Human services practitioners have the advantage of direct interaction with individuals, groups, and communities, which expands their ability to influence these groups within state social policies. It is especially important that every human service practitioner can take a direct part in the policy-making process, implement new social initiatives, or introduce changes to the existing ones. However, to develop such an initiative, one must understand the specifics of the policy-making process in Australia, including the work of governmental bodies like the Government Department of Social Services, which develops and implements social policies for the population. This paper aims to analyze how Aboriginal Australians are impacted by the social policies and suggest policy changes that could be implemented to improve the impact on the group in terms of education provided for Aboriginal Australian children.
The Current State of Affairs
The Australian Government Department of Social Services focuses on various practices, including programs for families and children, housing support, seniors, communities and vulnerable people, and disability and care providers. For the present paper, the area of support for communities and vulnerable people is of particular interest. There are plenty of initiatives and programs aimed to meet the needs of this broad group of population. In particular, the department notes that the initiatives include direct programs and services, grants, and funding for the organizations that support communities, and special attention is being paid to Australians’ mental health (“Communities and vulnerable people,” 2017). It is also stated that there are independent agencies that have shared goals with the department.
Programs and services are focused on community support, community development, gambling, and mental health issues. Community support services include the programs for Strong and Resilient Communities, Volunteers Grants, Financial Wellbeing and Capability, and Emergency Relief National Coordination Plan. Community development services feature programs for Civil Societies, initiatives of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), and others. Strong and Resilient Communities service provides Community Resilience grants, Inclusive Communities grants, and National Research grants. Volunteer Grants service allocates funding from $ 1,000 to $ 5,000 that is then spent by the not-for-profit organizations on the incremental policies and services on the micro-level, the particular direct projects aimed at helping people. The Financial Wellbeing and Capability service intend to help all Australians who find themselves in financial straits. Among other macro-level initiatives, this service includes Emergency Relief and Food Relief micro-level programs that provide immediate financial support and help emergency relief organizations provide food donations.
Emergency Relief National Coordination Plan that the Australian government developed ensures the provision of emergency and food assistance with the participation of the National Coordination Group. This group unites several agencies, such as Salvation Army Australia, St. Vincent de Paul Society National Council, Australian Red Cross, Anglicare Australia, Uniting Care Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, Financial Counseling Australia, Foodbank Australia, Aboriginal Family Support Services, and Wesley Mission (“Emergency relief National Coordination Plan,” 2021). As part of the plan, the government also supports service providers that respond to coronavirus outbreaks.
Based on the information provided above, the Australian Government Department of Social Services provides many different services to all Australians; however, there is an apparent lack of attention to Aboriginal Australians among the list of agencies, programs, and initiatives. The government does not have a separate program or plan according to which coordinated policies can be implemented to meet the needs of this population group. In theory, this group can receive services along with the rest of the Australians who are experiencing difficulties in life. However, the needs of a group of Aboriginal Australians differ from those of other groups for many reasons, including cultural, social, religious, and socioeconomic differences, and differences in education and health care.
There is an evident absence of macro-level programs aimed at meeting the needs of Aboriginal Australians. Spot efforts exist primarily outside the jurisdiction of the Government Department of Social Services. These programs and initiatives include a Community First Development agency, also named Indigenous Community Volunteers, which is a first nation’s community development and research organization that provides Aboriginal Australians with new skills (“Community First Development,” 2021). Other agencies include National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA); among other programs, it provides the COVID-19 related support; it also started an Indigenous Voice initiative. This initiative deserves particular attention, as it allows Aboriginal Australians to contribute to the development of practices that meet their needs by giving expert advice (“Indigenous voice,” 2021). Food Bank can also meet the needs of Aboriginal Australians since it is a food donation service that fights the hunger crisis by donating food to charities, schools, and individuals.
