Evaluation of the Bringing them home and Indigenous mental health programs
6.1 Lack of focus on the first generation Stolen Generations members
- 6.1.1 The majority of clients of Link-Up and BTH services are second and subsequent Stolen Generations members
- 6.1.2 The legitimacy of providing services to second and subsequent generations
- 6.1.3 The inadequate focus on first generation members
- The needs of families from whom children were removed
6.1.1 The majority of clients of Link-Up and BTH services are second and subsequent Stolen Generations membersBy far the most significant limitation of the Link-Up and BTH programs is their lack of focus on the first generation Stolen Generations members.
As discussed in the literature review (chapter 4 and appendix B), it is recognised that Stolen Generations experiences have had a range of trans-generational impacts. The stated target groups for both the Link-Up and the BTH programs include explicitly or by implication both:
- first generation members ie those directly removed from their families and communities themselves as a result of past government policies and practices
- second, third, fourth etc generation members ie subsequent descendants of those members.
In practice both the Link-Up and BTH services adopt this broad interpretation, and include first as well as subsequent generation clients in their caseloads.
No quantitative data (program data or otherwise) was identified by the consultants on the proportion of first versus subsequent generations accessing the Link-Up and BTH services. However, the qualitative consultations with Link-Up and BTH service providers consistently indicated that: the majority of clients of both programs are second and subsequent generation members, and conversely, only a minority of clients are first generation; and that while some services do proactively target first generation members (eg the BTH service in Shepparton, Link-Up NSW and Nunkuwarrin Yunti in SA), most do not. The consultations with first generation members, some stakeholders who work with such members, and representatives of Stolen Generations organisations, also provided strong supporting evidence that there are many first generation members who could benefit from the Link-Up and BTH services but do not access them. Top of page
6.1.2 The legitimacy of providing services to second and subsequent generationsThere was clear agreement by those consulted about the trans-generational nature of the problems stemming from forced removal and the need to respond to the mental health needs of second and subsequent generations. The impact of Stolen Generations issues on second and subsequent generations was reported to be often just as severe. For example one second generation member commented on the major negative impact of Stolen Generations issues both on herself and now her son:
We take [the trauma] home and give it to our kids – they carry this, we don’t want to lose them. My [13-year-old] son needs to wait till he’s 18, but he needs help now. .. The kids watch our pain, but we take our pain home. .. My son is beautiful but he trusts nobody, and that’s because of me.
It was reported that sometimes the negative impacts for subsequent generations may be similar in nature to those for the first generation (eg problems with parenting), while in other cases they may manifest differently (eg criminal behaviour in later generations.) It was therefore regarded by all groups of stakeholders as legitimate and necessary for the Link-Up and BTH services to include second and subsequent generations as clients.
The above findings are consistent with those in the literature. As reported in appendix B (the Literature Review), the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS) and other research indicates that there have been a wide range of negative and severe inter-generational impacts of Stolen Generations experiences, including high rates of behavioural, emotional, psychiatric, physical health, substance abuse and gambling problems, unsolved grief and trauma, and disproportionately high levels of removals of Aboriginal children under the current child protection system. Top of page
6.1.3 The inadequate focus on first generation membersWhile there was agreement by all stakeholder groups that it was legitimate to provide services to second and subsequent generations, an undesirable outcome has been that the Link-Up and BTH Programs have inadequate focus on the needs of first generation members.
The consultations indicated that this is due to a large and complex range of factors. In relation to both Link-Up and the BTH services these factors include that:
- The services do no, or very little, proactive promotion of their services to the community, due to lack of staff resources to do this or to respond to possible increased demand. This means that they are generally well-known in the community in their immediate vicinity but less so in more geographically distant areas (this is discussed further in chapter 7). This impacts disproportionately on first generation members because they are more likely to live in regional/remote areas which are further away from the services.
- There is limited, patchy or no provision of services on an outreach basis to more distant locations by services with large geographical catchment areas, reportedly due to lack of resources (discussed further below in this chapter). Again, this impacts disproportionately on first generation members living further away from the services.
- Most Link-Up and BTH services passively respond by providing services to the (considerable numbers of) people who ‘walk in the door’. This is connected to the heavy caseloads of both the BTH and Link-Up services (discussed in chapter 8), and in the case of the BTH services, most, in practice, act as a general Aboriginal SEWB service for the whole community (discussed in chapter 7). The data collected for this evaluation clearly indicates that first generation members are probably the least likely to ‘walk in the door’ without active encouragement or tailoring of services to meet their preferred ways of receiving services.
