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Indigenous trauma needs tailored response: #IHMayDay16

Yesterday marked #IHMayDay16, or, for non-Tweeters, the fourth-annual national Indigenous Health Day. For the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), the notion of trauma was the theme of participation.

SNAICC’s main focus is Indigenous-centric childcare services; the group tweeted the following:

A child’s healing from trauma needs to happen within a culturally safe and caring environment #IHMayDay16

— SNAICC (@SNAICC) May 12, 2016

Dr Jenine Godwin-Thompson, a SNAICC trainer, passionately explained that trauma can entail more than physical suffering. It can also operate on a community or intergenerational level, inflicted as a result of stolen generations and, more historically, colonisation. Children’s Indigenous educators need healing, too. “They can’t educate kids if they don’t know who they are or where they’re from. It’s like they’re lost,” she asserted.

As for why Indigenous-specific early learning is vital, from SNAICC’s perspective, it’s not just about the kids having a sense of belonging. By involving entire communities in a children’s development, they employ parents and deal with familial health and welfare concerns. Ultimately, this is for the children’s benefit. “Essentially, they are one-stop shops to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have the best possible start, and can go on to attend, participate and excel at school,” a SNAICC spokesperson said.

Godwin-Thompson offered examples of integration of Indigenous elements into an Indigenous childcare setting: “Story time with elders … or just simple things, like flying the flag or giving the service an Indigenous name.”

The latter suggestion has been adopted in one of the two Indigenous childcare centres in Victoria: Bubup Wilam.

At Bubup in Thomastown, all the children are Indigenous. The centre exemplifies SNAICC’s reasoning for specialised Indigenous childcare: “Half the work we do is long daycare and kinder,” Bubup teacher Jeddah Charles said. “The other half is working with families.”

Godwin-Thompson determined that it needs more financial support. “Statistics show a lot of Indigenous kids go to non-Indigenous services, because that’s where the funding tends to go because that’s where the majority is,” she said. Bubup chief executive Lisa Thorpe did the math: “I think there are about 1400 children in schools in the northern suburbs; there are six or seven babies born out here a month in the northern suburbs. It’s huge. We only take 65 children here. So this centre needs to be replicated again and again and again and again.”

Indigenous groups like SNAICC are also concerned about how the government’s proposed changes to childcare funding will affect Indigenous communities in a broader sense. “The Australian Government Child Care Assistance Package will apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the sector, forcing all services to operate under a mainstream, inflexible, user-pays model,” a SNAICC spokesperson articulated.

Even if more government funding was available, Godwin-Thompson, that would be insufficient. “For [the government], it can be purely a policy checklist thing,” she said. “The government doesn’t always necessarily have that holistic worldview.”

Despite this, Godwin-Thompson maintained a positive outlook. Her number one wish for #IHMayDay16 was “getting [SNAICC’s] voice out there and creating a space for things to happen, and bringing education to the fore”. She also emphasised the importance of breaking down barriers and developing inter-community support or, in her words, “What can we do for our mob, in a better way?”

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