Working to address ongoing trauma of the Stolen Generations

Amanda Lyons

5/07/2019 2:49:22 PM

The Healing Foundation is hopeful a report on the intergenerational effects of the Stolen Generations will guide a trauma-informed policy strategy.

CEO of the Healing Foundation, Richard Weston.
Chief Executive of the Healing Foundation, Richard Weston, hopes the AIHW report on the intergenerational effects of Stolen Generations trauma will help to change the way policy is created and deliver

The recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Children living in households with members of the Stolen Generations, represents the first time the impact of the policies that resulted in the Stolen Generations have been measured in a large-scale, quantitative way.
‘The data’s always been there, but this is something we think can’t be ignored,’ Richard Weston, Chief Executive of The Healing Foundation, a Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address ongoing trauma, told newsGP.
The Healing Foundation commissioned the report from the AIHW with funding provided by the former Federal Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion. Its data was drawn from the two most recent versions of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) conducted by the ABS in 2008 and 2014-15, and compares outcomes for children living with at least one member of the Stolen Generations with children in households with adults of the same age who were not removed from their families.
The results are sobering, and show some very clear disparities.
‘The report tells us that children who are under 15 and living in a household with a member of the Stolen Generations are having poorer life outcomes than other kids,’ Mr Weston explained.
‘Many are not attending school, their housing is insecure, they’re experiencing stress, they’re often living in a household that’s in poverty and relying on welfare payments.’
The Healing Foundation has long perceived these effects in the course of its work within communities, but wanted qualitative data to highlight what has all too often been a ‘missing piece’ in policy regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
‘It’s an indicator there’s something missing in what we’re doing, something we’re not seeing – and we believe that that issue is trauma,’ Mr Weston said.
‘We’re not understanding trauma properly in this country, as it relates to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and in particular the Stolen Generations.
‘And we’re not also understanding the knock-on effect, an ongoing impact across generations and communities.
‘We at the Healing Foundation think that’s one of the reasons there’s been such a failure of the Close the Gap policy in the last 10 years – because we haven’t accounted for that trauma being passed on through families and creating vulnerabilities that are leading to poorer outcomes for children.’
Children living in households with members of the Stolen Generations have quantifiably worse outcomes.

The Healing Foundation is dedicated to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities tackle issues of trauma and create a different and better future, but Mr Weston believes this process requires robust truth-telling and facing the realities of the past – not just within individual communities, but across Australia.
‘We think it’s important people understand the truth around the Stolen Generations: that people were removed from their families so culture wouldn’t be transmitted, to change Aboriginal people and make them become more assimilated,’ Mr Weston said.
‘That’s what happened. That’s a fact.
‘And now we have wide-spread issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are really hard to solve, around child neglect, child abuse, drug and alcohol issues. There’s a cocktail of dysfunction in our communities which is a direct result of past policies.
‘We need to understand the truth of that story so we can create solutions today that are better-informed and based on evidence, and are going to make a difference for people.’
Mr Weston believes that to target such problems effectively, the entire policy approach needs to change.
‘For our people, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations and their children and their descendants, the importance of truth is about diagnosing the problem correctly and then finding the correct solution,’ he said.
‘Because a lot of the solutions we have at the moment deal with bad behaviour, and those solutions result in punitive measures.
‘Children that are behaving badly get kicked out of school, so they’re not getting an education. Families are vulnerable, they’re dealing with a raft of problems in the home, which means kids end up in out-of-home care. And there’s a transition from out-of-home care to juvenile justice and then to adult prisons.
‘So we’ve got this trauma coming through history and down the Stolen Generations and onto the next generations, creating this pipeline of people going into punitive systems that don’t deal with trauma and don’t give people the opportunity to recover. We end up with this waste of human potential, people going into these systems and never getting out – and at great cost to the taxpayer.’
Instead, Mr Weston would like to see a move towards more trauma-informed policy and practice through all levels of service provision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
‘Trauma effects people’s physiology in very real ways; people become agitated very quickly, they’re quick to anger, and those kind of behaviours lead people into trouble,’ he said.
‘So understanding the impact of trauma is really important for service providers, because it takes out the sense that the person has a personal problem with them.
‘But also we need to see that understanding of trauma, that support or healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to become embedded in policy.’
Mr Weston also believes in taking an empowering, strengths-based approach.
‘Instead of looking at the problems people have, look at their strengths and how we build on them,’ he said. ‘If we’re constantly looking at what’s not there or the problems, we end up not enabling people to take their own steps to overcome the trauma and the other challenges they face in their lives.
‘That’s one of the things we’ve found in the Healing Foundation; when we build on people’s strengths and what they’ve got, we get better outcomes.’

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare Intergenerational trauma Stolen Generations Trauma-informed care

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Dr Barbara Burge   9/07/2019 11:01:56 AM

Thank you for this wonderful series on The Healing Foundation and the effects of intergenerational trauma. I am a retired GP and in recent years I have become very concerned about this issue as well as the Frontier wars.
I am not sure where the answers lie. I do think the various interventions that have happened and are happening socially are wonderful and important, but I also think that healing and reconciliation has to come at a spiritual level as well.

Are there ceremonies to do this and are they being made available to people?
I feel sure the answers must lie at both levels