More than 70 people participated in the Kimberley Aboriginal Children in Care Forum held in Broome at Goolari’s Gimme Club on the 4th and 5th of April.

Hailed as a landmark event by participants, the forum was presented with a vast array of information where participants workshopped constructive solution to address the overrepresentation of Kimberley Aboriginal children in state care.

More than half of the children in state care in WA are Aboriginal, despite accounting for only 5% of the population. This fact alone is motivation enough to know something has to change and Aboriginal people must be central if it is to be positive change.

The following forum summary notes includes the copies of the formal presentations which were delivered by a wide variety of experts from the Kimberley, Western Australia and interstate.

Early intervention and prevention to keep Aboriginal children safe in their families and the need to empower families to support good parenting were common themes throughout the forum.

Colin Pettit, Commissioner for Children and Young People participated throughout the two day forum. Commissioner Pettit congratulated Aarnja, the forum organiser and regional body for Kimberley Aboriginal people, as well as the participants on their willingness to tackle such an important issue head on. He said he was most impressed by the level of commitment and leadership demonstrated by the Aboriginal women present.

One such leader and forum presenter, June Oscar AO, CEO of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre, provided a concise forum summary at the conclusion of each day and said “We must acknowledge our past; we must be healing informed and trauma aware. We need to know, understand and face our current situation, but our current situation cannot be our future. It must not be our future.”

Readers are encouraged to get involved, provide feedback and suggestions at info@aarnja.org.au
Progress and updates and updates will be posted on our latest news section from time to time, so please come back and visit us soon!

Media contact: David Wirken, CEO Aarnja Ltd. M 0403 070 863, E ceo@aarnja.org.au

Forum Notes – Day 1

Kimberley Aboriginal Children in Care (KACC) Forum

KACCC Forum Day 1
  1. Key Discussion – Welcome to country Nyamba Buru Yawuru

    Presenter – Dianne Appleby

    Di formally and warmly welcomed participants to Yawuru country noting the importance of the discussions being entered into during this forum.

  2. Welcome and introductions.

    Presenter – Janine Dureau & David Wirken

    Apologies were noted and special guests welcomed. Participants introduced themselves.

  3. EC priorities

    Presenter – Marty Sibosado, Manager, Aarnja, West Kimberley Empowered Communities Leader

    Marty provided a very brief overview of the development of the Empowered Communities Design Reports and progress to date.

    The West Kimberley have identified Children and Young People as the first priorities for Empowered Communities.

    Financial support from the Commonwealth government has been provided is likely to be secured in the future for the initial implementation process. A meeting is planned for mid-April 2016 where it is hoped the initial agreements can be finalised along with more concrete commitments to regional first priorities.

    Marty also provided his analysis of the recent Indigenous Advancement Strategy (Remote/community lead area strategy IAS) funding guidelines and his view that they are closely aligned with Empowered Communities design principles.

  4. Aarnja

    Presenter – David Wirken,CEO, Aarnja Ltd

    David provided a brief history and overview of Aarnja Ltd. and their current priorities on implementing Empowered Communities and the identified first priorities under Empowered Communities. Including that:

    • Aarnja is working collaboratively with Kimberley Aboriginal people, leaders and partnering Aboriginal organisations to ensure they have a ‘voice’ is policy and program developments
      Aarnja is not a direct service provider and does not compete for service provider funding for itself.
    • Aarnja provides an interface, secretariat and facilitation role between governments and Aboriginal communities, service providers and leaders.
    • Aarnja wants to move beyond developing good relationships into embedding structures that endure beyond relationships.
    • The first priority of Children and Young People comes from Aarnja members, partner organisations, community and leaders.
    • Two initial focus areas are:
      Addressing overrepresentation of Children in Care is part of this
      Youth Leadership development building on the existing extraordinary strengths of Kimberley Aboriginal young people.
  5. Kimberley Aboriginal Child in Care Committee (KACCC) background and overview

    Presenter – Janine Dureau, Manager Leadership and Governance, Aarnja.

    In August 2015, the then Minister for Child Protection and Family Support, Helen Morton, called for a community response to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in WA State care. This was covered in local media.

