VACCA Myth Busting Fact Sheet

We’ve decided to lay out some myth busting fact sheets to better explain the way that Victoria’s complex child protection and out-of-home care systems work, and the role that VACCA plays.

Whilst we are funded to deliver a range of programs and services for Victorian Aboriginal families and children, we also play a critical advocacy role. We hold the “system” to account to ensure that we have an accurate picture of why Aboriginal children are entering care at such disturbing rates. We aim to lead the discussion on the sorts of culturally appropriate actions that can address these issues.

This means that we are always working towards the preservation, strengthening and protection of the cultural and spiritual identity of Aboriginal children, and the provision of culturally appropriate and quality services which are responsive to the needs of the Aboriginal community.

1. How many Aboriginal children are in VACCA’s care?

The number of children in VACCA’s care represents less than 10% of the 1500+ Aboriginal children in out-of-home care throughout the state1. Of the approximately 180 Aboriginal children in our care across kinship, foster, residential and adolescent community placement care, over half of the children in VACCA’s care are placed in kinship care. This is VACCA’s number one priority – to keep kids with their families. Much of our work is focused on preventing children from being separated from their families by providing support and healing services.

It is important to note that the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are the decision makers about Aboriginal children entering care. VACCA provides advice via our Lakidjeka ACSASS program, but DHHS make the decisions about Aboriginal children entering care.

2. What is the difference between kinship care and foster care?

Kinship care is a type of out-of-home care where children who cannot live with their parents are placed with another family member or somebody else that the child knows. Foster care is a type of out-of-home care where children who cannot live with any family member, or kin, are placed with a different family or individual.

For Aboriginal children in Victoria, there is a piece of legislation called the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP). This states that the absolute priority for Aboriginal children who cannot live with their parents is for them to live with kin. VACCA is a staunch supporter of this legislation, and is unwavering in its commitment to prioritising kinship care as the first priority for any Aboriginal child who cannot live with their parents.

State wide, we know that just 32% of Victorian Aboriginal children are placed with Aboriginal kinship carers across all of the child service agencies, Aboriginal and mainstream. We also know that the percentage of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care that are placed with their Aboriginal family has declined dramatically over the last two decades. All of this gives us a clear indication that the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is not being adhered to, despite being enshrined in legislation.

3. Who is the guardian of Victorian Aboriginal children placed in out-of-home care?

Almost all Victorian Aboriginal children who are in out-of-home care are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), or non Aboriginal (mainstream) agencies. This is separate to legal guardianship.

VACCA is committed to ensuring that all Aboriginal children who are placed in out-of-home care have either a family member or an Aboriginal person as their legal guardian – no Aboriginal child should have DHHS as their legal guardian.

This is absolutely critical to ensuring that their emotional, physical and cultural meeds are met.

The June 2016 announcement by the Victorian Government to proceed with realising “Section 18”, otherwise known as Aboriginal Guardianship, paves the way for such an approach. This is why VACCA’s advocacy work is so critical – we have been agitating for this legislation to be realised for nearly a decade, and now look forward to a future where all Victorian Aboriginal children receive the culturally relevant services that they need, and that they are entitled to.

4. The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle is not about the safety of Aboriginal children.

The safety of every Aboriginal child is paramount. No child should live in fear. No child should live in neglect. No child should be abused. But equally, no child should be denied their identity, or their history – the notion of safety must include cultural safety.

The objectives of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle are to enshrine the right of Aboriginal children to be raised in their own culture. This centralises the importance of family – extended kinship networks, community cultural connections – in growing up Aboriginal children.

Every aspect of a child’s best interests is premised on culture. Denying cultural identity to children is detrimental to their attachment needs effecting their emotional development, their education and their health.

5. What does VACCA do with the funding we receive?

VACCA’s key areas of work are in service delivery, and advocacy. We are funded to deliver around 50 programs across the state, offering a broad range of services that seek to:

  •   ensure child safety and wellbeing;
  •   support Aboriginal people and families;
  •   maintain strong connections to Aboriginal culture;
  •   promote culturally specific ways of growing up Aboriginal children, and
  •   address family issues such as family violence.

