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DIMIA Annual Report 2001-02


In 1995 the Commonwealth Government commissioned a public inquiry into the separation of Indigenous children from their families.

The inquiry was conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). HREOC's report, Bringing Them Home, was released in May 1997.

The Commonwealth Government was responsible for Indigenous child separation only in the Northern Territory (1911 to 1978).

In all other jurisdictions, Indigenous children were separated from their families under State legislation - either legislation designed to 'protect' Indigenous people or general child welfare legislation.

This report focuses on the Commonwealth Government's response to Bringing Them Home.

It does not reflect the responses of the range of parties substantially responsible for past separation practices, which include State governments and non-government bodies such as churches and welfare organisations.

The Commonwealth Government's initial response to the Bringing Them Home report was announced in December 1997 and included a package of measures valued at $63m.

over four years to address the report's key conclusion that 'assisting family reunion is the most significant and urgent need of separated families'.

The Commonwealth's response was specifically targeted to the report's recommendations which could be addressed within the ambit of Commonwealth responsibility.

Approximately half of the report's recommendations are either directed at both Commonwealth and state governments, or primarily at state governments and non-government organisations such as churches.

In responding to the Bringing Them Home report, the Commonwealth concentrated on initiatives to assist with family reunion and to provide health and parenting services for those affected by past separation practices.

Measures were also introduced to allow families to access their records and tell their stories, along with expanding culture and language maintenance programs. These measures were:

  • $11.3m. to expand Link-Up family tracing and reunion services nationally

  • $16m. for specialist Indigenous mental health counsellors

  • $17m. for professional support and training for counsellors

  • $5.9m. for family support and parenting programs

  • $2m. for improved access to Commonwealth records, through National Archives

  • $1.6m. for an oral history project for those affected to tell their stories, through the National Library

  • $9m. (allocated by the ATSIC Board) for language and culture maintenance programs.

The 2001-02 Commonwealth budget included an additional $53.8m. over a further four years (until June 2006) to continue the Link-Up family tracing and reunion services, and the counselling and parenting elements of the Government's original package of measures.

The information in this report is current as at 30 December 2001.


Link-Up family reunion services

The Commonwealth committed $11.3m. over four years (1998-99 to 2001-02) to maintain and establish a national network of Link-Up family reunion services.

In May 2001 the Government announced additional funding of $9.9m. to continue these programs until 2006.

The actual performance for 2000-01 indicated that there were 12,405 contacts (note that one client may have many contacts recorded) and 124 family reunions.

The number of reunions is not necessarily a reflection of the number of persons helped.

Some of those assisted may not have sought reunion as their final result or may not have been able to be reunited with family members because the person traced may have passed away or the tracing process may not have been fully completed.

The national network is now established and operating in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Northern Territory (Alice Springs and Darwin), and Western Australia.

Partnership arrangements have been developed in relation to delivery of services to separated children under the umbrella of the Link-Up service providers.

In most States and Territories, the partnership arrangements include government departments and agencies that can assist in tracing through the provision of information, and, in some cases financial support.

The purchase and installation of the requisite IT equipment to enhance the interconnectivity of Link-Up services across Australia has been an important initiative and is now completed.

Similarly, the development of the Client File Management Information System (CFMIS) is complete. Installation and training on CFMIS has been undertaken in all States and the Northern Territory.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) provides additional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family tracing services through the provision of information to support family history research.

This service will continue to receive funding until June 2003.

Language and culture maintenance

The ATSIC Board allocated $9m over three years towards language and culture maintenance in response to recommendations 12(a) and 12(b) of the Bringing Them Home report.

The Language Access Initiatives Program (LAIP) was developed with the overall aim of increasing opportunities for research on, and access to, information on Indigenous languages.

ATSIC, in consultation with those Indigenous people involved in the provision of Indigenous language services, targeted LAIP funding to specific areas of need.

ATSIC identified five priority areas for funding: endangered languages; feasibility studies and strategic planning; archive development and management; publications and broadcast; and a limited capital assistance component.

The highest priority was given to endangered language projects. This was in recognition of the impact of past removal practices on the use and transmission of Indigenous languages and cultures.

An analysis of 89 projects completed (mostly those funded in 1999-2000 and 2000-01) has provided an interesting snapshot of the range of projects (mostly at the local community and/or regional level) being undertaken to revive, strengthen and sustain Indigenous languages and culture.

For example:

  • 12 dictionaries have been produced, including one in three versions;

  • 57 books have been published and 126 resource publications have been produced

  • numerous hours of video, and many photos have been digitised and catalogued

  • 19 projects involved archiving, including the use of digital methods, some being foundations for future dictionaries

  • nine projects saw the development of a data base, recording or material produced for broadcasting

  • nine projects involved the development of CD, Tape or Video

  • one project involved language classes for school children.

An important feature of many of the projects has been their achievement in bringing Indigenous people together in workshops, camps, conferences and other meetings with the common aim of strengthening Indigenous language and culture.


The Department of Health and Aged Care received $38.9m. to be spent over the four year period 1998-99 to 2001-02 as part of Government's response to the Bringing Them Home report.

