Swinburne program empowers child and family workers to boost capacity and capability
A unique partnership between Swinburne University of Technology and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) is empowering child and family workers to provide improved support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in Victoria’s child protection system, thanks to specially-tailored training qualifications.
The partnership is also improving self-determination by providing higher education and vocational training to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Now in its fifth year, the partnership has enabled Swinburne to train about 120 VACCA staff in a culturally and workplace-customised Vocational Education qualification, the Diploma of Community Services (Statutory & Forensic Child, Youth & Family Welfare Specialisation), something VACCA says has made a major contribution to workforce capability.
The partnership between Swinburne and VACCA was prompted by reform in the Aboriginal and child protection sectors, requiring the organisation to upskill its staff.
The Aboriginal Children’s Forum in 2016 began a six-year process to transition the case management of all Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in care to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) like VACCA, while child protection reform implemented in 2018 now requires all residential care workers to hold a mandatory minimum qualification to work in the sector.
“We made contact with about 11 training providers and spoke to them to get a sense of what they offered and how they were offering it,” VACCA Organisational Development Manager Al Dawood said. “When we met with people from Swinburne, they showed the most interest and ability to work with us as an Aboriginal organisation. They were willing to partner with us to deliver something more tailored and contextualised.”
Swinburne Department of Health, Science and Community Strategic Projects Manager Debbie McLaughlin worked closely with Mr Dawood to manage the course development and delivery.
“We make sure the material we are delivering is culturally safe and appropriate,” she said.
“We’re very privileged to have our Workplace Support Worker, Aunty Lee Healy, on staff and employed by us to work with our facilitators. She provides oversight into how things are progressing, and we are constantly looking at how we can recruit more Aboriginal facilitators into our groups.”
Formal feedback from students at the end of their studies highlights improved knowledge and understanding of child protection processes and practice, stakeholder engagement, and client and workplace wellbeing.
The dozens of VACCA staff who have completed the Swinburne diploma have gone on to achieve impressive outcomes, including promotion within the organisation and new opportunities in other organisations and sectors.
Mr Dawood is proud of the impact the training is having, not only on VACCA’s clients through improved service delivery, but also on the wider impact to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community outcomes.
“I’ve noticed this has built people’s confidence and self-belief,” he said. “We now have people wanting to do further study. I even know someone who is doing a masters degree now, which is an extremely positive step.”
“For many Aboriginal people, a diploma would make them the first formally qualified person in their family. A degree is phenomenal in terms of Aboriginal people being self-determined; being able to assist their own community, having that technical and specialised practitioner knowledge as well.”
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