that may have relatives here, but wasn't ...
doesn't, hasn't lived here, wasn't born here. You know they might come from Queensland or
South Australia” – FG8, A1
“Majority of the kids that we work with are not from here … we have a couple of [young] people
from South West Perth we’ve got kids from Queensland, and we’ve got New South Wales,
we’ve got Alice Springs. We’ve got some down from Gippsland, so there are some that are
closer… we’ve got some South Australia… even if we had someone that was from even Mildura,
that kind of stuff, that kind of area, we don’t have any money to get them there… As a leaving
care worker, you don’t have the resources to do the family work, talking to the Elders and the
Aunts and the Uncles and saying, “we want to bring this young person up, return to country”
you don’t actually have the capacity as the leaving care worker. Because it doesn’t really fall
under leaving care, when it should.” – FG9, A1
Additionally, participants from ACCO’s described other barriers to engaging with culture and community
post-care, including a lack of specific funding to support cultural connection for young people in the post-
care period, and a lack of programs targeting the needs of older Indigenous adolescents and young adults:
“There’s no money with the post-care funding orgs to do things like that. You know I can get
them a couch and a bed, but I can’t get them home.” – FG9, A1
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“There’s no money to run, you know, for [the ACCO], you know to be running cultural programs
that we have for our kids to participate in, you know? There’s certainly nothing aimed at youth.
I know that in the whole [X] Region, that I’m aware of, is … there’s one Koorie youth group.
That’s run in [suburb], and it’s like once a week on the school terms. I know it hasn’t previously
run because no one has volunteered to run the program.” – FG9, A1
Need for greater guidance in supporting Indigenous young peoples’ connection to culture and
community
Focus group participants from non-Indigenous services reported a need for greater support, knowledge
and guidance in supporting Indigenous young people to connect to culture and community, while those
from ACCOs similarly recognised a need to resource activities promoting cultural connection:
“…You may not have the skills or the capacity or the knowledge or understanding to do
anything about it. That’s the challenge I think probably for mainstream providers in some
ways.” – FG2, A6
“We don’t have the resources to … we do our best to do consultations… as the kinship
care worker, being an Aboriginal person I tend to get pulled into quite a few different things,
just because they try… you know we do our best to get Aboriginal people to do
consultations. But I mean I’ve done consultations as the kinship worker for kids in resi.
care, and how do we support the resi. care, you know, but they’re very much ad hoc, very
much whenever we can pull resources from somewhere I guess to do it … and I mean it
would be great if we could, but we don’t have the resources to. So it’s very much one of
those, if we were to do lots of consultations what was to give in order for us to be able to
do the consultations? I mean we can do it when we have you know, reduced targets.
FG9, A1
Indigenous care leavers’ post-care outcomes
Post-care return to family
In terms of post-care outcomes, respondents observed that many Indigenous children (similar to their
non-Indigenous counterparts), return to family post-care. Reunification was often seen to fail in the
absence of any interim family work, or support to negotiate these attempts at re-connection.
