Child and family workers have been empowered to provide improved support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Victoria’s child protection system, thanks to specially-tailored training qualifications delivered by Swinburne University of Technology.
The partnership between Swinburne’s Department of Health, Science and Community and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) is also improving self-determination by providing higher education and vocational training to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Now in its fifth year, the partnership has enabled Swinburne to train about 120 VACCA staff in a culturally and workplace-customised Vocational Education qualification, the Diploma of Community Services (Statutory & Forensic Child, Youth & Family Welfare Specialisation). VACCA says it has made a major contribution to workforce capability.
The partnership between Swinburne and VACCA was prompted by reform in the Aboriginal and child protection sectors, requiring the organisation to upskill its staff.
The Aboriginal Children’s Forum in 2016 began a six-year process to transition the case management of all Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) like VACCA, while child protection reform implemented in 2018 now requires all residential care workers to hold a mandatory minimum qualification to work in the sector.
“We made contact with about 11 training providers and spoke to them to get a sense of what they offered and how they were offering it,” VACCA Organisational Development Manager Al Dawood said. “When we met with people from Swinburne, they showed the most interest and ability to work with us as an Aboriginal organisation. They were willing to partner with us to deliver something more tailored and contextualised.”
Working closely with Al, Swinburne Department of Health, Science and Community Strategic Projects Manager Debbie McLaughlin managed the course development and delivery.
“We make sure the material we are delivering is culturally safe and appropriate,” she said. “We’re very privileged to have our Workplace Support Worker, Aunty Lee Healy, on staff and employed by us to work with our facilitators. She provides oversight into how things are progressing, and we are constantly looking at how we can recruit more Aboriginal facilitators into our groups.”
Formal feedback from students at the end of their studies highlights improved knowledge and understanding of child protection processes and practice, stakeholder engagement, and client and workplace wellbeing. Students report the course met their needs, improved their performance at work, helped progress their careers, and in many cases gave them the confidence to undertake further study.
Students visit the Moondani Toombadool Centre as part of their studies during the Diploma of Community Services (Statutory & Forensic Child, Youth & Family Welfare Specialisation).
The dozens of VACCA staff who have completed the Swinburne diploma have gone on to achieve impressive outcomes, including promotion within the organisation and new opportunities in other organisations and sectors.
Rachael Maxwell is one of these success stories. Hers is undoubtably a story of triumph against adversity, and the opportunity that comes with further study.
Rachael is a Koori woman left school in year 11 to work to support her family and became a mother soon after. She had at least two false starts when attempting to return to study before being encouraged by her sister and VACCA colleague to participate in the Swinburne training. She was soon promoted to managerial roles within the organisation before being sought after by many other organisations and ending up landing a role at Swinburne’s Moondani Toombadool Centre.
“I couldn’t have seen any of this career for myself, but studying really opened my eyes,” she said. “I’m now studying Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping … and I’d love to get my training and assessment qualification one day and teach.”
She said the course structure and support from Swinburne was key to helping her and her peers succeed.
“I couldn’t have gotten through it without the support. Swinburne really wanted it to make sense to us as students.”
Al is proud of the impact the training is having, not only on VACCA’s clients through improved service delivery, but also on the wider impact to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community outcomes.
“I’ve noticed this has built people’s confidence and self-belief,” he said. “We now have people wanting to do further study. I even know someone who is doing a masters degree now, which is an extremely positive step. For many Aboriginal people, a diploma would make them the first formally qualified person in their family. A degree is phenomenal in terms of Aboriginal people being self-determined; being able to assist their own community, having that technical and specialised practitioner knowledge as well.”