The road to self-determination: Aboriginal people caring for Aboriginal kids
Wednesday 10 June
AbSec Project Manager, Jan Fennell, stares out of her Menindee office with a determined countenance. She is a rough diamond, no-nonsense type, yet also humble.
“I would be the worse person to interview,” she laughs.
Although Jan is extremely hesitant about self-promotion, she does concede to questioning about a project close to her heart – the Mirrimpilyi Muurpa-nara Aboriginal Corporation (MMAC). Mirrimpilyi Muurpa-nara means “happy children” in the Barkindji language.
Jan is helping to establish a designated agency for Aboriginal children in out-of-home care for the far west region of New South Wales, encompassing Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Ivanhoe, Menindee, Dareton and surrounding communities. This is something Aboriginal people in the area have wanted for some time, which was uncovered by AbSec’s extensive consultation with families at the grass roots level, agencies, community groups and related organisations.
Until now a collection of non-Aboriginal organisations have managed these services. There are currently about 60 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care across the region.
“The communities wanted an Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation (ACCO) that was solely focused on Aboriginal kids and out-of-home care. They did not want these services managed by a larger organisation with another core business,” Jan reveals.
“It is devastating for Aboriginal kids when they don’t know their family or country. Nobody knows Aboriginal people better than Aboriginal people. Who better to serve our people, than our own people? I see a real bright future for Aboriginal kids in care in the far west region.”
MMAC was identified as an organisation that could take on this vital role. Jan is now helping MMAC with developing their policies and procedures for accreditation as a Permanency Support Provider (PSP) with the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian.
The Mirrimpilyi Board appreciate the ongoing support and advice that we have received from Jan and AbSec. Jan has a great open communication style and she has given frank and honest feedback to the Board as we have navigated our way through the organisation’s establishment and accreditation process. Her understanding of the requirements is great, and her ability to impart her knowledge to get the job done was amazing and so valuable. We cannot wait to commence operations and start creating the much-needed change for Aboriginal children, young people, their families and communities,” states MMAC Board Member, Leasa Kelly.
Jan’s previous professional experience as an Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer with the NSW Police Force has given her the mediation skills, contacts and empathy with children in care to bring all the stakeholders together, including ones from the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ). She also credits the support and teamwork with AbSec colleagues for her success with the project.
“We are currently in negotiations with DCJ about contracting arrangements, so that MMAC can start taking on children. Community members in the far west are very excited about having a designated Aboriginal out-of-home care service for their children,” she states.
Jan and many others believe MMAC will fill an essential gap in services, as a strong ACCO capable of keeping children in out-of-home care connected to culture and their families so they grow up strong and proud.
An Elder from the region states, “Being a part of the Stolen Generations, also having worked for FACS, I am so happy knowing that an ACCO care agency is starting up out this way. I think this is the best thing that has happened for our families. I know how important it is for kids to know and have contact with their mob and culture. I think MMAC will be able to give the children in care opportunities, care and support, that a lot of kids in care haven’t had.”
Another Elder and Language Tutor expresses similar sentiments: “With the ACCO starting out this way to look after our kids in care, I can now be confident that our children growing up in the out-of-home care system will be proud of who they are, and where they are from. I am looking forward to working with MMAC to assist them, the carers of the kids, and young fullas’ cultural connections.”
The MMAC project shows how AbSec plays an important role in building the capacity of Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to ensure they are ready to assist Aboriginal children and families in need of support.