Top of page
- Associated with the above, most Link-Ups and BTH services do not conduct any or many activities which proactively target Stolen Generations members, particularly first generation clients. The types of activities which are more likely to attract first generation members are discussed in more detail in chapter 9, and include for example group activities in community settings, working closely through and with Stolen Generations groups, and activities in geographical areas or settings or geographical areas known to have high proportions of first generation members such as prisons.
- First generation members may take longer to establish trust in the Link-Up and BTH services and workers, due to negative experiences of service provision, any activities associated with government (even though these services are almost all run by ACCHSs), and factors related to their own Stolen Generations histories. Associated with this, they may also be particularly sensitive to staff turnover (as discussed in chapter 8, a common problem for the services) and changes in auspice organisations.
One of our huge issues as Stolen Generations is trust – you finally get to trust someone and they’re gone.
For example, one service was previously run by an Aboriginal community organisation but is now run by a mainstream organisation. It was reported that more first generation clients had accessed the service under the previous agency than currently because they do not want to go to a mainstream service.
- First generation members may be harder for services to target/identify/locate, due to factors such as perceived stigma in identifying as a Stolen Generations member (to their communities or in some instances their own families), particularly in locations which do not have Stolen Generations organisations. For clients or potential clients in contact with a service, the Stolen Generations aspect of their history or its connection with their presenting problems may only become apparent after the service starts working with them (as discussed in chapter 7). First generation members can be reluctant to identify as such to their own families and/or communities, due to perceived stigma associated with this.
I can’t bring myself to tell my kids what I went through. They have no idea about the trauma and hurt I experienced when I was taken from my family and dumped in that institution. Everyone else knows, that gives me a lot of support. I am thinking of writing them a letter because I think that might be easier. I just don’t know how to deal with their reaction afterwards.
Top of page
- In some locations, there are poor relationships between the Stolen Generations organisations and the Link-Up and/or BTH services. This discourages members of those groups from accessing the services. The quality of relationships between Link-Ups and BTH services and their local Stolen Generations groups (where such groups exist) varies from good to poor, and those services with better and closer relationships appear to be more successful in attracting first generation clients. In some locations there is ongoing debate between management and local Stolen Generations groups about the most appropriate clients for BTH services. This impacts on the capacity of Stolen Generations members (particularly first generation) to access those services.
- Most BTH services are providing general Aboriginal SEWB services for the whole Aboriginal community, rather than a specific counselling service closely targeting the Stolen Generations. Reasons for this include their location in ACCHSs, the high unmet demand for Aboriginal SEWB services, and the difficulties in identifying initially whether clients are Stolen Generations members or have issues related to this (see further discussion in chapter 7). As discussed in appendix B, the BTH Report concluded that ‘most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children’ (HREOC 1997, p31). However it appears likely that at least some – possibly quite a few – BTH clients are not Stolen Generations descendents at all, or are only tangentially related to first generation members, or have problems which are not related to Stolen Generations issues.
- Many first generation members are reluctant to access services based on the traditional clinical model of one-to-one counselling in an office setting. This is for various reasons, such as:
- The stigma of accessing services labelled as ‘counselling’ or ‘mental health’ – while this is true of the Aboriginal community as a whole (to a greater extent than the non-Aboriginal community), it is particularly true of first generation members; there is a fear of being perceived as ‘mad’ or ‘stupid’.
- The impact of Stolen Generations experiences themselves, including separation from family, institutionalisation, physical and sexual assault – for instance, learning to suppress feelings and feeling they are to blame for their experiences. As one BTH client commented:
In my foster family I was told don’t talk about it [the abuse] outside of the family, and then I couldn’t talk about what happened to me when I went to Link-Up.
- First generation members can be reluctant to talk to a much younger Aboriginal Counsellor. From our consultations it would appear that most BTH Counsellors are aged between mid-30s and mid-40s, with a minority slightly younger and somewhat older. Some first generation members consulted (some of whom are Elders in their communities) expressed discomfort about talking to a much younger Aboriginal person as a BTH Counsellor. Interestingly, with the Shepparton and Port Augusta BTH services, which appear to have had greater success in attracting first generation clients than some others, the BTH Counsellors are older Aboriginal women who are qualified as Counsellors (and the Shepparton Counsellor has been in the position for many years). These factors were felt to have contributed to the services’ success in attracting first generation members as clients.
- First generation members can be particularly reluctant to talk to a non-Aboriginal Counsellor. As discussed in Chapter 8, in 2004-2005 only 62% of BTH Counsellors were Aboriginal.
- First generation members may find their experiences too painful to even speak about to anyone – as one BTH client commented, ‘a lot of them are still blocking it all out… it’s just all too painful [for my grandmother] to even address’.