Coroner’s report exposes a system that is grossly failing Aboriginal families and children 

Jun 24, 2024

CONTENT WARNING: VACCHO advises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that the following article contains suicide references refers to those who have returned to the Dreaming. 

VACCHO’s Balit Durn Durn Centre is calling for urgent system reforms after a Victorian coroner found a 17-year-old Aboriginal woman’s human rights were breached prior to her suicide in Bendigo in 2021. 

The Coroner’s Court of Victoria report highlights the many injustices this young woman encountered through systems that Aboriginal Communities are forced to operate within and navigate every day. 

The report details a system that consistently places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children at risk, resulting in severe health and wellbeing crises for families and Communities.  

VACCHO’s Balit Durn Durn Centre extends its deepest and most sincere condolences to grieving families and Communities and thanks them for their strength and courage throughout this deeply upsetting process. 

The severe impacts of such tragic loss of life are further exacerbated by multiple risk factors including stigma, intergenerational trauma, ongoing grieving and sorry business, racism, social disadvantage and exclusion. These risk factors significantly jeopardise the social and emotional health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Communities.     

Coroner McGregor made 17 recommendations aimed at enhancing cultural safety and competency across the child protection system for Aboriginal children and young people and preventing the many tragedies that continue to plague Aboriginal Communities. 

Key themes within the recommendations included – 

  • That DFFH and other organisations providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young persons in out-of-home care review their current policies and practices and implement changes to enhance their capacity to provide culturally connected care.  
  • That kinship carers for vulnerable children and young people be better supported by DFFH. 

VACCHO advocates for shifting the focus in “child protection” from solely tertiary measures to prioritising prevention and early intervention, empowering Aboriginal families as a holistic approach. 

In addition, VACCHO calls upon the Victorian Government to establish a whole of government implementation of a ministerial task force as part of its suicide prevention response strategy. This task force should be jointly led by VACCHO and the Victorian Government and be driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.  

VACCHO also calls on the Victorian Government to deliver the urgent funding required to develop vital initiatives to reduce the rate of deaths by suicide within Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Communities. 

Quote to be attributed to VACCHO CEO Dr. Jill Gallagher AO; 

“A young Wemba Wemba women lost her life in tragic circumstances in 2021 while under the care of the child protection system in Victoria. This young women’s life mattered. She was proud of her culture but was failed by the systems that were supposed to protect and care for her.”  

“This woman is yet another young Aboriginal person who has fallen through the cracks of a fractured, siloed and unsafe system, that continues to have disproportionate and lasting impacts on our young people and communities.”    

“We recognise the profound grief being felt by Aboriginal families and Communities. We are witnessing a crisis in this country with the ongoing separation and neglect of Aboriginal families. Across this continent, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are ten times more likely to be living in out of home care than non-Indigenous children.” 

“The coroner’s findings have demonstrated that the child protection system is completely ill-equipped to support the complex health and wellbeing needs of children and families. It’s imperative that we overhaul these systems to prioritise the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and families.” 

NOTE: Your social and emotional safety is important. If this article has brought up any concerns or issues for you, please have a yarn with Yarnin Safe’n’Strong (1800 959 563) or 13YARN (13 32 16). 

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.