Aboriginal child and family services - advice

This advice provides information regarding the Aboriginal child and family service system.
Document ID number 2715, version 3, 3 October 2016.

The most important principle underlying all Aboriginal organisations is Aboriginal self-determination. This means that Aboriginal organisations are managed by Aboriginal people for the benefit of Aboriginal people (use of the term Aboriginal refers to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).

Cooperatives reflect the values and traditions of the Aboriginal community they serve, whether local (for example, Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative), statewide (for example, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA)) or national (for example, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC)).

Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations

Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations are unique in Australia. They are controlled by the Community and shape service delivery to meet the needs of the local Community they serve. 

There are many Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) that are providing services in a range of areas throughout Victoria. Some are set up to provide a single service type, such as legal advice or housing services. Others provide a broad range of services, such as health services or child and family services, to their local Aboriginal community.

Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) in Victoria are multifunctional service centres sometimes referred to as 'Co-operatives' or 'Co-ops' and offer more than simply medical services. Their programs also include services in aged care and disability, housing, counselling, drug and alcohol management, legal and justice support, and the prevention of family violence.

It is important to note that not all Aboriginal organisations are funded to provide child and family services yet may still offer assistance to child protection in addition to their core business (such as, supervising contact visits). This cannot be expected at all times as the agency may have other priorities that may need attention within the community and may not be able to assist with offering the level of support desired.

Most Aboriginal co-ops that are not funded are still happy to assist and be involved in supporting Aboriginal families and children where they can, however without a funded service the capacity to do so is limited.

The Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS) is available statewide to give advice and information to child protection practitioners. It is also important to remember that your local ACCO is a great resource and have a role to play when working with families (for example, a meeting with the family could be held there instead of the departmental office). It is important to familiarise yourself with the full range of services that exist in the local ACCO.

The divisional 'DHHS Senior Advisors, Aboriginal Engagement' can assist with information about local organisations.  These are designated roles valued for providing critical cultural links with Victoria's Aboriginal communities. 

Program descriptions

Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice and Support Service (ACSASS)

In Victoria, the ACSASS service is delivered by the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) in all locations with the exception of the Mallee area where the ACSASS service is delivered by Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS). The ACSASS service delivered by VACCA is also referred to as 'Lakidjeka' and in the Mallee it is sometimes referred to as 'MDAS/ACSASS'.

Upon the report of an Aboriginal child to child protection services the relevant ACSASS service needs to be contacted. A key role of the ACSASS worker is to assist in identifying members of the child's kinship or community network who may be suitable to provide a placement. The decision to place an Aboriginal child in out-of-home care must be in accordance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle. Note the child protection practitioner should only proceed with discussions and referrals to Aboriginal Family-Led Decision Making, Aboriginal Family Preservation Programs and Aboriginal Family Restoration Services following contact with ACSASS. See Case planning for Aboriginal children procedure for tasks that must be undertaken.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making (AFLDM)

The goal of Aboriginal family-led decision making (AFLDM) is to deliver culturally based decision making within child protection. This includes the capacity to divert matters concerning the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children from court proceedings, reduce re-reporting and statutory intervention and to improve kinship options in placement, support and care arrangements. See AFLDM program guidelines.

The model utilises traditional Aboriginal approaches to solving family problems and involves Aboriginal elders and the extended family. The AFLDM model allows Aboriginal families the opportunity to meet and explore options to improve their family situation in a supported cultural environment. It also allows families to gain understanding around the risks of harm towards the children and how the family can be supported to overcome any difficulties they may be facing.

AFLDM is also a good way to engage an Aboriginal family and community in completing cultural support plans. Cultural plans are developed to ensure that an Aboriginal child in out-of-home care remains connected to their family, community and culture. A cultural plan as part of a child protection case plan and LAC care and placement plan is an important tool in establishing these connections and must be completed for all Aboriginal children in out-of-home care. See Cultural plans - advice.

Aboriginal family restoration services

Aboriginal family restoration services aim to prevent future harm and disadvantage for the most at-risk Aboriginal children by strengthening their parents' capacity to safely care for them and by reducing their over-representation in child protection and out-of-home care. The programs will be based upon a holistic approach to Aboriginal family breakdown to ensure the safety of Aboriginal children where there is a risk of the child being placed in out-of-home care.

The initial program is to provide 24 hour, seven day a week in-home support to entire families where there is an imminent risk of the children being placed in out-of-home care. Attached to these services will be a rapid support service to families to attempt reunification if a placement is made and once it is safe for the child to return home, to divert children from out-of-home care.

This model will now be further developed in partnership with local Aboriginal organisations as a response to their concerns about the number of Aboriginal children having to be placed away from their community. Following the finalisation of the model an implementation plan will be developed that ensures the initiative evolves in a manner that is respectful of the needs of the identified local community and occurs at a pace acceptable to the individual local community needs.

Aboriginal Family Preservation Program (AFPP)

The Aboriginal Family Preservation Program (AFPP) works intensively with families referred by child protection, with the aim of family preservation or reunification. The program is based on the Families First model and continues to develop a practice approach grounded in Aboriginal culture. AFPP uses intensive family support, practical assistance and parenting education to assist families to improve their parenting skills and address protective concerns, thereby reducing the need for the child to be placed in out-of-home care. Where it has been necessary for a child to be placed away from the family home, the program works to facilitate re-unification.

There are five AFPPs based in Mildura, Swan Hill, Shepparton, Dandenong and Morwell.

Integrated family services - Indigenous

The aim of integrated family services - Indigenous is to promote the safety, development and wellbeing of vulnerable Aboriginal children, young people and their families, and to build capacity and resilience for these children, their families and their communities. Programs apply the best interest principles to achieve improved parenting, strengthened relationships, positive development for children and young people and improved social connectedness and life skills. Integrated family services - Indigenous work collaboratively with child protection to develop effective diversionary responses aiming to prevent families from progressing into the statutory child protection system.

Considerations for good practice
  • Aboriginal people do not belong to a homogenous group. Just as in the wider community, the values, communication style and child rearing practices vary between different families and in different communities.
  • No matter how much you may know about culture or how sensitive you are towards the community and family, child protection practitioners will often be seen as associated with 'the welfare'. Historically welfare legislation, policy and practice have created great distrust between Aboriginal people and the government. Acknowledgement of these fears and distrust and good listening skills will enable better outcomes with Aboriginal children and families.
  • For Aboriginal workers in the child and family services field, the decisions they make in their professional life extend into their personal life as they live within the same communities and families that are the subject of child protection's involvement. The notion of professional services delivered in a dispassionate way is not meaningful for Aboriginal people. For workers in Aboriginal agencies it is precisely because they are connected to the families and communities with whom they work that they are able to be effective.
  • If there is a funeral in the community Aboriginal organisations may shut down for the day. It is important in the Aboriginal community to give your respect and attend funerals. If you are aware of a funeral in the Aboriginal community, do not attempt to contact Aboriginal organisations or workers except in urgent situations.
  • If there has been a death of an Aboriginal child or other traumatic event for a family, your working relationship with the community may become strained even if you were not directly involved in the case. A traumatic event does not just impact on the family and close relatives the wider community can be affected.
  • Community events and celebrations are where Aboriginal people network and do a lot of business. To build relationships it is important to be visible at events and celebrations that have significant meaning for Aboriginal people. When a new practitioner starts in an office, they should introduce themselves to the local Aboriginal co-ops and other Aboriginal organisations in the area.
  • Aboriginal people network and do a lot of business at Aboriginal events and celebrations. To build relationships it is important to be visible at events and celebrations that have significant meaning for Aboriginal people.