'Us versus them' view foisted on Indigenous mums: probe
Government officials try to instil an "us versus them" mentality when it comes to Indigenous mothers who have their children in care, a former Greens Senate candidate says.
Gunditjmara, Kirrae Whurrong and Djab Wurrung woman Sissy Austin was aged 21 when she stepped in to care for 13-year-old Tinjani, who she grew up with, after the younger girl's nanna died.
She received no initial support from authorities, with child protection taking an almost "casual approach" given Tinjani sought out her family herself, Ms Austin told the Yoorrook Justice Commission on Thursday.
It wasn't until two years into the placement Ms Austin was aware of kinship carers payments and getting Tinjani into school was an "almost impossible" task.
The teenager, who is now an adult, was told to leave a school after two weeks when staff realised Ms Austin wasn't her official guardian.
She was ultimately enrolled as an independent child after Ms Austin sought legal advice.
"There was no support," Ms Austin told the commission.
Every child Ms Austin has cared for has expressed their love for their mother deeply, she said.
She told the commission it was interesting to see how the Department of Health and Human Services tried to get carers on side in an "us and them" situation.
"We all talk about it and it's hard to put words to the experience of it, but there's no us and them - we want our kids back with their mums," Ms Austin said.
"(We're) just continuously reminding them in these meetings, 'this child has a mother'."
She has had some positive relationships with "incredible" non-Indigenous carers, but said there needed to be more education and guidance available to them.
She pointed to a carers' group in Melbourne where people had Indigenous children in their care and asked the community what activities they should do with them.
"Heaps of people will comment and be like, 'take them to Bunjilaka'," Ms Austin said.
"The fact that they're even having an Aboriginal child placed with them in the first place and they're taking them to Bunjilaka to connect them with their culture as a first reference - that shouldn't be happening.
"It's 2023 and it's a disservice to that young child that's been placed with well-meaning carers who have absolutely no idea about our culture."
Victoria's Yoorrook Justice Commission - the nation's first truth-telling inquiry with the powers of a royal commission - returned on Wednesday for another two-week block of public hearings.
Hearings will continue on Friday with witnesses including AFL player Jamaine Jones.