They go back to family in the end sometimes anyway, and yet there still hasn’t been that
building of capacity for family for them to go back. It’s just remove them, artificial supports in
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place for 10 years, and then, “Oh crap, you’ve got nowhere to go”. Put them back into family
and let them go. And that’s not going to work.” – FG2, A1
“We can do some amazing work with kids, but it needs to be a holistic approach, extended
out to the family. You know, so if the families aren’t progressing, then we’re just putting these
kids back into the lion’s den.” - FG3, A4
“When Koorie kids get older they generally go back to family. So we put lots of support in
place on how we make sure that they’re going to keep connected to their family … in a safe
way, and in a sustainable way, so that they’re okay and they’re linking back with their family,
and potentially going home, and how we support them to do that when they’re adults, and
they can make those decisions. FG9, A1
Indigenous care leavers’ family responsibilities
After leaving care, Indigenous young people were often seen to take on caring and providing roles for
siblings, parents, and extended family. Whether by choice or due to cultural expectations, these roles
were seen to place additional stress on care leavers, including on their post-care accommodation and
finances:
We housed one boy who was leaving care with Youth Justice... his older partner moved in,
his older partner's sister moved in, her partner moved in, and Mum moved in. So we housed
one Indigenous leaving care boy and we ended up supporting four other people, ranging from
the age of 53 down. And there was another brother in [regional town] that used to come over
and stay for extensive periods of time as well. So you don't just look after one, you look after
everyone.” – FG7, A1
“We've got a young couple that have been, she was in care, he actually wasn't, but they quite
successfully had their first child and they're doing really well. But the only time they access
our service is when they've got family staying with them. Because often it's an Elder that will
be staying with them. They will not ask them to contribute financially [for] being in their
property. They will feed them... everything is provided for the older Aunty or you know cousin
whatever. They will provide for them, and they won't ask them to contribute to the support of
themselves. So you know two young people on parenting payments with a small child may
have three elder relatives staying with them. They can become responsible for feeding them,
and caring, like providing for their needs for whatever period of time they're staying there. So
they can be doing really well with ... because you say to them, "Do you need a hand with your
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budget?", "Oh no. We do really well, but Aunty Mary's down from Canberra and she's staying
with us". "Well maybe Aunty Mary could buy a couple of meals?", "Oh no we can't do that.
You can't do that. You just can't".” - FG7, A1
Homelessness
While common among the leaving care population more broadly, focus group participants often remarked
on homelessness as a common post-care outcome for Indigenous care leavers:
“I think lots of the Indigenous kids we see as well, that come through the homelessness intake,
have had their order closed, because they've been placed with kin, but that's not been
sustainable. Assessed as sustainable, but it's not been sustainable for very long. And then
they've become transient and homeless.” – FG7, A3
Poor educational outcomes and involvement in youth and adult justice systems
A number of focus group participants also commented on the poor educational outcomes of many
Indigenous care leavers. While a final post-care outcome which was noted in focus groups was the
disproportionate number of Indigenous care leavers having involvement in the youth and adult justice
systems:
“Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that a lot of people don’t manage that transition from out-
of-home care well anyway, and a lot of Indigenous kids certainly don’t. And if they don’t
have, if all that stuff that we’ve spoken about, the cultural planning and support and thinking,
is really [imbedded] and wrapped around them, isn’t in place, then I think the harsh reality is
that a significant number of them end up in the criminal justice system. And they’re already
familiar with that having come through in the Youth Justice space.” – FG2, A6
High levels of resilience and positive achievements
At the same time, multiple respondents spoke about Indigenous care leavers who demonstrated high
levels of resilience and positive outcomes with regard to housing, education and relationships, for
example:
“… my young girl [X], she's in her third year of nursing. But, she had been in care, her brothers
were both in care, and... Somehow she came from Melbourne into [regional city], maybe
family was here. But she was going to a [high school] and they had a fantastic support worker
there for her. And she, she struggled, but she got through. And she's now doing, in her third
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year of nursing. So with the right supports around them, if the intervention's early enough they
can be quite successful with education. But they just need, whether it be housing or just
mentoring or you know...She had an agreement with Child Protection that she could have her
brothers, younger brothers, much younger... half-brothers again as well. They weren't full
blooded. She'd taken on weekend visits. So she would pick the children up on a Friday and
return them to their placement on a Monday. So every weekend, even when she was studying
through her Year 11 and 12, and through her years in university, she's had them every
weekend.” - FG7, A1
“I want to talk about two positive experiences [laughs], that one is a young woman who has
gone into long-term stable accommodation, has a great relationship with her family, goes to
Koorie youth group with her children, is doing amazing things, has gone back to study.”
FG2, A1
Practitioners’ recommendations for improving outcomes for Indigenous care leavers
Focus group participants generated a number of recommendations for improving Indigenous care leavers’
outcomes.
