For a year now, an Aboriginal organisation has been fully authorised to oversee the care of vulnerable Aboriginal children within the Bendigo region.
Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative's program Mutjang bupuwingarrak mukman - "keeping our kids safe" in the language of the Dja Dja Wurrung people - sees the organisation take on the role of the Department of Health and Human Services when working with children on child protection orders and their families, in a culturally safe way that maintains connection to community.
BDAC first began working under such a model in 2017, when it became the second Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation in the state to pilot the initiative.
On January 21, 2019, BDAC became fully authorised to assume legal responsibility for vulnerable children.
Chief executive officer Raylene Harradine said the program was now working with 39 children, but this was growing as it was authorised to support 72 children this financial year.
The program has expanded to a staff of two teams comprising 14 people, with Aboriginal employees making up 83 per cent of the decision-makers.
"When we talk about self-determination and Aboriginal people making decision on behalf of children, we're got a structure in place making sure there's an Aboriginal person at different levels of decision-making," Ms Harradine said.
By assuming responsibility for these children, Ms Harradine said, BDAC was also able to offer them a wraparound service that included healthcare and education.
This support continues beyond BDAC's statutory involvement with them.
Reflecting on the first year, Ms Harradine said the program had been positive and relatively easy to implement, and she was full of praise for its staff.
"They're incredible, I'm really proud to have them as a team," she said.
Mutjang bupuwingarrak mukman is funded for this financial year and the next, when it will be authorised to look after 108 children.
This week also marks 19 years since BDAC opened.
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