Integrated Services for Aboriginal Children and Families
Lee-Hammond, Libby, Australasian Journal of Early Childhood
In 2008, the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Incorporated (SNAICC), in its submission to the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care, commended the Labor Government's commitment to improved Indigenous life outcomes. However, SNAICC offered some important advice on Aboriginal and Islander childcare services being conceptualised outside the standard regulatory frameworks. The submission noted, in particular, that a 'useful and culturally relevant' framework will have to 'look further than how services look after children. It will need to address how services work at a community level' (SNAICC, 2008, p. 4).
This paper reports on an investigation of one community's attempt to navigate this landscape. This community-based study explores the intersection between the early years political agenda and the identified need to develop services for Aboriginal people from a standpoint of cultural relevance, awareness and appropriateness. In any attempt to work effectively with Aboriginal communities, it is essential that service providers are completely clear about the wishes of the communities they intend to serve. Without adequate consultation, checking and clarifying, any resulting service will fail to be effective (McRae et al., 2010).
The overall aim of the paper is to report the findings of an empirical research study using Indigenous research methods (Smith, 1999; Wilson, 2008). The study was designed to consult members of the Noongar Aboriginal community in Perth, Western Australia, about the types of family and children's services they wished to access and the manner in which they wished to access them. In addition to reporting the findings of the study, the paper locates the research within the Australian policy context.
The first section of the paper explores the Australian Labor Government's position on and implementation of integrated early years services. It also situates this research within the international context. As considered below, there is a substantial body of academic literature that considers the establishment and implementation of an integrated model for the early childhood care and education needs of children, their families, and carers. It is therefore not the intention of this paper to reiterate the benefits, potential hazards and challenges of developing an integrated service in detail, but to provide an overview of them in order to provide the necessary context for the subsequent discussion.
The second section explores, through a review of relevant literature, the current challenges to providing integrated child and family services specifically for Aboriginal children and families. It also draws together lessons on the key elements of successful service delivery and highlights the significance of developing culturally appropriate services in consultation and collaboration with the local Aboriginal community.
The third section of the paper describes the approach and methodology and discusses the findings of the empirical study. As previously noted, the study draws upon Indigenous research methods (Smith, 1999; Wilson, 2008) that decolonise western imperialist notions of both research and community service provision (Moreton-Robinson, 2003; Smith, 1999). Further, the study takes a perspective grounded in socio-cultural theory with regard to the child and family who are the focus of this project (Bronfenbrenner, 1992; Rogoff, 2003).
The final part of the paper draws conclusions on the ever-widening gap between purported policy imperatives and the process of change and innovation at the coalface. The study highlights that a widely recognised need to 'close the gap' in Indigenous health and education is not being met with sufficient funding to enable real change to happen. The efforts and intentions of those working for change in the community are at the behest of funding and political expediency. …