    The news article was distributed in a workshop in Broome. Concerned Aboriginal leaders took the article to the combined AGMs meeting of KLC, KALACC, KLRC, and Aarnja Limited where it was raised at the opening KALACCs women’s meeting. Endorsement was formally given for Aarnja to facilitate and advocate on this issue for community. The KLC AGM also provided additional endorsement.

    Subsequently, Aarnja began corresponding by letter to Minister Morton advising of the community response and requesting meaningful engagement.

    Aarnja also presented to the peak regional Aboriginal forum Kimberley Futures. Kimberley Futures also endorsed the Aarnja approach and established the Kimberley Aboriginal Children in Care Committee (KACCC) as a sub-committee to Kimberley Futures in October 2015 in order to provide leadership and direction for Aarnja.

    Between October and December 2015, the KACCC (with assistance from a Jawun corporate secondee based in Aarnja) undertook a thorough review of the Child Protection legislation and produced a draft ‘Gaps Report’ to the Minister and Department of CPFS and the newly established Regional Services Reform Unit.

    Janine noted that some financial support was provided from these two WA State government agencies for the KACCC forum.

    The timing of the ‘Gaps Report’ was good as CPFS are also undertaking a number of reviews including: Participants were asked to consider if the recommendations in the report were the right recommendations and whether or not the KACCC should continue in the priority areas noted in the report.

    Janine also encouraged participants, particularly Aboriginal participants to make practical suggestions as it is now time to move beyond talk and into action.

  6. Child Protection System overview, facts and figures

    Presenter – Emma White, Director-General of Department for Child Protection and Family Support (CPFS)

    Emma presented a very thorough and detailed overview of the current Child Protection and Family Support system and the rates of Aboriginal child and families’ involvement in it. It was acknowledged that although the facts and figures (see attached presentation material) are confronting it should never be forgotten that each number represents a person, a child or a family.

    Emma expressed a desire that a key outcome for the forum she would like to see is a clear action plan that we can all contribute to. Emma also expressed ‘furious agreement’ with the KACCC Gaps Report and its recommendations and acknowledged the high level of influence the report and the work of the KACCC is already having in the Department.

Morning tea

  1. RAATSICC – Remote Area Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Child Care

    Presenter – Emma Schuh, CEO, RAATSICC


    Emma provided a brief overview of RAATSICC and its services over its 25 year history.


    • is an Aboriginal community-led organisation with over 25 years of experience primarily concerned with child and family well being.
    • provides a statutory role as a the ‘Recognised Entity’ which Queensland’s Dept. of Children’s Services funds to provide the first interaction with Aboriginal families when a child at risk notification is made.
    • commenced as a group of concerned women discussing need for child care and issues relating to family and domestic violence.
    • is determined to ensure an appropriate, secure and safe community response occurs to any child safety concerns well before it is referred elsewhere.
    • is an employer of professional, highly capable, well supported and trained local Aboriginal people.

    RAATSICC also:

    • Conducts most of its staff training forums in community rather than in the main town/city centres such as Cairns.
    • Co-ordinates training and services with complimentary services and government agencies including sharing office space and other resources to work together toward shared outcomes.
    • Provide cultural, family and community info and consultations. Also support families to understand Child Protection processes and rights, etc.
    • Supports communities through auspicing funds and providing organisational support until communities can assume programs on their own.
    • Forms important government partnerships.
    • Applies a grass roots learning model across all business – No one knows our families better than the families themselves. Families hold this grassroots knowledge and they pass this knowledge to us.
    • Maintains its commitment to “Protecting Kids Our Way”.

    Participants were encouraged to discuss what they had heard so far and to consider how WA and the Kimberley might apply something similar to the Queensland model.

  2. Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC)

    Lililwan Story FASD

    Presenter – Jadnah Davies, Manager Marulu Unit MWRC

    Jadnah provided a rapid-fire overview of the Marulu Unit and its work in improving diagnosis, response and treatment of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in the Fitzroy Valley. Through the coordination of multidisciplinary teams, families and individuals tackle a range of issues related to FASD much more effectively than tackling them one at a time.
    Jadnah also highlighted the results and impact of the Lililwan Research as well as the impact of liquor restrictions in Fitzroy Crossing brought to bear following the understanding of the evidence collected.

