• Kade Goodwin says a passion for working with young people drove him to be a FACS caseworker. (NITV)Source: NITV
Working on the front line of child protection is a challenging job, but for Indigenous caseworkers in their own community, it's even harder.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

Source:
The Point
5 Sep 2016 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2016 - 4:38 PM

Kade Goodwin never planned to be a caseworker. 

In high school, "like every male that played sport" he wanted to be a physical education teacher.

Instead, his passion for working with young people saw him tutoring Indigenous students at his former high school in Dubbo, New South Wales, before working with youth offenders in the non-government sector - a job which often put him at odds with the state's Department of Family and Community Services. 

"That often didn't... shine the department in a great light," says the 29-year-old. 

Despite his reservations, the Gamilaroi man took a job as a child protection caseworker in 2012 with the hope of making a difference.  

"I think with any new job you have a bit of trepidation going into it," he says. 

"It's one of the places that obviously do the more pointier-end work as we know, in the community sector, so it's just where I ended up."

The Indigenous community has a fraught relationship with the Department of Family and Community Services - often referred to simply as FACS, or its predecessor, DOCS. 

Indigenous kids nearly 10 times more likely to be in care

Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out-of-home care. 

Activist group Grandmothers Against Removals say those statistics constitute a continuation of the Stolen Generations. 

Kade is all-too-aware of the sensitivities around child removal, which has affected his extended family. 

"I think you'd be hard up finding an Indigenous person that doesn't have some type of contact or involvement with the community services sector at some point unfortunately," he says.

'That's often perceived as the mainstay of what you do - you go to work on a Monday and remove kids... and it's definitely not the case.'

Kade spent a year on the front line as a child protection worker, which involved him in the decision-making process that could see a child taken away from their family.  

A father himself, he says that was always a last resort. 

"That's often perceived as the mainstay of what you do - you go to work on a Monday and remove kids and on Tuesday - and it's definitely not the case," he says.

"It's not a decision that's ever made on a whim. 

"At the end of the day, a child's safety and well-being is paramount and that's the reason this department exists, so if it has to be the case then yeah, you do do it. I have done it."

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A landmark forum has called for more Aboriginal caseworkers and extra family support to reduce the number of Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care.

In a tight-knit community like Dubbo, those decisions can be particularly difficult to live with. 

"Sometimes it makes you uncomfortable because you may have brought a child into care, and you are down the street with your kids, and that can seem a little unfair outside looking in," Kade says. 

"I don't know the answer to making that easier for somebody, I think it's just part and parcel of a really difficult job."

Less than 10% of NSW caseworkers are Indigenous

In NSW, just under 10% of caseworkers are Indigenous, compared with over 35% of all kids in care. 

"You'd never say no to more caseworkers, especially Indigenous caseworkers," Kade says. 

"We see a better response from the families we work with when they have Indigenous caseworkers, we see a better understanding from caseworkers towards Indigenous families."

Kade has moved out of child protection, now working with a handful of high-risk teenage boys whose care placements have broken down. 

On any given day, he might be helping young men find work or housing, manage bail conditions, transition from juvenile detention or manage their own young family. 

"I love working with these teenage boys, no matter what background, no matter where they're from, I'm really really passionate about adolescents," he says.

"I've seen some young people go straight from juvenile detention back to mainstream school... I've seen some young people gain employment, I've seen some young people not offend anymore.

"I see those positives and a little win like that can keep you going for months."