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?
Reconciliation Action Plan Project Worker – PeakCare Queensland