    Service Acceptance and Responsibility

    Presenter – Sue Thomas

    Sue provided some reflections on challenges faced by families in Fitzroy Valley based upon her experience in the education system. Becoming increasingly aware of the development and support needs of the teacher workforce, Sue developed resource for teachers to understand FASD and to be more empowered to teach the children with complex needs.

    It is important to note that not all the children in the Kimberley have FASD however it is often hidden can be mistaken or disguised as other things.

    Sue also highlighted the power of sharing data and information. We all need to ensure that we are sharing with right people, especially with families, children and staff including youth workers and teachers.

    Healing informed and trauma aware

    Presenter – June Oscar

    June acknowledged the participants present and how pleasing it is to see government willing to work with Aboriginal people to find solutions. June particularly acknowledged the elders representing the Yiriman Program who are “giants in the cultural space and bring important cultural knowledge relevant for finding solutions”.
    June reinforced the importance and value of having cultural security in the way we do our work. As Aboriginal people we do approach the realities of challenging subjects such as Child Protection with our feet in both worlds.

    June provided an overview of the multifunctional resource agency that is the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC).

    It hosts:

    • The Women’s Refuge
    • The Marulu unit
    • Services that provide women opportunities for healing post trauma.
    • Early Childhood Learning Unit and the Child and Parent Centre.
    • Legal support.

    However, even given MWRCs proven track record, recent funding reductions has meant the executive have had to face a reduction to operate only 4 days per week. Addressing this vulnerability is a key focus for 2016.

    June reinforced the importance of collecting evidence and data to help inform us to find solutions and triggers for change. And to understand extent and severity of problems. We need an increased appreciation that these (the challenges we now face) are symptoms of accumulated trauma.

    Policy and legislation needs to meet the community on the ground. Need policies and legislation that enable us, rather than disables us.

    Community Intervention: we must encourage initiatives coming from the community, initiatives designed by people living the reality which enables us to advocate and lobby for policies that meet our needs and safeguard women, children and families. Community leaders also need look for ways to be innovative and to create partnerships, to work in a different way.

    Collective family strengths: develop strategies that bring separate uncoordinated services together to be part of a strategy that everyone is collaborating in will increase effectiveness. This does take time though. Trauma and healing is part of the recovery process and needs to be informed by local people.

    Opportunity: The Kimberley is being looked upon as a region that can produce leadership and collaborative ways of working to produce results – there is good will in government and community.

  3. Kimberley Empowerment, Healing and Leadership Program – KAMS

    Presenters – Brendan Cox & Adrian Dodson-Shaw

    Brendan and Adrian provided an excellent overview of the locally developed KEHLP program. Both shared lots of personal experiences as well as screened participant experiences from this incredibly powerful program!

  4. Family Wellbeing Program – Lowitja

    Presenter – Rev Leslie Baird

    Leslie provided an overview of the Family Wellbeing Program (FWP) with history dating back to 1993. As an interactive group training course the FWP seeks to address:

    • personal wellbeing and empowerment
    • individual and family issues through addressing grief and trauma
    • empowerment opportunities in a supported group environment.

    Videos of testimonies from participants were screened demonstrating the Aboriginal led and run support for Aboriginal people to be empowered and take control of their lives.

    The presentation also highlighted the importance of quality research and evidence.

  5. Beagle Bay Family Empowerment Trial

    Presenter – Mary O’Reeri

    Mary provided a brief history of the Beagle Bay community and its various local governance models since being run as a church mission up to the 1970s.

    Local community governance had faced many challenges which eventually led to the community council being placed into administration.

    There has been attempts by governments to improve coordination and administration. A recent example under the Remote Service Delivery National Partnership Agreement, Beagle Bay became a ‘priority community’.

    Although this has some measurable success the focus of the last 4+ years has been to reform a functional local governance model. Beagle Bay Futures Indigenous Corporation (BBFIC) was proposed and a community poll saw the local model receive 98% endorsement by community members.

    BBFIC has developed a social alliance partnership agreement with 8 different organisations signed up to working better toward a vision to build “a thriving community focussed on a safe and healthy future for our children and our people to build and maintain a strong culture”.

