4 August 2023

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day 2023.

Image: Life Without Barriers Child Youth and Family (CYF) executive team standing on the beach during a cultural immersion event.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is a national day for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, communities, and all of us to celebrate the strength and culture of their children.

The annual day began in 1988 and is an initiative of our partners in our Transformation Project, SNAICC – National Voice for our Children. The Transformation Project is one of our Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (Elevate RAP) commitments, to progressively transfer the care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children back to Community.

To help us lead this endeavour at Life Without Barriers is Wendy Knight, Executive Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Practice and Partnerships, CYF. Jane French, Deputy Chief Executive, CYF, sat down with Wendy to ask her thoughts on this special day and her new role.

Wendy Knight, is in the front row, centre in a white hoodie. Next to her in a blue t-shirt stands Jane French.

Jane: You're new to Life Without Barriers - what was the motivation to take on your role?

Wendy: As soon as I heard about this opportunity, I thought it was an amazing chance to get our Jarjums back to community; to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) and that was the motivation.

It will be the highlight of my career.

Our Jarjums have a right to be raised within culture and if they can’t do that at home, they have the right to do that within an ACCO to keep them connected to mob and culture. That’s the opportunity we have with the Transformation Project – policy reform, transition, everything.

The transition part of the Elevate RAP is about us transitioning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to ACCOs where they can get cultural and community connection. 

Jane: Can you share what you hope to achieve with your role? ​​​​​​​

Wendy: Bring Jarjums back to Community – which is our ACCOs, and not only that, but it’s also an opportunity for us to have that influence across the sector. We are leading and driving change right across the sector and bringing those other Not-For-Profit (NFP) organisations along for the ride.

Queensland and New South Wales are the only two states that have that 10-year-commitment – to transition children back to community by 2031, which is also our commitment as an organisation. So, if we can broaden that across Australia to all those large national NFPs and extend that transition across all states and territories – then I could retire happily.

There would have to be policy reform to support it, of course, to use our influence across the sector and to force the government’s hands.

That’s what we’re doing now, challenging governments – national, state and territories to invest.

We need more money invested in early intervention programs by the government, so kids aren’t coming into care. We need family-led decision-making – that’s what I hope to achieve - I got to. Realistically this is the end of my career, when I achieve this, I have nothing else I want to do in my career.  

Jane: What does Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day mean to you? And this year’s theme, ‘Little Voices, Loud Futures’?

Wendy: The theme says it all doesn’t it? This is what we all should be working towards – exactly that for children – early childhood – more of our Jarjums having a voice, being heard.

That’s what we all should be focusing on with this sector driving it forward. They have a right – not only to their culture and knowing and being but to be listened to. And we don’t do that enough. They’re our future they’re the ones going to do my job. If we don’t start listening now – we’re in real trouble.

There needs to be an investment with yuggums now – it should have started 20 to 30 years ago but need to now. Large corporates should start investing in our ACCOs – all the Elevate RAP organisations need to put their yuggums where their RAPs are.

Look at what Closing the Gap and SNAICC – National Voice for our Children are doing around early childhood, we need the yuggums – it's not rocket science!

Jane: Why are these days important?

Wendy: The fact that we still need to have them when we should be celebrating and acknowledging every day of our being. The point is to truly highlight the need to invest so we are growing our Jarjums to be the next leaders. They’re going to be rich in culture and hopefully, the yes vote goes through for constitutional recognition, which will all contribute to impacting those Closing the Gap targets.

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