Young  women who have experienced removal of a child or children from their care will be supported in an innovative early intervention service announced this week.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has funded Breathing Space, which Centacare will pilot over two years with up to 15 women aged under 25 years.

Part of the DHS Child and Family Service System redesign, the service aims to improve young women’s quality of life, wellbeing and life skills, by addressing the complexities that may have contributed to their children entering the child protection system.

Some young women may have experienced an out-of-home care placement themselves and/or have experienced homelessness.

“These women are the forgotten women, and the only time we hear about them is when they have the next child, which could potentially be removed,” said Leanne Haddad, Executive Manager of Centacare’s Children’s Services Unit.

“The loss of a child into care is significant. There is a lot of shame involved, particularly with Aboriginal women, and this can lead to other significant challenges that may otherwise never be addressed.”

Breathing Space is based on UK program Pause, and is believed to be the first service of its kind in Australia.

Participation is voluntary and each young woman will be allocated a case manager, women’s health nurse, financial counsellor and a senior practitioner providing wrap-around support.

Breathing Space is underpinned by Aboriginal co-design criteria and will privilege the voices of young Aboriginal women who are engaged in the program to empower self-determination, address intergenerational trauma and promote the importance of culture.

Specialist input will be provided by CatholicCare NT on the Aboriginal Family Coping Toolkit.

Referrals will come from, birthing hospitals, Child and Family Assessment and Referral Networks, Local Partnership Groups, Department for Child Protection and other approved services.

The therapeutic model for Breathing Space draws on the doctoral research completed by Child, Adolescent Psychiatrist and Specialist Therapist Dr Jackie Amos in 2017, and other trauma-related research literature, and clinical experience.

“We want to identify the protective factors that mitigate the recognised effects of intergenerational trauma to increase self-identity, but also safeguard potential future children the young women may have,’’ Leanne said.

“Many of the young women may have experienced childhood trauma and have been abused or neglected themselves or may be in a domestic violence relationship. They are facing significant life challenges.”

“Breathing Space is a time for the young women to focus on themselves, share stories with others to learn they are not alone, to identify better ways to live and develop effective coping strategies.  It is a time or the young women to breathe and find out who they are.”

For more information, please visit our Breathing Space service page.

Kylie Degenhardt has heard it all.

As a fair skin Palawa woman, the Youth Support Worker has had her identity questioned, been mocked for being Aboriginal and told she doesn’t belong.

“People say things like `how Aboriginal are you?’, like I need to prove it,’’ Kylie says.

“There’s still that mentality if you don’t fit the usual picture of what an Aboriginal person is meant to look like. The racism and stereotypes, they never go away.’’

The conversations Kylie’s skin colour provoke are a constant reminder of the challenges around identity and acceptance that endure today for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The 43-year-old is passionate about reversing this `cultural disconnect’, born from past government policies and felt so painfully by her grandfather Robert, a member of the Stolen Generations.

“He didn’t see his sister until he was 60 odd years old and then they both passed away six months later – after a lifetime without each other,’’ Kylie says.

“It’s that disconnection: What he was made to think about his mum; what he was made to think about his culture; how policy and thinking turned our people against themselves.’’

In her role at headspace Port Adelaide, Kylie helps young people to embrace their heritage by connecting them to community and other supports for challenges such as depression and anxiety.

In addition, she teaches community service professionals to view mental health through a cultural lens, as one of a handful of facilitators in the state delivering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid training.

Participants learn how to assist an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adult who may be experiencing a mental health problem until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves.

“Every day I see the trauma but I also see the resilience in people,’’ Kylie says.

“The younger generations especially are using their voice positively. Yes, they are angry, but they are also getting their message of survival out there: that we are still here, thriving and surviving!

“They are proud and they’re speaking up.’’

Rosslyn Richards is holding onto a handful of words like her life depends on it.

“Well, in some ways it does,’’ she says of reclaiming her first language, Ngarrindjeri.

“It’s who I am!’’

Growing up at Wellington on a 160-acre farm flanked by her grandparents’ property and Lake Alexandrina, Ros’ childhood memories are of family and water.

She recalls watching her grandfather hunt and her grandmother milk the cows to make butter and cheese, and collecting yabbies along the river’s shore with her brothers.

“At certain times of the year we collected turtle eggs and we made up incubators and waited patiently for them to hatch. Our father took us and all the baby turtles into Adelaide and we sold them to pet shops at the markets.’’

It’s what childhood didn’t provide that now leaves Ros lost for words.

“We weren’t allowed to speak our language, that’s just how it was, so we lost it – and now we’re trying to bring it back.

“There were things they (Aboriginal people) weren’t allowed to do back in those days unless you had the Exemption card.

“And then if you had the Exemption card, you weren’t allowed to vote or speak the language, or mix with your own people.

“You had to be seen more with non-Aboriginal people than your own family.’’

As the Ngarrindjeri language and hundreds more were gradually eroded by government policy, confusion reigned.

Sharing culture: Natasha Sumner, Rosslyn Richards and Eric Richards.

Sharing culture: Natasha Sumner, Rosslyn Richards and Eric Richards.

Elders didn’t understand the young who spoke English and the young couldn’t relate to their Elders.

“It’s not fair on the young or old because they lose connection,’’ says Ros, a Family Practitioner with Centacare’s Journey to Learning program which readies children for kindergarten and school.

“Our language is very important to us but I only know a few words. I’d love to learn more and be able to speak it fluently. At the moment I’m only speaking little bits and pieces and putting English words amongst it.’’

