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Partnering for safety with families

In Queensland, there are very few Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander-specific services to address alcohol and other drug use in the family.

Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people can experience further exclusion and oppression because of:

  • programs or services that are built from a white perspective—they have had experiences of racism, of being approached in a culturally insensitive way, of feeling judged, and of having their confidentiality breached
  • actions that isolate them from their community and make them feel pressured to do things they are reluctant or are unable to do
  • inflexible visiting hours, lack of access to telephone and long waiting lists.

These all contribute to further disadvantage and increase the likelihood of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people not completing alcohol and other drug programs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents need to know that you are an ally for them and their kids in a system that has a history of forced child removal and of failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Culturally safe engagement

As a worker for Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs, you are in a position of power and privilege. You need to think about how you use power in a safe way and what you can do to structure safety with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.

Here are some conversation ideas (print out the table below):

Take collective accountability

Take collective accountability for past pain and suffering that has been caused by Child Safety.

I am sorry for the pain and suffering that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have felt because their children were stolen.

I understand talking with me today (as a non-Indigenous person or as a worker from Child Safety) must be really hard.

I am keen to hear how I can make this any easier.

Find safe spaces to yarn (hold discussions)

Let’s talk about who needs to know what and why.

Is there anything I need to know about that could stop you from talking with someone about it?

Who is appropriate for you to talk about your alcohol and other drugs use with? Would you prefer a man or a woman?

I know privacy is important to you. How do we make sure this is respected?

Is there anyone you do NOT want to know about this?

What worries you about them knowing?

Be aware of lateral violence—community backlash

How might others respond to knowing about the alcohol or drug use? How might other people you’ve spoken to respond?

What will this be like for you? For your child? For your family?

How might you respond to that? Who in your community would be helpful?

Who can be of help to you?

How can I be of most use to you?

Engage Elders and other important people who make decisions

Who are the Elders of your community?

How do decisions about children get made?

What are the views on harmful alcohol or drugs? What would they say needs to happen?

How can you connect with them?

How can they help us make good decisions here about what needs to happen?

Be guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Listen deeply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as experts

What can you tell me about your culture and traditions and how they may help your alcohol and other drugs treatment?

How can you feel the most comfortable through your alcohol and other drugs treatment?


Self-determination and participation

Principles of self-determination (having control over their own lives) and participation guide our work with families and communities. Do not replicate past oppressive practices in your interactions.

Ask parents where they would like to meet and who can support them.

  • What is important to you, so you can feel safe while we talk today?
  • How will you let me know if you feel like I am using ‘power’ over you?
  • It is important to me while we talk that I don’t offend you or say things that are culturally inappropriate. If this happens, how can you let me know?
  • Who can come and support you while we are here?

If alcohol or drug use is making it unsafe for children, talk to parents about who in their family and community could help them. With the parents’ agreement, involve these people as a safety and support network and in a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family-led decision making process.

If children cannot stay with their parents because it is unsafe, work with the family to find kin who are willing to be assessed as kinship carers.

Show up for the hard yarns

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents need to know they can rely on you to be up-front and honest about what is happening. There may be times you need to have uncomfortable and hard yarns. You need to show up for these conversations with compassion, curiosity and courage.

If you do not, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents may be left confused and may feel you have lied or been sneaky. This repeats feelings about past injustices and has a flow-on effect within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

Acts of protection

Look for a parent’s ‘acts of protection’ or steps already taken. These may look like:

  • distancing themselves from family and kin who are using or drinking
  • re-engaging with cultural practices; looking to connect to country and land
  • seeking support from a trusted family member, friend or Elder
  • limiting their use to only a particular place or time.

Try to support a parent’s acts of protection and build on their strengths, as it take great strength for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to go against what may be the family/community norm.

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