    Presenter – Bradley Gordon (CEO for BBFIC)

    Bradley Gordon reinforced that BBFIC is is the organisation that brought the community together and that through the Social Alliance each organisation is committed to working together to bring about positive change and keep vision in focus.

    A sub-committee of the Social Alliance has been formed to empower families and community. Which includes core areas such as:

    • suicide proofing our community and our families? Partner services deliver ASSIST suicide prevention training to each family. Also Protective Behaviours training for children and young people is delivered by Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service (KAMS) as one of the key factors for suicide for our youth is sexual abuse.

    Mary also provided an overview of work undertaken to strengthen local community bi-laws. In an inclusive process, the community proposed and agreed that 5 unprecedented clauses be included:

      1. Children need to be at school
      2. Curfew hours adopted by community re: loud music and humbug
      3. Not tolerate Child Sexual Abuse
      4. Domestic Violence will not be tolerated.
      5. Racism

    Beagle Bay is currently waiting for the WA governor to gazette these.

    Presenter – Duane Tang Wai,Kullarri Regional Communities Inc. (KRCI)

    Duane provided a brief overview of KRCI programs specific to Beagle Bay:

    • CDP programs
    • IAS grant funding to get children to school
    • Beagle Bay Empowerment project

    It is becoming increasingly clear that the need for personal and community development is required as a foundation before employment becomes a focus.

    Now CDP

    KRCI are working in Beagle Bay to address community needs as identified by the community. KRCI is providing a link between community Night patrol, school attendance, and parental responsibilities.

    KRCI have seen the effects in their staff and local community members participating in the KEHLP program (see above).

    Linking CDP participant into similar programs such as alcohol and other drug, parenting support, and personal development programs is an important way to provide personal and community development, as is partnering with other strong Aboriginal controlled service providers. A recent example is linking the 3 West Kimberley CDP providers to work together across the region.


    Presenter – Kathleen Pinkerton

    Kathleen provided a concise presentation on the role of SNAICC and its role and responsibilities.
    See presentation for more info and the SNAICC website – www.snaicc.org.au for details of how to become involved or training availability.

  7. Safer Families, Safer Communities – Kimberley Violence Regional Plan

    Presenter – Peta Barry

    Peta provided a brief but thorough presentation on the 5 year Kimberley Safer Families, Safer Communities plan.

  8. Summary of Day 1.

    Presenter – June Oscar

    June provided a summary of the day and applauded participant attendance and diversity which clearly demonstrates the willingness to collaborate.

    Also demonstrated was:

    • the need for an evidence base inclusive of lived experiences by Kimberley Aboriginal people
    • an appetite to create change in how respond to the reality of keeping our kids safe and the need to invest in early intervention
    • the need for better understanding family’s needs and finding investment to support them
    • the value of grassroots initiative as shown by the Beagle Bay and KEHLP presentations
    • the need to move from crisis to prevention i.e. away from a ‘dependency model’ designed and delivered by gov’t, toward an ‘empowered family model’ designed and implemented by community
    • a growing awareness of the need to acknowledge and support a strong Aboriginal identity – integrating culture and identity in service design
    • the need for Aboriginal people and organisations need to move away from current patch protection practices toward collaboration
    • an understanding of EMPOWERMENT – need to share an understanding of what this means – sometime gov’t and community mean different things even when using the same language
    • the need to have a shared vision and goal – we all need to acknowledge that we will approach from different angles at different times. Communities also need to be ready.
    • a growing acknowledgement and incorporation of strengthening cultural security in government processes. Reality of Aboriginal people with having feet in both worlds. Cultural connection is strength. We need to remember, honour and protect this.

Forum Notes – Day 2

Kimberley Aboriginal Children in Care (KACC) Forum Overview

KACCC Forum Day 2
  1. Welcome

    Presenter – David Wirken, CEO Aarnja Ltd.
    Participant we welcomed and a recap of the previous day was provided.

  2. Regional Services Reform Unit (RSRU)

    Presenter – Tracey Gillett, Director Regional Services Reform

    Tracey provided an overview of the history, background and progress of the WA state’s Regional Services Reform. See attached speech.