John Lochowiak is Manager of Centacare’s Aboriginal Services.

He says Aboriginal people often spoke several languages, depending on their geographical roots, and that we must do all we can as a nation to recover and maintain our cultural heritage – before it is extinct.

“If you’ve got language you’ve got culture. A lot of us hold on to a handful of words and that’s how we hold on to a handful of culture because we’ve lost so much.’’

John says this year’s NAIDOC Week is particularly important because it celebrates language and puts its significance into context for wider Australia.

“This is an opportunity for us to research and get some of our languages back that we can teach our children and they can teach their children and we can restore our culture.’’


Ask John Lochowiak why family matters and he recalls childhood trips with his grandfather to the Pitjantjatjara lands.

“We’d sit down and he’d nod and say `there’s your brother over there’. I’d meet him for the first time but straight away we’d behave as brothers,” says John, a Wati (initiated man).

“In traditional settings we don’t use names. We use how we are related and behave accordingly and it strengthens that relationship.

John Family Matters 2017-05-16 005

“Uncles and aunties don’t exist because they become our mothers and fathers, and cousins become your brothers and sisters, so our extended family is huge ’’

Family is at the core of the Aboriginal world view, says John, Manager of Centacare’s Aboriginal Services, but he believes this should not preclude non-Aboriginal families from caring for vulnerable children.

The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is almost 10 times that of other children, and continues to grow.

The causes of over representation are complex, including the legacy of past policies of forced removal, intergenerational effects of separation from family and culture, poor socioeconomic status and perceptions arising from cultural differences in child‐rearing practices.

The national Family Matters campaign highlights these difficulties and the need for change so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture.

“Our family structure is a bit different, but really we are not dissimilar to white families,’’ John says.

“The challenges and dynamics that impact non-aboriginal people impact us too; the need to work and live in dignity and contribute to society is equally as important to our culture.

“I think we need to look closely at how we can better support Aboriginal families to increase their capacity to foster children.

“That support should start with cultural training for Aboriginal people so that they re-engage with their culture because a lot of our people have lost it.’’

John says it just takes one person – black or white – to believe in a vulnerable child in order to make a difference.

“Western culture will talk about significant others and emotionally that children will be stable if someone believes in them.

“That’s replicated a hundred fold in the Aboriginal culture because everywhere they turn they have someone to share in the responsibility of raising them.

“If every child is loved, they have the chance to be good citizens.’’

Child protection leaders across South Australia are stepping up to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children safe with their families, communities and culture.

Centacare recently hosted the state’s inaugural CEO forum on Family Matters, a national campaign to eliminate the over-representation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care within a generation.

In South Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (aged 0-17 years) make up 3.5 per cent of the child population yet they account for 30 per cent of all children in out-of-home care.

The CEO forum explored ways to progress jurisdictional plans for legal, policy and practice change to reduce the number of ATSIC children in the child protection system.

The aim is to influence governments at state, territory and national levels to change their policies in relation to child protection, and to refocus resources on prevention and family support services.

The Family Matters vision is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people to grow up safely in their home, receive a good education, and be proud of who they are.

For more information, visit the campaign website.


Leaders of non-government organisations recently met in Adelaide to workshop the Family Matters campaign.

Leaders of non-government organisations recently met in Adelaide to workshop the Family Matters campaign.


“We have enormous respect for the contributions Aboriginal people make to our community. We support any opportunity to celebrate our heritage and demonstrate our commitment to cultural diversity.’’

    Dale West, Director, Centacare Catholic Family Services


Centacare is proudly supporting the inaugural Riverland NO:RI Music Festival which will bring together some of the nation’s most prominent and emerging Aboriginal artists in memory of Ruby Hunter.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Ruby Hunter

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Ruby Hunter. Picture: James Penlidis

The first Aboriginal woman to be signed to a major record label, Ruby empowered people through music. She dreamed of creating a platform to help foster the talent of other singer-songwriters and showcase their tradition and culture to the wider community.

Ruby’s life-long partner, Archie Roach – one of Australia’s most loved and revered musicians – will perform at the one-day festival at the Bonney Theatre, Barmera, on October 2.

Joining Archie will be:

  • Kevin Kropinyeri
  • Bunna Lawrie and Coloured Stone
  • David Arden Band
  • Ringo Rigney Band
  • Katie Aspel
  • The MERRg
  • Dakoda
  • Mon Cherie
  • Kutcha Edwards
  • Owen Karpany

The festival will be a celebration of Ruby’s life and her love of performing.

With Archie, Ruby took her music around the world and sung alongside greats Tracy Chapman, Paul Kelly and Bob Dylan. Together they inspired a new generation of Aboriginal artists and were a powerful voice for the Stolen Generations.

Ruby released the first of three albums, Thoughts Within, in 1994. During her career, she was nominated for two ARIA Awards – Best Indigenous Release and Best Blues and Roots Album.

To buy tickets to the event, visit the Riverland NO:RI Music Festival website
For more information about Ruby, visit the Ruby Hunter Foundation Inc
To hear Ruby sing, watch this video created by her grandson, Wesley Brigham.
For regular festival updates, see our Facebook page.


“This festival is a tribute to Ruby and a celebration of our culture. Thank you for supporting the event and bringing Ruby’s vision to life.”

Eric Richards, Chairperson, Ruby Hunter foundation


‪#‎NORIMusicFestival‬ ‪#‎RubyHunter‬


Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

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