A cultural support worker in the care team
The most prominent suggestion was to have a cultural support worker in the care team. Some
respondents from mainstream agencies suggested that having a cultural support worker in-house (even
part-time) might result in a better model for agencies in terms of being able to access cultural support for
clients. It was argued that such a model worked for other areas of client support, including alcohol and
other drug services and mental health services:
“If you had a specialised worker it would be incredible. And even if it wasn’t in our office, if it
was North or West or whatever, if you could contact and say, “Look I’ve got this young person
that, we don’t even know where to start with, and how do we go about looking, that would be
wonderful.” - FG3, A2
“It’s about involving a cultural worker in the organisation. Having one in-house, as we do with
education support, as we do with the Royal Children’s, as we do with AOD workers, yeah?
Having something in-house. “– FG1, A2
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General feedback from focus groups suggested that accessing cultural support and guidance from
ACCOs in care team meetings was often difficult; while this was primarily seen to be due to ACCO under-
resourcing, some participants queried whether there were other issues underlying this difficulty:
I do wonder sometimes, and I may be wrong, that we will have a care team or a professionals
meeting, and it could be six general services around a table and one [ACCO] worker, who
may not be Indigenous, but may also feel marginalised by the fact that they're the only
Indigenous service there. I don't... I've certainly wondered about that. Whether we're sort of
perpetuating some of that stigma stuff? FG7, A3
Matching Indigenous care leavers with mentors
A second suggestion was to match Indigenous care leavers with mentors throughout the leaving care
period, whether from Indigenous communities or not, as an added layer of support:
It’s really difficult for young people transitioning out of leaving care if they had of had
someone in place as a mentor for them, you know, from their community early on, someone
to look up to. And I think that that makes such a difference.” – FG2, A5
Staff training
The value of staff training within non-Indigenous child welfare agencies, was also strongly endorsed.
Training was not only seen to benefit staff in working with Indigenous children, young people and families,
but also in working in partnership with ACCOs:
“I think it’s really important for everyone working in this space to have that training. Because
you might not realise that this person’s got this huge, huge caseload or you know in Aboriginal
communities there are a lot more deaths, because Aboriginal people we know have
completely different health sort of outcomes than white Australians, and so maybe they’re
going to 5 funerals in a month… So you need to be culturally aware and if you don’t have the
training then you’re just not going to know.” – FG5, A3
Others suggested that the format of training should be regular, and could include participation in
relationships and partnerships with ACCOs, Indigenous communities and activities:
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“I’m thinking of things like, you know being part of community activities, going and visiting
community, historical sites, getting a real sense of what that means, and developing
relationships. Not going and sitting in a training session for one day, and then going, “Yep!
Cultural awareness, ‘tick’, I’ve done it”. I think that you get a much better understanding when
you do it that way, and it’s consistent and regular over time.” – FG2, A1
Increase the resources targeted towards Indigenous young people
A fourth recommendation was to increase the resources targeted at Indigenous young people (both in-
care and post-care). A repeated theme in this area, as indicated previously, was the need for better
funding of ACCOs to deliver leaving care and post-care services, as well as the provision of secondary
consultation to Non-indigenous agencies.
“There’s a lot of money kicking around in the system, and there’s a lot of Aboriginals in the
system, so you sort of have… an Aboriginal response. The fact is that mainstream
organisations like us, you could get [ACCOs] saying, “If we got the money that you got for the
placements that you currently provide for Aboriginal children, then we would be able to provide
a better response, and have a better cultural show, and have a better chance of them leaving
care more effectively”.” – FG5, A2
Another specific issue which was frequently raised by ACCOs was the need for targeted Indigenous
housing options, such as lead tenant properties and youth refuges:
“I’d really like to know if they’ve got a lead tenant that’s actually supported with Indigenous
carers. Because that, if that does not exist that would be the one thing that I would say that
needs to exist. Because yeah, because basically it would be great to allow Indigenous kids
to remain with Indigenous carers, keep that cultural connection going. FG4, A3
“…we don’t have you know, a housing service within [the ACCO]… so again we go to
external agencies. But … we don’t have partnerships with [housing agencies] or something
like that where we’ve got specific Indigenous beds, which would be wonderful.” – FG9, A1
Work with families pre- and post-reunification
As highlighted throughout this report, the most prominent need identified in the consultations was for
sufficient resources to provide cultural support planning and to support maintenance of cultural
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connection for Indigenous young people. Additionally, engaging in family work, both prior to and to
support reunification attempts, including supporting connection with extended family members was
emphasised:
“…within the system that we’ve got now obviously housing is really critical and that needs to
be improved. But I think that we need to definitely look, like you were saying earlier, much
more closely at family reunification, and actually find a way to bring it to the table and really
do some good planning around that, because it’s going to happen anyway.” – FG5, A3
Strengthening the partnerships between ACCOs and non-Indigenous child welfare agencies
Finally, as described in previous sections, strengthening the partnerships between ACCOs and
mainstream child welfare agencies was put forward as a potentially helpful strategy for improving
outcomes for Indigenous care leavers.