It comprised:

  • $17m. for counsellor education and support, in particular expansion and strengthening of the network of Indigenous Emotional and Social Wellbeing Regional Centres

  • $16m. for Indigenous counsellors, with the locations of the positions to be determined through existing consultative and joint planning mechanisms

  • $5.9m. was provided for further development of Indigenous parenting and family support programs. Management of this initiative has been transferred to the Department of Family and Community Services.

The Department of Health and Ageing (DHA) aims to ensure that the Bringing Them Home response initiatives are implemented in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and integrated with state and territory government priorities.

The State/Territory Partnership forums under framework agreements between the State/ Territory Minister for Health, the Chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation affiliate agency, and the Commonwealth Minister for Health, are the key partners in the implementation process.

Emotional and social well being regional training centres

The primary goal of emotional and social wellbeing regional centres is to develop capacity through the provision of training and professional support to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and emotional and social wellbeing workforce.

The Commonwealth committed $17m. over four years to provide enhanced training and support for those working in this area, and in particular, to expand and strengthen the regional centre network.

The original 11 regional centres are separately funded through the National Emotional and Social Well Being Action Plan. Five regional centres at Brisbane, Cairns, Broome, Perth, and Adelaide have been funded for expansion. These included projects to improve information technology, deliver

psychodrama programs, respond to sexuality issues, develop youth work services, and deliver on a comprehensive and targeted program of training and staff development.

Funding for these initiatives was due to finish in 2001-02. Continuation of enhancement funding will be considered in the light of individual evaluation of each project.

Following consultation, four new regional centres received funding for necessary preliminary work.

These included projects in central Queensland, western Queensland, the Goldfields area of Western Australia and south-western New South Wales (including the Australian Capital Territory). All four of these projects received establishment funding in 2000-01.

Following a successful establishment phase, three new regional centres have commenced operations in the ACT, Mt Isa and Rockhampton in Queensland.

The ACT Regional Centre has filled its manager position and coordinator positions at Canberra and Narooma.

Other counsellor training and support activities

The department is ensuring that there is adequate support and ongoing training available for people working in counselling positions.

Counsellor meetings have already been funded in South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland so that counsellors can discuss their support and training needs and develop strategies to address these needs with assistance from the regional training centres. Similar meetings are planned in other States.

In addition to the funding to Regional Centres, a range of other projects have been supported which can enable and assist the healing of those affected by past policies of removal.

These projects have included programs to develop and provide new training and curriculum, to expand the evidence base and to develop culturally appropriate approaches to therapy.

Innovative projects

The Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in 'Healing: A Legacy of Generations' suggested that Commonwealth programs should be based on consultation with separated children groups and specifically tailored to meet their needs.

The department has become aware through this report and through project officer feedback of separated children members' need for healing methods that cannot be addressed through the regional centre, counsellor or parenting components of the Bringing Them Home Initiative.

For example, many Indigenous people feel uncomfortable with one-to-one counselling.

In August 2001 the Department invited applications for more traditional, culturally appropriate solutions to healing, with preference given to those possibly developed in collaboration with Link-Up services.

Projects which offered meaningful healing such as return to country, or return to the place or institutions where members were raised, are also to be favourably considered. Selection of projects will occur early in 2002.

The department also funded a Healing Summit in Central Australia in September 2001 to bring separated children members together to be reunited with their traditional people.

It enabled separated children members to travel to be together as a group, to undertake healing activities and to provide support to each other, especially to those members who have not yet returned to their country.

Specialist Indigenous counsellors

Bringing Them Home counsellors provide counselling to individuals, families and communities affected by past practices regarding the forced removal of children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Counsellors respond to the needs of those removed, their children and those left behind.

The Commonwealth initially committed $16m. over four years for this initiative. Due to additional demand for positions, funding originally allocated to counsellor support and training has been used for the engagement of more counsellors, resulting in a significantly increased allocation for this component of the program.

Overall, proposals for 104 positions (including 16 half-time positions) have been finalised in all States and Territories.

The vast majority of these primary mental health care positions are located in community controlled health services.

Services have adopted a range of innovative local solutions to ensure that positions are filled and services are provided.

For example, qualifications range from personal experience of removal together with community acceptance through to vocational and tertiary qualifications including highly accredited clinical psychologists.

Similarly, counsellors may or may not be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, but tend to work in a team that includes at least some Indigenous staff.

The strongest linkages are with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services and Link-Up, but most services also have links with one or more mainstream family services, child protection and mental health service providers.

Indigenous parenting and family well-being

The Commonwealth originally committed $5.9m. over four years to enhance Indigenous family support and parenting programs, and subsequently continued this initiative until 2006.

The impact of past removals of children on Indigenous communities has had a significant detrimental impact on families in terms of the loss of the parenting skills learned by being part of a family unit. In addition, the authority of elders has been eroded and traditional parenting practices have been undermined.

Programs that seek to redress these losses and restore traditional parenting knowledge and skills, and emphasise the importance of family, are essential in ceasing the continuing cycles of violence, neglect and/or abuse within affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Commonwealth Government is focusing on opportunities for collaboration with State and Territory governments and the community controlled sector in the development or expansion of projects which enhance good practice in Indigenous parenting and family well being.

