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Building a boarding school in WA's Kimberley region for traumatised, underprivileged and at-risk Aboriginal children has been resoundingly endorsed by an Indigenous studies expert.
Craig Quartermaine

28 Jun 2017 - 6:30 PM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2017 - 9:04 AM

The inquest into the suicide deaths of 13 Indigenous children has entered its third day with expert witness Professor Judy Atkinson testifying via video link to the Central Law Courts in Perth.

Building a boarding school in WA's Kimberley region for traumatised, underprivileged and at-risk Aboriginal children has been resoundingly endorsed by an Indigenous studies expert.

Professor Judy Atkinson, a Jiman and Bundjalung woman, was asked what she thought of the idea at an inquest into the suicide of 13 Aboriginal youths over a three-and-a-half year period in WA's Kimberley region in Perth on Wednesday.

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"I endorse that in a very solid way," Professor Atkinson said.

She said it didn't have to be enormously expensive and was a better alternative to foster care, which was costly.

Prof Atkinson said many grandmothers who had to care for their grand-daughters wanted them to "go south" to a boarding school, so they would likely welcome a local facility, which would keep children close to their family and community.

Such a school would ideally further the students' connection to their culture and include therapeutic elements to help them heal from traumas, she said.

WA Coroner Ros Fogliani also listened as Professor Atkinson who is an expert in Mental Health Trauma and Indigenous studies, gave her expert opinion on intergenerational trauma and the impact it had on the children from the investigation.

Professor Atkinson spoke about the various aspects and contributing factors behind complex trauma and the deadly consequences of simply accepting that trauma as normal or part of Aboriginal Culture.

Professor Atkinson defined Complex trauma as: “Physical and emotional suffering that prevented people from having a sense of themselves”.

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According to Professor Atkinson’s research Indigenous people are eight times more likely to suffer from complex trauma; with Indigenous mothers 45 times more likely to suffer from domestic violence.

These statistics were highlighted as a result of unresolved trauma because, according to Professor Atkinson, “Violence escalates when we don’t address trauma”.

Today’s testimony added context to the suicides that are being investigated by the inquest.

One of the cases discussed was of a 13-year-old who said they wanted to hang themselves and yet the respected Elder and community member that spoke with the child could only respond by saying “Cheer up, Don’t do anything silly.”

This exchange not only highlighted the difficulties facing the children, but the people who can help most.

A major point Professor Atkinson made was to emphasise that the perception that this level of complex trauma was inherently a normal part of Aboriginal culture was completely incorrect.

It was that ingrained belief that actually leads to children attempting to express themselves about their trauma being ignored, whereas according to Professor Atkinson a non-Indigenous child without that stigma would actually be assessed for complex trauma. In many cases the diagnosis is never made, so the acceptance of such trauma is passed on through generations.

Professor Atkinson said that the importance of people believing children was paramount; children who had to overcome their tragic circumstances of sexual abuse or family violence would be at extreme risk of causing self-harm in the first place.

The risk would only increase if their reporting of incidents were met with doubt or ignored.

According to Professor Atkinson: “Suicides come from circumstances where adults either listen or don’t“.

Today’s testimony explored the nature of domestic violence and the intricate part it played in the environment the 13 Children came from next week the hearing will resume on Tuesday the 4th of July as Doctors Pestell and James Fitzpatrick will explore the contributing factors of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome on children in the Kimberley.