  3. RSRU – Strategic Regional Advisory Council (SRAC)

    Presenter – Marty Sibosado, SRAC member for the Kimberley

    Marty provided an overview of the SRAC and its important role in the governance structure of the reforms.

    Marty noted the 5 ‘non-negotiables’ of Reform Agenda and their close alignment to the stated priorities of the Empowered Communities design report and the stated priorities of the Commonwealth governments Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

    The opportunity presented better coordinate and collaborate between State and Federal alongside Indigenous leaders must not be lost. For this reason all parties should work together so Indigenous Affairs does not become a ‘political football.

    It was also noted that while the Empowered Communities agenda in Indigenous-led and aims to build Indigenous leadership and capacity, the WA Reforms are being driven from a services reform perspective. Although both are needed, they will need to come together at some point to be effective. That is not currently the case.

  4. Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre – Yiriman Elders

    Facilitator: June Oscar

    Yiriman panel:

    • Jean Tighe
    • Rita Minga
    • Julia Lawford
    • Elsie Dickens
    • Rosemary Middy
    • Tanya Prizmic
    • Sylvia Shovellor
    • Mandy Shovellor
    • Jaqueline Shovellor

    Participants were reminded that KALACC women provided the first formal support and endorsement for a collective Aboriginal response to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in care. This was agreed at the combined AGMs of KALACC, Kimberley Land Council, Kimberley Language Resource Centre and Aarnja Ltd in September 2015.

    Panel members introduced themselves and introductions were provided. Tania provided an overview of KALLAC and Yiriman services. Tanya explained almost all services provided by KALACC are culturally based and delivered on-country with cultural elders embedded in design, planning and delivery.

    Participants come from all ages with Yiriman focussed on 15-25 year old but adapting program for younger and older participants when required. Men’s and women’s programs are often separated as guided by traditional cultural leadership. Programs are almost always run in partnership with other services as diverse as corrections, police, schools, community councils, and ranger groups.

    Yiriman and KALACC have been formally recognised with a range of national awards including for their work in suicide prevention delivering on-country programs and for their high quality culturally based governance practices.

    Merle Carter provided additional context and examples of KALACCs important culturally based work, including events, programs and services which promote strong and healthy Aboriginal culture and address current concerns around family and domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and social and emotional well being.

    June posed the question to the panel: What do we need in place for children and families to have cultural security?

    Responses included:

    • the deep concern elders have with children taken away from country and family. The loss of connection overtime can be seen when a child returns following an extended absence that they come back lost and cannot fit back in. This disconnect can result in suicide or self-harm in other ways.
    • We want to keep our children close to nurture and care for them and teach them in cultural ways.
    • Culture is based on respect – for selves, culture and each other.
    • Cultural healing is needed through respect and caring for children.
    • Learning – young people how to conduct themselves and have respect, they don’t know if they’re not taught.
    • Concerns raised that young women are becoming sexually active at a young age. Culture can teach them how how to look after themselves.
    • We can be counsellors to the young people – help them to deal with issues they carry in their heart – sadness / loss/ things that have happened. Using teachings of song and ceremony – provide wrap around support – building them strong culture way.
    • Dancing, singing and being out-bush, this teaches your culture from your family – to show where your country and home is, even if you live elsewhere. This country for me and you. My grandson say “Jaja this place is really good” I want to go back there.
    • Kids sitting in town all of the time is no good – they get in trouble.
    • Important for us to hand on knowledge – it’s a responsibility for older people to hand on this knowledge.

    Also screened were a number of video presentations including from the biannual festivals which promote and sustain culture.

    It was noted that a big part of the Yiriman program was for weekend and school holiday activities to take families out on country. This program paid for fuel and food for families to be able to leave town for short periods to show children and families traditional practices while taking a break from ‘town life’. A number of personal stories were read out from previous participants reinforcing the value of the program.

    It was notes that after 14 year (approx.) of successfully delivering this program KALACC recently lost the funding and the program is no longer running.

