By Board Director, Maria Rampa
It was a scorching, airless day in the Western Cape Aboriginal community, yet as we stepped into the Act for Kids Safe House, surrounded by lush lawn and cheery flowers, we were greeted with the squealing delight of children at play.
Six children, all from the same family, were home for the holidays from their foster placements outside of the community, and were excited to be reunited at the safe house to share their stories and experiences, whilst reconnecting with family and friends in community.
This is often the only time they can all be together, the house parent explained, telling us that the six currently at the house, were part of a larger sibling group of 12 all in foster care. They sometimes think of this place as their real home.
This supervised family reconnection or reunification process, is just one of the services the safe houses offer in Aboriginal communities, as well as emergency residential care and short to medium term care, during which time Act for Kids staff work with families to resolve any issues prohibiting the children from being able to live safely and securely with their loved ones.
Welcome to (our) Safe House reads the childs drawing on the door as we entered the next safe house in a neighbouring community.
Ecstatic to play ball with us as we chatted to staff and ate lunch, the children seemed relaxed and at ease with these visitors who felt privileged to be allowed to share some special moments with them in their second home. The aunties who frequent the houses every day, told us proudly about activities in their communities aimed at providing a social outlet for residents and a means to mix harmoniously together without the need for alcohol or drugs. The aunties provide a vital link for the children when, often frightened and confused, they are brought to the house in times of crisis. They are a familiar face and a reminder that adults can and should care for children in their midst.
In all, the Board visited the communities of Yarrabah, Napranum, Mapoon, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw and Kowanyama, as well as our integrated therapy service in Cairns. In each location, we met staff, some community elders and reference group members, who assisted us in the administration of the houses, and also local arts enterprises, which play an integral part in keeping the traditional Aboriginal skills, culture and heritage alive. We were treated to traditional stories and taken to some special Aboriginal sites, as well as visiting the local beaches and rivers, complete with watchful crocodiles, which kept us on our toes!
“As much as we care and talk about it, nothing compared to being there and seeing the commitment of staff and feeling the warmth in which they give so much for children, John Manning, Board Director said. It is remote and challenging yet so beautiful. It is a wonderful, and unique, example of what working together can do.”
We felt privileged to be able to share in the experiences of these communities, as well as our staff, who provide vital services in often challenging circumstances.
Act for Kids Board Chair, Lesley-Anne Houghton, commented that, it is very important to develop a stronger understanding of traditional culture and community issues so we can ensure that Act for Kids cares for children in the most culturally appropriate way, and that we provide and facilitate opportunities wherever possible for them to stay connected to their country, their culture and their language.
Board Director Berkeley Cox aptly concluded that the more we know the more we realise we don’t know, but we are certainly on the journey, and making a real difference in the lives of children living in Aboriginal communities.