Our network of services are underpinned by the principles of prevention, early intervention support, and therapeutic and cultural healing. They include supported playgroups, education support, cultural camps and cultural activities, emergency relief, homelessness services, drug and alcohol support, out-of-home care and family violence services including an Aboriginal women and children’s crisis service. We also deliver cultural training and develop resources for the Aboriginal community.

In addition, we also advocate at a policy level and at a grassroots level for better outcomes for Victorian Aboriginal kids, for their right to be connected to culture and to ensure that their needs are represented in culturally appropriate ways within the way that services are delivered. We also advocate that resources are dedicated to early intervention and prevention, focused on offering culturally relevant support services that keep families and children away from the child protection system. And we pursue self determination as a core principle.

Like all not for profit organisations, VACCA is subject to a range of accountability measures to show how funds are spent. Our income is subject to funding agreements or contracts with our funders, and we report our targets on a monthly or quarterly basis. As part of our commitment to transparency we produce annual reports each year which are available on our website.

6. VACCA doesn’t seem to be doing anything about reducing the numbers of Aboriginal children in care – why do the numbers keep rising?

The reasons that Aboriginal children are over represented in out-of-home care are incredibly complex and are a combination of structural inequities, socio economic disparity, and racism.

The most common push factors for Aboriginal children entering out-of-home care are poverty, combined with poor mental health, family violence, drug and alcohol abuse and disability. There is very clear evidence between these factors and the structural constraints that are the legacy of two centuries of devastating and intrusive state policy.

VACCA’s key areas of work are in service delivery, and advocacy. We deliver around 50 programs across the state providing Aboriginal children and their families with a network of services including family support; out-of-home care and reunification; and family violence prevention. Our services are underpinned by the principles of prevention, early intervention, and culture and healing.

In addition, we advocate for the rights of Aboriginal children to be connected to their culture; for making the child welfare system culturally relevant with a focus on prevention; and for the rights of Aboriginal people to self determination.

After decades of this advocacy work, VACCA is hopeful that the way that the Victorian child welfare system operates will soon start to shift. The current State Government has recently launched significant reform and associated funding called “Roadmap for Reform”, which will redesign the child welfare system to give greater emphasis to preventing children entering care and transforming the way out-of-home-care works.

This is why VACCA’s advocacy work is so important – we work tirelessly towards reforms that provide support for families to stay together – one of our key goals.

7. If VACCA gets most of its income from the government, isn’t it just another arm of the state?

We do not “work” for the government. VACCA receives funding from government sources as well as philanthropic and private sources to deliver programs that we have developed based on our cultural knowledge about what Aboriginal people need and want.

Since its inception, VACCA has been a staunch advocate for change within child welfare across Australia. Over four decades of successive governments, we have argued strongly for the delivery of culturally appropriate services so that Aboriginal people are not squeezed into mainstream models when they need assistance. Many positive changes have happened nationally within the welfare area because of our advocacy work.

8. Who does VACCA represent?

VACCA is not a representative body, but an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation that advocates for the rights of Aboriginal children.

VACCA was first formed because of the passion and hard work of a collective of Aboriginal people in the community in the 1970s. The broad objective was to stop the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, and to increase the reunification of Aboriginal children with their families.

These founding principles remain central to all of VACCA’s work.

9. Why does VACCA take kids away?

VACCA does not remove Aboriginal children. We do not have the authority to do this. Only the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Child Protection has the legal right to remove children from their families. The decision to remove children from their families is often because a child’s safety is being compromised by family violence, drug and alcohol abuse and/or mental health issues.

10. Isn’t VACCA just part of making a new Stolen Generation?

No. Stolen Generations were forcibly removed and deliberately kept away from their people as a result of Government policy. VACCA works tirelessly for the absolute opposite of this practise and to repair the damage done to many families by those policies.

VACCA was established in the 1970s out of concern about the role of state in taking Aboriginal children away from their families. It was created so that Aboriginal people could regain control of their own affairs. The same central ethos that drove those passionate, dedicated activists four decades ago is still central to the organisation’s objectives.

VACCA is fiercely committed to ensuring that Aboriginal children live safely with their families. That’s why the majority of our services are based around early intervention and family support services that aim to keep Aboriginal families together.