The provision of medical and educational services extends to all segments of the population. Still, the Aboriginal Australians’ actual life circumstances must be considered to ensure that they receive the services on an equal basis with everyone. For example, the mental health program implements specific and well-designed programs to support young people with mental health problems. However, the list of policies does not indicate programs aimed at Aboriginal Australians. Presumably, the government can thus avoid stigma or discrimination against Aboriginal Australians, as consistently and persistently identifying them as a distinct group can hinder the creation of inclusive values. In other words, the government appears to be counting on Aboriginal Australians to assimilate among other Australians naturally, but this process is unlikely to happen on its own.
Realizing natural assimilation requires careful, subtle, and thoughtful steps that consider the current needs and circumstances of the group and imply respect for its cultural, linguistic, religious, historical, and worldview background. It must be emphasized that the implementation of any policies towards the group of Aboriginal Australians should by any means avoid blaming them for being different and not fitting in with the community, as their community was originally and historically destroyed by white settlers, and this fact cannot be ignored.
Prospects for the New Policy
Aboriginal Australians have many challenges, including access to health care, employment, education, and adequate housing. In addition, the respect for the culture and language of Aboriginal Australians, although supported by social services, is still insufficiently rooted in the consciousness of Australian society. Aboriginal Australians are perceived as migrants at best, given that under government programs, they live in camps similar to refugee camps (Venema, 2021). The education of younger children and family policies also need to be improved.
Changes in the current social policy are taking place gradually, and so far, they have not touched education. State programs for the education of young children are carried out within the framework of outdated policies developed in the top-down approach framework and without regard to the values of the Aboriginal Australians (“Schooling,” 2021). Modern non-governmental organizations also do not yet address this issue directly. Only a few non-governmental institutions address the various needs of Aboriginal Australians, and some of them call themselves partners with the Government Department of Social Services. Therefore, the development of a new education strategy can be carried out practically from the blank state.
A good example of a successful social policy is the Community First Development initiative, which “promotes skills, talents and cultural strength of our people, and facilitates activities where they lead positive changes for their communities” (“Community First Development,” 2021, para. 2). This initiative uses policy networks and bottom-up approaches to realize the challenge of integrating the First Nation people and white Australians (Carson & Kerr, 2017). The organization’s employees use a scientific method to create practical collaboration projects.
All projects involve the direct interaction of volunteers and employees of the organization with communities and the inclusion of Aboriginal Australians in the list of stakeholders who decide what kind of help they need. In general, the policies implemented by the Community First Development organization can be called incremental since they are not focused on overwhelming bureaucratic planning (“Welcome to community first development,” 2021). At the same time, these policies have a macro-level framework, carefully thought out and planned (Carson & Kerr, 2017). The involvement of research agents allows getting the most out of the experience in fulfilling existing programs.
Another example of a successful policy is the NIAA and its Indigenous Voice program, which helps change the focus and attitude towards Aboriginal Australians and allows them to make decisions about their future and in which direction social policies should be developed to meet their real needs. In other words, Indigenous Voice treats adult Aboriginal Australians with trust and respect, allowing them to take responsibility for implementing social policies. The new education strategy should take this invaluable experience into account and integrate it into subsequent policies.
Values Fundamental for the New Policy
The language of Aboriginal Australians should have the status of an official language. Children of this group should have an opportunity to receive education in their language or at least study their mother tongue at school. Of course, the possibility of providing educators who could teach in the Aboriginal Australian languages could be limiting, but there is always an option for adult Aboriginal Australian teachers who can lead the classes. The history textbooks need immediate revision as they grossly misrepresent reality and the reasons why Aboriginal Australians live outside the Australian community. The grim reality of white settlers on the continent who did not consider the wishes of the local population should be reflected realistically in the school curriculum (Venema, 2021). Otherwise, Aboriginal children feel initially excluded from the community and deprived of the right to have a voice.
