SUE Blacklock has committed her life to giving children safe and loving refuge, and returning to them the understanding of who they are and where they came from.
That dedication to the rights and security of children led to Aunt Sue’s recent appointment as the inaugural Ambassador for Children for the Australian Centre for Child Protection (ACCP).
Fiona Arney is the director of the ACCP, and met Aunt Sue at the Association for Children’s Welfare Agency conference in Brisbane where she made a presentation for Winangay Resources, an organisation that first developed “a new culturally appropriate resource tool to assess and support existing Aboriginal kinship carers.”
Aunt Sue with Paula Hayden and Gillian Bonser founded Winangay Resources after seeing too many children adrift from kin and country.
Since Winangay’s inception in 2010, they have also created a review tool for kinship placements as well as some resources for non-Aboriginal kinship assessment.
However, working with Aboriginal children, families and communities, and developing more effective methods to assist remains Winangay’s priority.
Fiona recognised the value in what she heard.
“The approach they’ve taken is a beautiful blend of community knowledge, cultural knowledge, practice expertise and research, and it really stood out for us.”
Fiona said as the ACCP achieves its 10 year anniversary, they are turning their focus to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander children in care and protection system.
“In NSW, it’s almost nine per cent of Aboriginal children are in a formal out-of-home care arrangement and it’s huge. And it’s a sleeping issue, so it’s an issue we are incredibly concerned about.”
Fiona said there was a lack of evidence on how to handle the issue, and after hearing Aunt Sue, saw clearly how she and Winangay could contribute their collected knowledge to the protection of these children.
“She doesn’t want kids and families to be crying anymore, and not knowing where people are.
“She doesn’t want a second stolen generation, and that’s exactly what we’re committed to as well.”
Aunt Sue’s destiny was written from the beginning.
“When I was growing up, my dad and my mum, they fostered a lot of kids.
“They took them in like family. They fostered family all the time, like kin; family that come to stay with us.
“We all grew up together,” Aunt Sue said.
“Then when I got married, my husband and I, we went to the courts, got kids out, kids came to stay and they never left.
“I’ve been doing it most of all my life. And I love what I’m doing. Cause I’ve seen a lot of cousins taken by DOCS (The Department of Community Services) and we lived in fear of being taken.”
She said she frequently saw the repercussions of Aboriginal children removed from family returning with a sense of confusion.
“Well, they have tribes. They don’t know which tribe they belong - which culture.
“A lot of them lose their identity and they can’t connect until they come back to the elders or the community.
“Some of the elders might have gone; passed on, but there’s always someone who knows them and who in their family they can connect.
“I see a lot of kids come back and they don’t know where their family is.
“When we got the kids, my husband and myself, we tell them where they come from, and who their parents were, and that they have the option if they want to go back - but a lot of them didn’t. They just want to stay with us.”
Heavy in many young hearts is a sense that they were somehow the cause of problems in the home.
Aunt Sue was adamant that it was not the case.
“This breaks your heart when you see it,” she said.
“Sometimes the kids think it’s their fault, because they was bad, but it’s never their fault. That’s what we got to get out there, that the kids - it’s never their fault. It’s just something that went wrong.”
Beyond losing kin, Aunt Sue said a major concern was the loss of ethnicity.
“Because a lot of our kids went into non-Aboriginal care, and a lot of them came back with a white attitude, you know, it’s been drummed into their heads that they’re not Aborigine.”
Aunt Sue added that even within kin, it was critical to be honest with children.
“The grandfather might say, ‘Look, I’m your dad’, and the grandmother might say ‘I’m your mother’. But they’re not; they’re lying. They’re drumming lies into the head, where the kids got to recognise their own mother and father; the ones who brought them into this world.”
Her role as a strong, prominent elder dedicated to children has led her all around Australia meeting with other Aboriginal comm-unities to identify need and give them resources to improve young lives.
In her travels, Aunt Sue has often witnessed rampant neglect of children in out-of-home care.
“I seen kids taken from their home town about 500-600 miles away from there and put into a little home.
“I went to one place there, and the eldest was seven and the youngest was about three weeks. She (the 7-year-old) was mother to all these kids, and it broke my heart. I just burst into tears.
“And I said to this child protection person that was with me, ‘This has got to stop. These kids - you’ve got to find kin, they have to go back to their kin so they can find out who they are and where the come from; the tribes where they come from’.
“I got a report back from the kinship carers. The family came and they are now back in the community.
“So if we can make a difference like that, anybody can make a difference like that.”