If the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determines that an Aboriginal child should enter out-of-home-care under VACCA, our staff are dedicated to ensuring that they remain with their families and their culture. We prioritise kinship care. If it is not possible for a child to stay with a family member, we seek to ensure that they live with an Aboriginal foster carer. And only when we have exhausted all options will we consider placing a child with a culturally competent non Aboriginal carer.

For the majority of Aboriginal children who are in out-of-home care with mainstream (non Aboriginal) agencies, VACCA argues passionately for their right to be connected to their families, their communities, their culture and their Country.

11. What is the difference between Lakidjeka and VACCA?

VACCA is an Aboriginal controlled community organisation providing a range of services and advocacy for Aboriginal children and families, as well as a program called the Aboriginal Child Specialist Advice Support Service (ACSASS), also known as Lakidjeka ACSASS.

Lakidjeka is a Yorta Yorta word meaning ‘the child’ or ‘children’. This program has the responsibility for maintaining the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) protocol within VACCA, and has a number of joint working arrangements and agreements which aim to provide advice and consultation in all key case planning decisions.

Child Protection must consult Lakidjeka along with a range of professionals and family members when making decisions regards to an Aboriginal child. This is supported through legislation.

12. What is the process when an Aboriginal child goes into out of home care in Victoria?

VACCA has an agreement with Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) which says that when there are concerns about Aboriginal children, Child Protection must consult with Lakidjeka ACSASS whose role it is to provide advice to Child Protection about the child and their family. This advice is not based on risk, but is assessed and presented within a cultural context.

The sorts of advice that Lakidjeka provides includes decisions about whether a report should be investigated; what the case plan should be; whether there needs to be an application to court; and whether there needs to be any placements of children and young people. However, only DHHS and Child Protection have final say about what happens to a child.

If Child Protection considers placing any Aboriginal child or young person in out-of-home-care, it should be at a point where all other support options and safety plans have been exhausted and the child is still thought to be unsafe.

Lakidjeka also has the crucial responsibility to advise on what family and community members could provide support and care, promoting adherence to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP). All Lakidjeka team leaders, case workers and program managers are Aboriginal.

13. Why doesn’t Lakidjeka do its job properly?

Lakidjeka ACSASS does its job incredibly well in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Every Lakidjeka worker is dedicated to ensuring the cultural and physical safety of Victorian Aboriginal children, and works immensely hard to ensure that where appropriate, the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) has the information required to ensure that Aboriginal children remain with their families.

One of the biggest challenges for the program has been funding. In 2002, Lakidjeka was initially rolled out for three years. It received a small funding boost in 2005 and still operates today on the same funding levels. Whilst the expectation of the program has expanded to work across the life of every Child Protection case of Aboriginal children, and reports on Aboriginal children have increased markedly during this time, funding has not changed.

This has placed enormous strain on workers, in addition to common challenges like covering large geographical areas, with the current average caseload per worker across the state over 100 cases per worker, with some workers expected to be across a caseload of close to 200.

The Victorian government recently announced more funding to be invested into Lakidjeka across the state. This will assist in alleviating some of the current resource challenges.

14. Why does VACCA employ some non-Aboriginal staff?

VACCA is one of Victoria’s largest employers of Aboriginal people. In our regional services we largely employ local Aboriginal people. We have an extensive internal training program to equip our staff with the skills required to do the job as well as a workforce strategy in place to maximize the employment of Aboriginal people. All of VACCA’s non Aboriginal staff undertake cultural awareness training.

15. Why do Aboriginal organisations have lesser standards than mainstream organisations?

VACCA has exactly the same standards as other service providers. We are required to go through the same auditing processes and we are regularly audited by external and independent bodies. We submit reports to appropriate authorities to fulfill our legal and contractual responsibilities. VACCA is currently a DHHS and QIP accredited agency.

In addition we are accountable to our Aboriginal community through our board and community members. We are one of the country’s most highly respected community organisations.

Arguably, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are not subject to the same auditing process we are, meaning that Aboriginal children in kinship care with the department are not subject to the same level of scrutiny. This is one of the reasons that we have worked so hard on making Section 18 a reality, so that all Aboriginal children have Aboriginal guardians and receive the very best care and services that they need.

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