Australia and new challenges

The notice period has been worked, loose ends tied up, goodbyes said, a few tears shed and my family and I are presently on a week stop-off in Dubai with friends on the way to new adventures in Adelaide, South Australia. As you would expect, this move brings many trials, tribulations, expectations and trepidation on a personal level, none of which fits with the subject matter of Politics, Poetry and Equality (PPE) and therefore I will not address them here. What is relevant is my work, as this is part of the inspiration for writing the blog at all.

I have been fortunate enough to secure a job, which looks not dissimilar to my role in the U.K. I will be a Case Manager in the South Australia Department for Children and Families, supervising young offenders over the course of their Court orders, writing court reports, completing risk assessments, undertaking court duties and all the rest of it. I suspect that the clients will have experienced similar challenges in their young lives as those whom I have dealt with in London, although I am sure that the offences which they have committed will largely be of lower severity. “Less gun-toting gangsters, more pot-smoking surfers” has been my regular, medium-funny, quip of late. But in truth I have little idea of what to expect.

One area of work that has already fascinated me from afar however, is the plight of  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who were the First Nations’ people of Australia. As per usual, no small part of this fascination has been provoked by my wife who has much knowledge and experience of the issues that have and continue to afflict these people (I hope one day to convince her to write something for PPE). Aboriginal people were the original inhabitants of South Australia and therefore in this post I will be referring only to this group.

In preparing for my interview, I became aware of the importance placed on effective work with Aboriginal Australians. Official guidance goes into great depth in regard to the issues which Aboriginal Australians face, the causes of those issues and methods with which to work effectively with this group of people.

I was struck by the explicit acknowledgement that the legislation and policies of previous Australian governments have contributed to a whole host of problems for Aboriginal Australians including; family fragmentation, mental health issues, poverty, racism, unemployment, emotional and social issues, poor health, poor housing, below-standard educational attainment, alcohol and substance misuse and over-representation in the youth and criminal justice systems. It is acknowledged that the colonisation of Australia by Europeans and the policies governments since then, not least the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities which was official government policy in Australia until 1969, have caused enormous damage to Aboriginal communities. This has also resulted in an understandable mistrust of government agencies.

This provoked a couple of initial thoughts for me. Firstly, governments around the world are often responsible for causing damage to different people  and communities, I have just never seen responsibility accepted so prominently. I view this as a positive and immediately reflected on the struggles of black people in the U.K. Although the history is different, black people were afflicted by 200 years of slavery, another 200 of naked racism and are still disproportionately afflicted by some of the same issues as Aboriginal Australians. If there has been a public and prominent acknowledgement of the damage caused by state-sanctioned actions, I have not seen it. I certainly have not seen anything comparable to Kevin Rudd’s “Sorry” speech in 2008. The persecution of Aboriginal Australians began with the European colonisation, I have seen little acknowledgement of this fact also. Are we more prone to brushing our culpability under the carpet?

Secondly, the “Working with Aboriginal Communities” documentation gives extensive “tips” on doing just that. Including understanding cultural differences, heritage, history and Aboriginal Australians’ mistrust of the state. My feeling is that there should be comparable guidance and practice in the U.K. Social Care practice needs a much heavier emphasis on understanding clients’ backgrounds, diverse needs and how to work effectively with those differences, as opposed to the rather brief acknowledgement that diversity is given in individual supervision, team meetings, risk assessments and during Black History Month.

Thirdly, there are several other ethnic groups in South Australia; Sudanese, Somalian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, I wonder what their proportional representation is in the youth and criminal justice system and if these groups are afforded the appropriate level of attention.

Lastly, as a white, European, male and therefore hailing from precisely the ethnic group that instigated the devastation of Aboriginal Australian communities, will I receive an adverse reaction from young people, their families and communities?

These are my initial thoughts on the challenges ahead and they are based on reading and talking to some people with a better level of knowledge. However, the best education comes from personal experience and therefore I am relishing the prospect of broadening my understanding and hopefully, having some sort of positive impact along the way.

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