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Reconnecting families in Far North Queensland

A project that protects and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s right to live in culture has taken out the Child Protection Week 2018 Award for Addressing the Over-Representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children in Care.

Joanne Borg, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Practice Leader for Far North Queensland, took out the award for the Reconnection project she introduced.

Child Protection Week award winner Joanne Borg. Image courtesy of Child Protection Week.

In 2013, having joined Child Safety in Cairns, Joanne recognised there was a better way to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in care connected to their family, community and culture.

The first step in the Reconnection project was reworking cultural support plans she had been asked to review when starting in the role and ensuring each child’s culture was correctly identified.

"Ideally we would see children who are having regular contact with both their maternal and paternal families," she says.

"We would see children returning to their communities of origin at every opportunity and we would see them participating meaningfully in their cultures as well."

Joanne estimates they’ve already helped over 120 children in the region reconnect with their families.

Some have returned to their community and, where that wasn’t possible, they now have more regular contact with their community and culture, whether that be through art or dance lessons, photos of their family or contact with their siblings and extended family.

"Their cultural support plans are a lot more meaningful and, for our region, we consider it now embedded in practice," Joanne says.

Child Protection Week award winner Joanne Borg making her acceptance speech. Image courtesy of Child Protection Week.

Joanne’s family experience and more than 30 years working in child protection underpin her passion.

"My mother was separated from her family and community and culture back in the 1940s," she says.

"It had a huge impact on our family, because we spent many, many years trying to get information about her family, who they were.

"That journey was very painful for my mum and for us as her children, as well as her siblings, because they were all separated.

"We still live the ramifications of this today.

"The journey of healing is a long journey, it's lifelong.

"You probably never really totally recover from the damage."

Joanne sees this award as another page in her story and can’t stress enough the importance of continued effort in the sector.

"I would love to share this piece of work and keep it alive," she says.

"The importance of children being connected to their community, especially extended family and community environments, should always be at the forefront of our hearts and minds, and our practice.

"It’s their human right and quality of life we’re talking about here.

"That’s what keeps me going."

Read more stories about child safety.