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Listening deeply: engaging the community

Do not underestimate the ongoing trauma caused by past government policies and the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have understandable fears about you taking away their children. Communities will be afraid of losing their children, particularly if they talk with you about family violence. Let them know that you are there to listen and to support them in keeping their children safe and well.

‘Engagement is often viewed as synonymous with involvement. Involvement in services is important, but real engagement goes beyond that. Families can be involved and compliant without being engaged. Engagement is motivating and empowering families to recognise their own needs, strengths and resources and to take an active role in changing things for the better. Engagement is what keeps families working in the sometimes slow process of positive change.’

Sue Steib, 2004

Listen to the community’s perspective of violence in their community

Seek consultation about how you can best engage with an Elder or a respected community member to help you work with a family. Community Elders, leaders and other community members will have a strong sense of what violence is taking place in the community and which children are at risk, and may be seeking community solutions to these issues. Do not go in thinking or talking about solutions. Listen to what the community’s worries are and how they would like to overcome them. 

Note

‘Resist the urge to propose solutions for Aboriginal issues, but rather listen deeply. Too many people have tried telling Aboriginal people what’s best.’

Practice prompt

Listen to William Ury’s TEDx Talk about the importance of listening to communicate more effectively.

The walk from "no" to "yes"

Get to know the kinship system and extended family

Make efforts to know and understand the extended family and kinship structure and be respectful of the roles, responsibilities and obligations embedded within this structure.

Ask about who are the most important people to talk to and include in assessments and case planning.

Recognise and respect gender roles and responsibilities

Understand the ways the closeness and connectedness of families and communities can both work towards creating a supportive and safe environment and create pressures for individuals and families in terms of violence, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.

Get to know and appreciate the different child rearing practices and how you can engage with these practices to help keep children safe. Be willing to explore barriers to parenting given the history of trauma for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Be curious and open minded. Some families may use traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices, while others may not.

See both the strengths and challenges family and kinship systems may produce

Understand the ways the closeness and connectedness of families and communities can both work towards creating a supportive and safe environment and create pressures for individuals and families in terms of violence, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity.

Get to know and appreciate the different child rearing practices and how you can engage with these practices to help keep children safe. Be willing to explore barriers to parenting given the history of trauma for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Be curious and open minded. Some families may use traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices, while others may not.

Get to know the community experience

Get to know the local community and historical experiences. Asking community and family members you are working with to help direct you is crucial to even the most basic and practical parts of your work.

Consider for a moment if you had organised to speak with a woman about your concerns and you had a chosen a public place. What if you hadn’t known that that place was the site of a massacre of Aboriginal peoples, a sacred space not appropriate for such a meeting, making the woman uncomfortable and reluctant to come? This is the kind of cultural oversight that is easy to make and easy to prevent when you ask for guidance.

Working with partner agencies

Here are some practice considerations and ideas to consider when working with stakeholders from partner agencies.

Practice considerations Practice ideas
Develop a shared understanding of confidentiality. Understand how partner agencies record information and how they discuss child protection concerns with family and community members.
Talk to community agencies and seek their local knowledge about family violence in the community.

Consider the following questions:

  • How do they respond when they hear about family violence on the within the community?
  • Are they aware of certain children or families where family violence is a concern?
  • Are they aware of certain geographical areas where family violence is occurring?
  • How do they believe the community is responding to the concerns?
  • What are the barriers to reporting that need to be addressed in this community?
Work with partner agencies and interagency forums to increase their ability to respond to family violence.

Help partner agencies develop practices that reduce the barriers to reporting their worries about a child and build trust between the community and child protection practitioners.

For example:

  • being open about child protection concerns with the family (where possible)
  • recording child protection concerns alongside community members
  • explaining the role of child protection to children, families and community members
  • encouraging partner agencies to develop creative child-centred responses to family violence

 

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