    June provided a summary of the discussion:

    • It is importance of support to what works and ensure its sustainability.
    • Aboriginal people need to own our cultural responsibility
    • Need to acknowledge that sometimes home life can be unsafe and there needs to be a time when children are taken to other family to be supported. We need to be clearer about how we support both the children and carers. How do services support this?
    • Respecting cultural protocol including matriarchs – how are they included in the process when assessing children’s safety and placement? This is critical – Departments cannot do this alone. If it done without knowledge and inclusion of cultural leaders in the family – outcomes will continue to be unsatisfactory.
    • Yiriman is an excellent program but it currently focussed on Southern Kimberley cultural block. How do we expand this and simular programs across the Kimberley?
    • Elders are needed and are important – this learning cannot be learnt from a textbook – it must be learnt in the oral tradition / on country and in the language.
    • This forum is about beginning the journey to ensuring these processes are in place.
  5. Map & Gap Kimberley Services and Program to Aboriginal Children, Youth and Families

    Presenters – Janine Dureau and Emma Schuh

    Introduction to session and background to KACCC.
    KACCC Gaps report

    Participants workshopped in table groups in order to:

    1. Gather information on early intervention strategies that will reduce and prevent children being taken into care, away from family and community.
      And to develop
    2. Strategies to empower local people and families while keeping children safe and well cared for.


  1. Group feedback after lunch –

    Participants workshopped in table groups the priority areas highlighted in the KACCC Gaps report:

    Each table group brainstormed the Gaps, Needs and Strengths

  2. GFinal forum summary – key issues and next steps

    Presenter – June Oscar

    Data sharing – we need to understand what the data means to help us to work in a way that will transform and reverse numbers of children in care. We also need better understandings of meanings for different stakeholders to work together.

    Investment – Where is it and where is it failing? How do we redirect investment towards prevention responses and community and family supports? Investments in Aboriginal organisations who work at the coal face should be key drivers in the process. This will result in increased preventative responses. If left with solely to government it will remain a crisis response.

    Cultural Security – we must consider what this looks like. The opportunity presented is to develop a framework and protocols for government agencies and NGOs to engage effectively with families. This is critical. Cultural entities to provide cultural intelligence, training and professional development for all working in this area.

    Cultural Intelligence – we need to be informed and we need to have evidence of organisation commitment to this in our professional roles. This process should be monitored and reviewed. Not something we do once and forget.

    Conduct an analysis on family employment and health and wellbeing programs operating in the Kimberley such as the Beagle Bay and KEHLP examples demonstrated in his forum. We need to gather this information to fully appreciate the drivers and common thread factors of success and incorporate these elements into development of future Kimberley Best Practice models. This will ensure new learning and adaptation for local settings.

    KACCC and Aarnja – elevating the role of young people on the KACCC with Aarnja providing secretariat and support as well as information sharing.

    Establish a working group with clear terms of reference based on upholding fundamental rights of children premised on care and support – healing informed and trauma aware / inclusive / collaborative / accountable / sharing of information / sharing info to community / strategic / innovative / responsive to prevention focus / capacity for evaluation and monitoring
    Include support for an action research approach.

    Development of an advocacy plan. All are at risk of politicising of issues by government of the day – how to approach bipartisan support that is needed and commitment beyond politics.

    Timing – now is an opportune time. We all understand that there are reform processes taking place.

  3. Final Discussion – Planning recommendations.

    Participants agreed the recommendations in the KACCC ‘Gaps Report’ remain current and should continue to be pursued. They are:

    1. Set up a regional Aboriginal body/organisation that the Department of Child Protection (and/or other government agencies) can consult with at all stages of a child’s case;
    2. Set up a trial site that can look at implementing family empowerment and preventative measures;
    3. Request input when the legislation/policies are amended to ensure that meaningful amendments and policies can be made to support and encourage Aboriginal consultation and the protection of Aboriginal cultural and a child’s connection to this culture.
      Participants agreed a ‘working group’ or ‘taskforce’ should established to progress the detailed work required to bring these recommendations to life. Detail required is as per June Oscar’s final summary above. In the first instance this work is to be led by the KACCC with secretariat support being provided by Aarnja. WA State government will coordinate membership from the existing Kimberley Child Safety District Leaders Group. The working group will provide final agreement to a formal Terms of Reference.