Interviews with Indigenous Care Leavers
The following section presents two case studies which highlight some of the experiences and reflections
of the young people who participated in the study. The names and other specific details have been
changed. However the case studies serve to illustrate the key themes generated by the interviews with
the Indigenous care leavers.
Case Study 1: Tamara
Tamara is a 20 year old Indigenous woman who, with her two younger siblings, first entered out-of-home
care at the age of 13. Prior to being placed in care, Tamara and her siblings resided with their mother
and grandmother. Due to their mother’s substance use, the siblings were supported by their grandmother,
with Tamara playing a substantial role of supporting her Nan parenting her younger siblings. Upon
entering care, the three siblings were placed with a non-Indigenous foster family. Shortly after their
placement, Tamara’s Nan – who had played a critical part in her life - passed away.
Tamara was generally positive about her experiences of out-of-home care, particularly the fact that she
was able to remain with her siblings and had the stability of a single placement throughout her time in
care. She appreciated having the parenting role removed from her responsibility: I was more like told to
be a kid”, she said. Tamara also reported that her foster carers were encouraging of her connection to
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culture, and together with an ACCO supported her to attend cultural events, such as NAIDOC week, and
to engage with various Indigenous community groups and programs. She was also heavily involved in
leadership and mentoring programs as well as advocacy with various agencies supporting young people
in out-of-home care. During her time in care, Tamara and her siblings also had monthly access visits with
their mother, though Tamara revealed that her mother would sometimes not attend, to the great
disappointment of her younger siblings.
Tamara was able to stay with her foster family until she was 18 years of age, provided that she remained
in school. She did so, successfully completed year 12 Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL),
and obtained regular casual employment throughout her high school years. During this period, at times,
Tamara also consulted a school counsellor. While her in-care experiences were very positive, Tamara’s
experiences of leaving care were not so positive.
She believed that leaving care planning started too late for her, stating that it wasn't started until before
I turned, like just before I turned 18. Really it should have been started when I was like 15, 16”. Tamara
also described “mixing in with the wrong group” as she approached the time of transitioning care,
indicating that she pushed boundaries with her foster family. For example, she said: “I don't like being
inside… by the end of my placement I liked being out all the time. Like going out and having fun”. She
felt that these experiences also compromised her foster care placement.
Tamara formally left care after finishing high school when she was 18 years and 9 months old. When
given a choice of agencies to support her post-care, Tamara initially connected with a non-Indigenous
agency but later switched to an ACCO after the previous agency worker left. She reported having
nowhere to go after leaving care, and so she and her partner initially moved in with a drug-using relative,
then with her mother who had recently been released from prison, and finally with a family friend. The
couple sometimes stayed in Aboriginal refuges between these housing arrangements, each of which
lasted less than 6 months due to conflict, and financial issues relating to rent and supporting others’ and
their own drug habits. For example:
It was more the fact I was like supporting a drug habit, and I couldn't afford to feed myself
or anything.
And:
It was alright at the start, and she has a habit too. But she was trying to hide it, and things
got messy. We had junkies coming in and out of the house all the time. And one night she
had a bad hit and kicked me and my partner out.”
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From the start, there at that house, we were meant to be paying for food. That was their deal.
We buy food that like feeds us all, but as well she buys food. So we can all like eat during the
week. And there was no rent involved, but by the end of it she wanted money and food and
drugs and the rest of it.”