This is essential given that child welfare and parent support services are essentially a State/Territory responsibility.

The Commonwealth's role is primarily to complement existing activities, develop a national perspective on parenting issues and facilitate development work that can promote improved service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents.

This role is pursued through both the Bringing Them Home initiative and broader Commonwealth initiatives.

In April 2000, the Minister for Family and Community Services announced the 'Stronger Families and Communities Strategy' which also provides funding for a number of projects in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Given this focus, it was agreed to transfer the management of the Indigenous Parenting and Family Well-Being initiative to the Department of Family and Community Services to consolidate efforts in this area.

The Department of Health and Aged Care continues to work in partnership with the Department of Family and Community Services in relation to the ongoing development of the Government's parenting and family well being projects.

The Department of Health and Aged Care has retained responsibility for projects that primarily have a health focus.

The Department of Family and Community Services has continued funding for two projects identified by Health and Aged Care.

These are located in Yoorunya Gunya Family Violence Healing Centre in New South Wales and the Mentor Program for Harm Minimisation in South Australia.

A further 15 projects have been funded across Australia. Projects were selected by FACS State and Territory Offices using criteria from the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, and have incorporated a set of principles developed by the Indigenous Round Table on Community Capacity Building held in October 2000.

There has been a greater response to this initiative than it has had the capacity to accommodate. Where good projects have been identified and there

is no capacity for funding under the Initiative, the projects have been referred to the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy. Further information on these projects can be obtained from the Department of Family and Community Services.


Access to records

The Commonwealth committed $2m. over four years under its initial response to the Bringing Them Home report to index the names of Indigenous people in Commonwealth records to improve accessibility for those wishing to link up with their families and communities.

Indexing teams have been operating in Canberra, Darwin (where records relating to the Northern Territory are held), and in Victoria (where the former colonial and state records dating back to the 1860s are held).

All indexing is entered on a database that is searched on behalf of enquirers by Bringing Them Home project staff. To date, over 282,000 names have been indexed, of which over 236,000 have been entered and are searchable.

Name entries on the Bringing Them Home name index database identify records that may be relevant to inquiries.

Access to the index does not ensure access to the records themselves, which is subject to the access provisions of the Archives Act 1983 and to the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) developed by the National Archives in consultation with the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory in 1997 and Victoria in 2000.

Under the provisions of the Archives Act, the release of records is restricted where the information may constitute an unreasonable disclosure of someone's personal affairs.

The main reasons for withholding records from public release are because they include detailed or sensitive medical information, or domestic matters such as family relationships, children's court cases or adoption.

If the reason for seeking access to files is to obtain information for the purpose of re-establishing family and community links, then the MOUs operating in the Northern Territory and Victoria allow the individuals directly concerned, under certain conditions, to access most records that would normally be withheld from general public release.

A total of 360 inquiries have been made for information under the MOUs. Link-Up staff have made the bulk of inquiries on behalf of their clients.

Some requests include multiple names for each query. However, some individuals affected by past separation practices have sent inquiries directly to the National Archives.

More information on obtaining access to this information is available through the National Archives of Australia website or by contacting any office of that National Archives of Australia or Link-Up.

Community consultation regarding access issues has continued in the Northern Territory and Victoria through the National Archives' Aboriginal Advisory Groups set up under the MOUs.


Oral History Project

In the initial Bringing Them Home response, the Commonwealth committed $1.6m. over four years to the National Library of Australia to record a range of experiences of people directly involved in the separation of Indigenous children from their families, including the children themselves, their parents and other relatives, and those involved in the many aspects of care, administration and policy related to separation events.

The project will result in the production of a collection of interviews available to the general public and a major book on this issue.

Three hundred interviews were planned for the full three-year project, to add to the 31 interviews conducted during the pilot phase.

This target was overtaken, with 309 interviews completed as part of the three-year Project, by 31 December 2001.

On the advice of the Pilot Project Advisory Committee, the project aimed to conduct approximately two thirds of the interviews with Indigenous people directly affected by separation events. Of the interviews, 218 were with Indigenous people.

A total of 260 transcripts were completed or in progress by 31 December 2001, and all interviews to that date have been preserved.

Interviewing during 2001 took place in all States and Territories, with the focus being on Western Australia and the Northern Territory in the latter part of the year.

The book is progressing as planned with a proposed publishing date of October 2002. The book's main emphasis will be on the experiences recorded in interviews.

It will also include information about the project itself and provide some context for the history of Indigenous child separation. It will include full colour plates, black and white illustrations and CD insert.

Access to the collection is being, or will be, provided through the National Bibliographic Database and the Library's catalogue, inter-Library loans, copies of interviews held in other libraries, and various publication and exhibition initiatives.

A number of researchers have accessed the collection over the past two years, either through the Oral History reading room or via inter-library loan.

Contact has been established with a wide range of individuals and institutions in order to disseminate information about the project, establish relevant networks, facilitate identification of possible interviewees and interviewers, and establish ways of making interviews accessible to communities in different regions of Australia.

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