• A shadow falls across a painted Aboriginal flag. Photo Jeremy Piper/Bloomberg News (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Mission Australia has called for a fundamental shift to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are at the centre of decision making. It comes after they launched a report showing Indigenous young people face serious disadvantages compared to non-Indigenous young people.
Laura Morelli

7 Sep 2016 - 3:31 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2016 - 4:01 PM

According to a report based on the 2015 Youth Survey findings, Aboriginal young people reported higher levels of depression, concern about bullying and emotional abuse, drugs, alcohol, gambling and suicide.

The most damning evidence in the entire report is that one in ten Indigenous young men indicated that their happiness was zero out of ten, as did 5% of Indigenous young women. Comparatively, only 1% of non-Indigenous respondents rated their happiness at this level.

The report is based on the responses of 18,727 respondents, 1,162 of whom identified as Aboriginal.

Growing up in a small Western NSW town, Anita Dolphin experienced a family breakdown due to domestic violence and mental health issues.

“Amongst my parents there were problems involving domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse as well as gambling… but the worst thing was growing up in our small town - there were no services to assist us,” she said.

Anita said once her mum left to become a single mother the family struggled with issues like putting food on the table; but that it had a much darker impact for her brothers - who couldn’t cope without a father figure.

By Year Nine, Anita was forced to leave school in order to get a full time job and help her mother out financially. She applied for a Mission Australia traineeship and has been working there for the last eight years.

“Being an Aboriginal Case Worker makes it easier to connect with Aboriginal youth. There’s a trust thing which enables them to feel their own sense of identity and that’s a huge thing,” she said.

“Lots of kids couldn’t deal because they don’t have their own sense of identity. My own brother didn’t know how to act because he never had a father figure so he was always in and out of jail. We need more male mentors and youth leaders to put us back into line."

Anita says there needs to be a great importance to ensure that Aboriginal youth are placed at the centre of decision-making.

“There’s obviously a gap with the services being delivered right now so we have to work on breaking the barriers by working differently with Aboriginal people - in the sense that they have to want to lead their own changes. By putting their future in their own hands, asking about their needs, and supporting young ones on that journey results in successful outcomes.”

“I worked with my brothers and saw that what happened to our family made us stronger. We always stayed close and now they’ve got their own kids and are great role models.”

Sue-Anne Hunter, a Director of SNAICC (National Voice for our Children) sees several young Indigenous children, especially boys, suffering from depression and she believes it's because they don’t know their identity.

“The main thing for our boys suffering from depression is that they don’t know who they are - they’re disconnected with culture and family and these boys are the ones most likely to commit suicide, because they feel lost.

The state wide manager of healing services at VACCA (Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency) says we must start building relationships where youth, especially young boys can understand their identity.

"We’ve had kids that are not in Aboriginal placements and they’re not connected to community at all... They don’t know who they are and being in a non-Indigenous environment doesn’t allow them to learn their culture. How do you form your own sense of identity if you’re not connected?”

The Melbourne born Wurundjeri woman says Aboriginal children need to be at the centre of decision making because it all comes down to identity.

“Our families are different to white families. If you’ve been with your family and then removed the differences are huge.

If you’re not connected to your family how do you understand your culture and who you are in the world?

You can’t and you’ll be forever questioning that - trying to understand why you’re different. You’re different at school because you’re not with your family and in a minority group.”

The report suggests Aboriginal youth are more likely to have spent time away from home in the past three years because they felt they couldn’t return.

Hunter says the rate of removal amongst Indigenous peoples is terrifyingly high and that there needs to be Aboriginal family led decisions to ensure children stay connected to culture and country.

“If you’re Indigenous you are 9.5 times more likely to be removed from home than a non-Indigenous person.” 

“What we need is a national frame work that talks about the elements of prevention so that each child has the right to be brought up within their own family community. Something that recognizes and protects the right of Aboriginal children and family members.

“We need to increase level of self-determination in child and welfare matters and reduce disproportional representation in the child-protection system.”

“It’s a human right for our young people to have their own say and participate in decision making.”

Things like men’s cultural programs, sharing #Indigenousdads stories and starting to discuss domestic violence and other men’s issues is a great way to bring father figures back into the family and really start to empower our young boys.

Mission Australia CEO Catherine Yeomans says the country needs to find a more inclusive way of working with youth and empowering them to be involved in the identification of their needs.

“Sadly this report shows we are failing miserably, with too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people falling through the cracks. This is not a sustainable way for us to proceed as a nation and to me it suggests a divided society.”

“We need an urgent rethink of how we deliver programs to ensure we are working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to overcome the barriers in front of them – barriers that must sometimes seem insurmountable - leading to these concerning levels of despair, Yeomans said.

From the Darwin mobs of Kungarakan and Waidja, Professor Tom Calma AO, Chancellor, University of Canberra and Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia says the higher rate of Aboriginal youth taking their life is worrying and needs to be changed.

“Our young people have to see they have a future and they need access to mental health, alcohol and drug services and suicide prevention programs,” he said.

“Vulnerable communities must be empowered and supported to lead their own recovery… We must do more to invest early in families and communities to avoid these tragedies, address disadvantage, build on strengths and celebrate successes.”

“If we are serious about ‘Closing the Gap’ we need to get serious about providing equal opportunities for our young people. We need to recognise the history of colonisation, dispossession, removals and trauma and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to create a brighter future.”

You can read more from Mission Australia here.

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