Tamara reflected that one of the key things she would have liked when leaving care was, “…probably
more support with housing… Really, there should be something after leaving care where the foster kids
can get their own place straight away, instead of mucking around.”
While she had not had any involvement in crime during her time in care, since leaving care she had been
arrested and sent to court for drug possession, though the case was dismissed. At the time of interview,
Tamara and her partner were residing in crisis housing. She had remained in touch with her mother,
though she indicated that this continues to be a difficult relationship:
“It's still not the best, but we can get along. I don't know, there's still that thing there, like you
hurt me, I'm going to hurt you.”
Tamara remains in touch with an ACCO post-care worker, who has been supporting her to attend
appointments. She has limited contact with her previous foster family, and Tamara described her foster
mother as not being a person whom she felt she would approach for support. While not currently studying
or working due to her housing situation, she is keen to pursue further study when she is in a more stable
space.
Although Tamara indicated that her Indigenous culture is very important to her, she also reported little
cultural connection, though she attends key cultural events. For example, she said, “I have been to the
VACCA marches, and the NAIDOC march last year and I got to go to the Dreamtime [Australian Rules
Football] match this year. That was pretty good”. These are highly important experiences for her in which
she feels: “Like proud of Aboriginal people really.”
Finally, Tamara reflected on her experience of leaving care:
It's affected my mental health a lot, and my health as well. Like I've lost a lot of weight in the
last eight months, being stressed out and stuff like that... The care plans need to be started a
lot earlier, which is a constant issue that comes up with young people in care”.
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Case Study 2: Lena
Lena, a 22 year-old Indigenous woman entered care in infancy. She initially had a succession of respite
and other short-term placements with foster carers, acquaintances and relatives, returning to her mother’s
care intermittently. She resided with her mother permanently from the ages of six until 11 years old,
before formally entering out-of-home care. It was during this period that her father died following a drug
overdose. After a brief foster care placement, Lena entered residential care at 11 years old, before finding
a more permanent foster care placement from the age of 13 until 15 years old. Towards the end of this
placement, she wished to move from the area due to bullying at school, and entered another foster care
arrangement from the ages of 15 to 17 years old. According to Lena, both of these foster carers were
non-Indigenous but supportive of her culture. At the same time, she recalls that her first foster mother’s
attempts to access cultural support were ineffective.
Lena described mixed perceptions of her residential care placement, in which she experienced both
highly positive and highly negative experiences with different caregivers. She was more positive
regarding her foster care placements, for instance:
I call her [my foster carer] Mum. So she made me feel like I was her own child. You know
she brought me to family functions. I got to attend my foster niece’s wedding it felt like
home… and from this day I still go over there every Monday to have like a roast dinner and
all of that sort of stuff. And same with [my other foster carer]. Like [X] she made me feel like
her own daughter, even though like at the period of time [X] had me I was going through a
really rough, really, really rough stage. But like [X] took me [overseas] as a foster child. So
that was really cool.”
She attributes her own positive outcomes to the love shown to her by her foster carers:
“They never had stability, they never had love. Maybe taking love to them, making them feel
like, you know, you are loved, you are cared for, then maybe they might take a different path.
I mean I was, like I said I was really lucky. I had [my foster carers]. If I didn’t have them, then
I’d probably be end up like the rest of them.”
Throughout her time in care, Lena has held almost continual casual employment, and she completed
Year 11 at school. She has continued to be regularly employed since leaving care, and has completed a
traineeship through an Indigenous program at her current workplace. Near the time of leaving care, Lena
moved interstate to reside with her sister for a few months, and then returned to a lead tenant placement.
While her agency workers created a leaving care plan with her, and supported her through the process,
it was still difficult for Lena:
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“…when I was at that exact point of like having to move from the care to a different place … I
had a worker come with me, meet the carers, look at the house, all of that sort of stuff. So it
was really good It was still very hard though, coming from care, going from foster care to
like nothing. [It was] scary, very scary.”
Lena then entered a youth supported accommodation program at the age of 18, where she was able to
reside (moving between three different properties) until she accessed public housing at the age of 21.
During this period,