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Community Control in Indigenous Communities – Does it Work?

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.” Thomas Jefferson

Recently at PeakCare we have been involved in research and discussion around the issue of community control.  The model of community control involves the devolution of child protection and family support services to local Indigenous community controlled organisations. These organisations take responsibility for the operation of these services.
A key example of this model is provided by the Canadian child protection system. Canada devolved responsibility for child protection and family support services for on-reserve children and families to local First Nation agencies in 1990.

Whilst the Canadian system has had some success, it has also raised a number of issues that we in Australia can consider.  A brief outline of the main issues can be seen below.

Here are some possible Pro’s for community control:

  • Two-tiered systems: The establishment of a complete separate sector for the provision of services to Indigenous children and their families could lead to a two-tiered system. They face societal challenges and barriers which are complex given an historical and contemporary context of racism, the intergenerational effects on parenting skills of forced removal practices, poverty and marginalisation. There is evidence of a two-tiered system at play in the Canadian experience with this model.
  • Greater Equality: Community control may reduce the extent of discriminatory processes within the child protection and family support sector. Community controlled organisations may also be less threatening and thus more accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than mainstream organisations, given the legacy of coercion, control and discrimination.
  • Self-determination: It is through community controlled organisations that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been able to “express their collective will, advocate for their rights and needs, develop services and programs for their families and maintain their cultural traditions” according to the Secretariat of National Aboriginal Child Care .
  • Community control as factor in resilience: Muriel Bamblett, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, and former Chairperson of SNAICC argues “You only need to look overseas … to see that Indigenous peoples who have treaties and various self-determining rights have far better health and well-being outcomes”.

Here are some possible Con’s for community control:

  • Inter-group dynamics: Cultural diversity along with the potential interference by powerful people within small communities can be problematic. Given the power dynamics around child abuse and domestic violence, care must be taken to ensure that these power dynamics are nor replicated in community controlled organisations.
  • Jurisdiction issues: The Canadian system gives responsibility for providing child welfare services to First Nation agencies on reservations only. Given that in the 2006 census approximately 49% of Indigenous peoples in Queensland lived in major cities or inner regional areas, the applicability of this model to the Queensland context is problematic.

Some of the questions we need to consider when looking at community control are:

  • Would community control of child protection services lead to improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families?
  • What are the obstacles in the Queensland context for such a model?
  • What are the facilitating elements in the Queensland context?

Can you think of any issues we may have left out?

What are your thoughts on separate jurisdictions and delegated power to communities?

Do you think this model would work in Queensland?


Carolyn Ovens

Reconciliation Action Plan Project Worker – PeakCare Queensland


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Karen Dawson-Sinclair / Pamela Fisher #

    The First Nation Peoples Child Protection Model of Canadian is 20 years ahead of the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Model or any other model across this Nation.

    Queensland are behind within the Child Protection Practice against systems across other States and Territories. A National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander System including practice frameworks MUST be developed with our National Peak Body to ensure that the service delivery in accordance with frameworks are provided to our communities Not each State and Territories or even further watered down to individual services interruption.

    The National Peak Body to be the lead agency for services delivery, governance and financial accountabilities – If the statutory powers of the each Child Protection Act was provided to the National Peak Body to develop state regional responses to ensure that local knowledge and mandate from each community was respected.

    Current Practice within Queensland Government was not interested at ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocol were respected with direct reference to ensuring each funded service across both streams of RE and Family Support held mandate within each community of the regional Hubs

    Currently the RE and Family Support Services in Queensland are funded by Queensland Government and their service delivery models for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People since the reform the over representation of our little people has increased to 47% and raising. Not decreased as the Queensland Government hoped with the implementation of Family Support and Helping Out Families (HOF’s) with a direct referral from the Department of Communities Child Safety to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family Support Services. Band-aid models clearly don’t work as reflected within the increase of our little entering out of home care .

    The Queensland Government are in the process of taking money back( REFORM) from our all ready State funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foster and Kinship Care Programs. To once again refund and redevelop models to look at kinship models instead of supporting and providing further resources to the current funded Foster and Kinship services in which it would enable these services to implement the model within their current service agreements.

    It is time to STOP the REFORM merry-go-round within this State it needs to STOP. If we as a State are ever going to address our National Child Protection Needs, Queensland must stand together with out brothers and sisters to create one voice for our little people who are our future.

    January 27, 2012
  2. The above comment goes right to the solution for Queensland and Australia. It is backed up of course with other trends in sectors that impact on poverty in Queensland and therefore the numbers of children in care. Poverty drives many aspects of life generally that find their solutions in the health system in Queensland. Can’t find accommodation – sit in emergency all night – health statistic, can’t look after children – off to the health system and children to other systems – statistic. Feeling hungry and alone – do a “crime” – and juvenile justice system – statistic.

    Now from a public health perspective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners and their peak, Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Council (QAIHC) are asking for what Karen and Pamela are in this blog – an INDEPENDENT authority at the national level with governance controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A structural community control much more powerful than delegation to poverty-stricken communities as could be the case in the Canada models.

    In the case of QAIHC it is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Authority that is being campaigned for.

    We are hearin’ you – child protection and public health approaches go hand in hand and can address poverty in Australia. All the REFORM in Queensland further entrenches poverty – poor services weakened by red tape and lack of funds for poverty-stricken communities.

    Alf Davis, Griffith University, who is commissioned by PeakCare Queensland in this project is looking at Commonwealth health as a model with possibilities.

    Here is the QAIHC Blueprint launched in October 2011.

    Thank you very much for your insight and contribution.

    Karen and Pamela, you have got this blog off to a flying start. Thank you for your outline above. It comes at just the right time. I hope that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experience on national bodies will enter the blog and move the ideas further.

    January 28, 2012

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