Aboriginal Policy Research Consortium International (APRCi)

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Australian Social Work



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n Victoria, recent reforms to the child and family welfare system, through the introduction of the Children Youth and Families Act (2005), have significantly strengthened the principle of the ‘‘best interests’’ of the child. Giving substance to the principle, this legislation defines a set of standards and a practice framework to guide its application. How this is to be applied is of particular interest to the Aboriginal child and family welfare sector, given that the principle of best interests has historically underpinned the removal of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families on the basis of their race (Bamblett, 2006). This paper presents the findings of a qualitative research study that aimed to identify an Aboriginal perspective on the best interests principle as it applies to Victorian Aboriginal children. In-depth interviews were conducted with six experienced Aboriginal child and family welfare practitioners. The outcomes of this study highlight the distinct cultural perspectives that inform Aboriginal child and family welfare practice and raise a number of concerns in regard to an ongoing ethnocentric application of the principle by mainstream service providers. Key findings of the study are discussed, including the importance of increasing understanding of Aboriginal child-rearing practices, recognising that there is a distinct Aboriginal understanding of what constitutes a best interests framework, and the implications of this for both Aboriginal and mainstream child and family welfare practice. The paper discusses these findings within the context of recent Victorian legislative reform, which promotes Aboriginal self-determination, and argues that more work is needed to ensure Aboriginal perspectives are incorporated into service provision to Aboriginal children and families if we are truly to meet the best interests of Aboriginal children.

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