It is noteworthy that during their education, children are torn away from their families. Moreover, this practice was previously carried out forcibly, which led to creating a wall of mistrust among Aboriginal Australians in government initiatives. Left to their own and not receiving proper recognition in educational institutions, children find an outlet for negative emotions and frustration in wandering the streets. According to statistics, 90% of juvenile convicts in prison for minor offenses are Aboriginal Australians, while the total population of this group is no more than 3-5% (Venema, 2021). Such data is impressively indicative of a failure in the policy of educating children of Aboriginal Australians.
Disrespect for the culture of Aboriginal Australians in the past has led the majority of the young people of this group, who are now in their 30s, to live a life completely different from their peers in the white Australian community. The inability to get an education and problems with learning English is primarily due to the fact that program participants are required to completely abandon their identity and accept the official position of the Australian government, which is clearly expressed in the history books and the generally condescending attitude of teachers (Venema, 2021). Aboriginal Australians are very sensitive to kinship, family ties, and cultural heritage, as this heritage was deliberately ignored or destroyed for several centuries.
Most elderly Aboriginal Australians do their best to ensure that their children preserve the culture, ancestral memories, and the religious and spiritual vision of the Australian continent that has always been inherent in this group. Therefore, a simple failure to recognize the aggressive actions of the first European settlers today leads to the fact that policies regarding education and inclusion in the modern society of Aboriginal Australian children do not find a response. This situation must be changed, as, in the past, the inability to obtain an education has led Aboriginal Australians to problems with employment, housing, and inclusion in society and difficulties associated with getting medical services.
Changes in the education policy for Aboriginal Australians will lead to dramatic improvements in most of the outcomes associated with this policy. If the government manages to adapt the existing program by correcting mistakes, it will result in the lives of tens of thousands of Aboriginal Australians being changed. Current mistakes include separation of children from their families and forced assimilation; inability to study the native language at school adequately; problems with the assimilation of material in English; the exclusion of Aboriginal Australians from history textbooks; and discriminatory attitudes towards juvenile offenders by the police (Venema, 2021). If Aboriginal Australian adults can see that educational institutions respect their language, culture, traditions, and lifestyle, they will be happier to send their children to school and will be able to support them in their education. In doing so, the integration and inclusion of adult Aboriginal Australians in the white communities will fulfill the broader goal of creating a close-knit Australian community.
My initiative in this regard may include the creation of a framework for collaboration between Community First Development, NIAA, Government Department of Social Services, and Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment. The policy network that incorporates both top-down and bottom-up approaches will be the most optimal (Carson & Kerr, 2017). The implementation of the new policy must have the characteristics of incremental policies, be targeted, meet the current needs of the Aboriginal Australian communities and respect their values. The best option is to build schools in existing communities, as children should not be separated from their families at such an early age. Staff at these schools must treat Aboriginal Australians as responsible and respectable people who can take care of their children. Community First Development and the Government Department of Social Services could be valuable partners in providing family-level support and self-fulfillment and employment assistance for adults.
Thus, the current policy impacting Aboriginal Australians were analyzed and the lack of attention to their educational needs was determined. The government should rethink the outdated approach, according to which most of the facts related to the history and culture of Aboriginal Australians are barely ignored. Education services should not be forcibly integrated into white Australian society. If Aboriginal Australians want to preserve the integrity of their communities, they should be able to do so with the friendly assistance of government officials, including the Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment. If the general macro-level aim of creating a friendly Australian community is indeed a value for the nation and national politics, the new education policy for Aboriginal Australian children must resonate with all stakeholders.
Carson, E., & Kerr, L. (2017). Australian social policy and the human services. Cambridge University Press.
Communities and vulnerable people. (2017). Australian Government Department of Social Services. Web.
Community First Development. (2020). Community First Development. Web.
Emergency relief National Coordination Plan. (2021). Australian Government Department of Social Services. Web.
Indigenous voice. (2021). National Indigenous Australians Agency. Web.
Schooling. (2021). Australian Government Department of Education, Skills, and Employment. Web.
Venema, V. (2021). The ‘smart and cheeky’ Aboriginal boy teaching Australia a lesson. BBC News. Web.
Welcome to community first development. (2021). Community First Development. Web.