January 3, 2017

“Boorndawan Willam – a safe place for Aboriginal families who have experienced family violence.”

This blog article was authored by Sharon Duthie,
Senior Counsellor, Child Trauma Service, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Culture is about family networks, Elders and ancestors. It’s about relationships, languages, dance, ceremony and heritage. Culture is about spiritual connection to our lands and waters. It is about the way we pass on stories and knowledge to our babies and children; it is how we greet each other and look for connection. It is about all the parts that bind us together.’

Mr. Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People

The recently released Taskforce 1000 Report, Always was, Always will be Koori Children, reported that of the 1.6 % of Aboriginal children in Victoria 980 are in out-of-home care. The report calculates that 88% of these children have experienced family violence – these figures are both staggering and concerning. The report emphasises in its recommendations an increase in services that focus on healing from the effects of family violence and having more culturally appropriate services for Koori children.

In the outer east of Melbourne there is a service doing just that – Boorndawan Willam* Aboriginal Healing Service (BWAHS). Boorndawan Willam is a culturally safe service that assists Aboriginal people in their healing journey from the impact of family violence. Boorndawan Willam offers a unique service to Aboriginal families to heal, connect with community and address the impacts of family violence. The organisation provides a number of services including Intensive Case Management, a Men’s worker, Art Therapy group, community and education awareness programs, camps and children’s group programs, and more.

I’m excited to share that since August 2014 the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF) and Boorndawan Willam have formed a partnership and created the Children’s Counselling Program. BWAHS and the Australian Childhood Foundation are working together to provide Aboriginal children and young people an opportunity to access counselling and support. One of the aims is to integrate concepts of trauma recovery and healing within a cultural framework that can be developed into a model of practice for the Aboriginal families accessing the counselling service.

The children’s counsellor has a space at BWAHS office in Lilydale and can see the children on their own, with their brothers and sisters or with other family members. Aboriginal children and young people who have experienced family violence, or who have experienced intergenerational trauma, can spend time with the counsellor to work through emotional and/or behavioural issues, address trauma symptoms and build on their strengths and resources. The counsellor works closely with the parent/carer and, depending on the situation, with the whole family. Central to the work are the principles of the partnership.

The principles of the partnership are:

  • Connection to culture
  • Safe space
  • Ownership
  • Relationship
  • Flexibility
  • Strength based/ capacity building
  • Trauma-informed

These principles uphold the integrity of the children’s counselling program in a child-centred way so the most vulnerable are able to access safe and culturally appropriate services. Along with the counselling program the partnership organises a Children’s Cultural Activity Day each school holidays and a group program for mothers and pre-schoolers is currently being developed to pilot early next year.

In conjunction with the whole team at BWAHS each school holidays a Kids Cultural Activity Day is organised. In the image to the right, you can see local elder Auntie Daphne storytelling to the ACF and BWAHS children at one earlier this year. These events bring the community together in a fun and relaxed way that helps to strengthen children’s connection to culture as well as strengthen their relationships to their parents/ carers and siblings through shared experiences and activities. There is a generous shared lunch, art activities, raffle prizes and usually a game with a marngrook (possum skin football) which always delivers lots of laughter. Each of these days is a celebration of Aboriginal culture and connection to those who matter most – family, friends and community.

Next year we hope to run a mums and pre-schoolers group program, Growing Up Stronger with Stories, for women with pre-school aged children who are parenting in the aftermath of family violence. The aim of the program is to promote and strengthen children’s connection to their aboriginal identity, and to support parents and carers with parenting. The program will include stories with a local elder, creative activities and a time for the women to come together and yarn about challenges they face in parenting; as well as deepen their understanding of parenting after violence, the importance of attachment and early development.

I look forward to continuing to develop this program to meet the needs of the BWAHS children and families who have experienced family violence. I hope the program passes on cultural stories from one generation to the next and supports parents to help create stronger kids who have stronger binds to their culture, land and community. In fact, through the BWAHS and the ACF partnership we aim to provide a space for children to heal, recover and strengthen their cultural identity so they can become the next generation to move from culturally surviving to culturally thriving.

*Using the local languages Wathaurong and Woiwurrung – “Boorndawan Willam” is a name of significance. “Boorndawan” in Wathaurong language means ‘safe’ and “Willam” in Woiwurrung means ‘house’ combined they literally create ‘safe house.’