Berry Street and Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) announced in August 2017 a major partnership with Gandel Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, who have granted $500,000 towards adapting the Family Finding program across their Victorian services, building on initial support from a number of smaller trusts. The grant will see the completion of an 18 month pilot program with potential to inform wide-spread changes to finding existing family for children in care.
A child entering out-of-home care often faces separation not just from parents, but from siblings, extended family, close friends and/or community. Often it’s only the child’s known family who are approached for care options, missing the potential support of an extended network.
Aboriginal children are ten times more likely to be removed from their family, resulting in disconnection from culture, loss of identity and repeating inter-generational trauma. The majority are still not placed with Aboriginal carers or family, despite this being the intent of Victoria’s child protection law. There is an urgent need for a more systematic approach to connecting children with safe and culturally connected family.
The program is for all children but has a particular interest in Aboriginal children.
VACCA CEO Professor Muriel Bamblett says many young children can stay in multiple placements for an extended period and they can lose their connection to family, community, culture and country. “Where there is family violence, abuse or neglect of children –at times involving drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or mental illness –there can be a breakdown of extended family relationships and divisions that can lead to parts of the family being cut off from each other,” said Professor Bamblett.
Widely implemented in USA and Canada, Family Finding aims to link children with a close family network that provides lifelong belonging and cultural identity, and greater likelihood of permanent placement in loving homes. Having family members to acknowledge a child’s milestones as they grow up can make a huge difference to their wellbeing, no matter what their care arrangements may be.
Berry Street and VACCA are piloting this program with the intent of establishing better systems to support placement of children within their extended family, friends and community, and to reconnect Aboriginal children to their Aboriginal family wherever possible. The team will also share skills and knowledge of the Family Finding model with other Aboriginal agencies and child protection services.
Sandie de Wolf AM, CEO at Berry Street, said she was encouraged by the leadership demonstrated by the philanthropic funds. “Family Finding is a promising and exciting pilot program that we hope will help to create a sense of wellbeing and belonging for children and young people currently in the out of home care system,” she said.
Berry Street also acknowledged The Flora & Frank Leith Trust, The Marian and E H Flack Trust, Campbell Edwards Trust and the Rotary Club of Balwyn for their contributions to this program.