1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Strengthening Indigenous families and communities

This section was contributed by the Australian Government Department of Family and Community Services.

The Family and Community Services (FaCS) portfolio was established in 1998 with responsibility for a broad range of social policy issues. Strengthening families and communities and encouraging social and economic participation are key outcomes, which are achieved through a number of support programs, including:
  • income support
  • housing assistance
  • various community support and development programs
  • disability services
  • child care services
  • family support, including family payments, child support and financial counselling.

Special consideration is given to the needs of young people and students, people living in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

There are almost half a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people resident in Australia, comprising 2.4% of the Australian population. As a result of higher fertility and mortality rates, the Indigenous population profile features a median age of 20 years compared with 36 years for the non-Indigenous population. Life expectancy at birth is about 20 years less than for non-Indigenous persons.

By almost all socioeconomic indicators, Indigenous persons are the most disadvantaged group in Australia. Indigenous persons experience much higher unemployment rates, lower average incomes, lower participation and achievement in the education system, much higher rates of incarceration, higher infant mortality rates, and poorer health and housing situations than non-Indigenous persons. Suicide rates are also higher, and many in Indigenous communities suffer major alcohol and other substance abuse problems.

For those living in remote locations, access to employment, education and training opportunities, to health and welfare services, to adequate housing, and to essential facilities such as banking and communications are often problematic. In urban areas, Indigenous people often face difficulties accessing mainstream services and facilities, and private sector jobs.

FaCS is addressing Indigenous issues on a number of fronts. Attention to appropriate and effective service delivery of income support entitlements continues to be a major focus, especially in remote areas. Various welfare reform measures aim to provide more individually tailored support to those facing multiple employment barriers, and encourage more social and economic participation.

Many of the Indigenous projects funded under programs such as the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, the Family and Community Networks Initiative and Reconnect are focused on enabling community-based groups to address aspects of Indigenous disadvantage. Other programs, such as the Indigenous Parenting and Wellbeing Program focus entirely on Indigenous family strengthening. The Child Abuse Prevention Program, the National Disability Advocacy Program, and the National Illicit Drugs Strategy also fund a number of Indigenous-focused projects. All include elements of local capacity building, cultural appropriateness and self-governance, with Indigenous people integrally involved in planning, designing and delivering local initiatives.

FaCS also funds many Indigenous childcare centres, playgroups and disability services, and provides funds to the states and territories for Indigenous housing programs and crisis accommodation.

FaCS’ total expenditure on Indigenous-specific programs, services and projects for 2002-03 was $213.2m, including $48.6m for Centrelink’s Indigenous Services. This does not include spending on individual income support entitlements.

The importance of holistic, integrated approaches to addressing multi-faceted and inter-related issues applies to the way government agencies provide support to Indigenous communities. FaCS is working closely with a number of Australian Government, and state and territory departments in several Indigenous Community Coordination pilots, which seek to provide joined-up government responses to community-identified priorities. Learning from this initiative should result in improving government’s capacity to respond appropriately and flexibly to community needs and circumstances.

Cape York Family Income Management (FIM) project

This project was established to improve the living standards and functioning of Indigenous families in Aurukun, Coen and Mossman Gorge through assisting families to better manage income to cover essential living costs, reduce and manage debts, and save for individual and group goals. The process requires dealing with family issues, relationships, expectations and responsibilities in order to develop a family agreement and budget plan.

Agreed dollar amounts are directly deducted from income support or wages and paid into FIM accounts. This money is then used to pay essential household bills and to save for group or individual purposes. In addition, negotiation with local schools and businesses has enabled the establishment of education, nutrition and pharmacy accounts, contributing to education and health improvements.

Westpac Banking Corporation has provided considerable in-kind assistance through a volunteer secondment program, assisting FIM community workers with technical aspects, accounts management systems, community education and awareness-raising, and information products. The Australian Institute of Family Studies is assisting participants and workers with the action learning and evaluation aspects of the project.

The project is managed locally in each site, with overall coordination provided by a FIM Working Group comprised of community, business and government representatives. The project has been extremely successful with outcomes to date including reduction in family conflict, reduction in spending on alcohol and gambling, purchase of many white goods, furniture items, cars and leisure goods, increased consumer capacity to support local business development, health improvements, better school attendance, and increased motivation to work or study. Expansion to three or four more communities is underway.

Helping Our Kids - Magani Malu Kes Townsville Ltd

This project aims to improve outcomes for Indigenous families through supporting parenting and vocational skills and training, including linking them with other available services, projects and programs. A local Indigenous youth group is benefiting from daily contact with elders and adults attending training under the Helping Our Kids project, enhancing their sense of connectedness to family and community, and encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions and participate themselves in training and other activities.

A playgroup has also been established within vocational training times at Magani House, resulting in an increase in the number of young parents participating in training. These parents have stated that they would not have contemplated a future in the workforce if they had not been exposed to the training aspect of the Helping Our Kids project. For the children, seeing their parents participate in and value further training provides positive reinforcement for them to value their own education. In addition, while children are present at Magani House their parents can take advantage of the child health screenings and immunisation programs. To date the Helping Our Kids project has resulted in the facilitation of seven Indigenous traineeships and one new business venture.