Indigenous Disadvantage Essay

Indigenous Disadvantage Term paper

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In this essay, I will argue that in order to break the generational cycle of welfare dependency and disadvantage in a large majority of Indigenous communities, government policies need to be shaped to address the early educational requirements of children. I will highlight that the 2007 National Intervention Strategy has failed the innocent being the children, with regards to teaching, preserving their language and culture. I will discuss how poor education is central to a cumulative effect upon the disadvantaged Indigenous youth and influences issues such as suicide. I will highlight that policy emphasis on social investment in the early years now shapes the construction of childhood. National policies such as ‘Closing the Gap’ on provision for youth has become a mainstay for efforts to reduce social inequality undoing the effects of social exclusion. (Robinson et al. 2012) Policies aimed at ensuring children are sitting in their seats are crucial in communities where school absenteeism is over-represented. However, attendance is a necessary but insufficient condition for learning. If it is not accompanied by the holistic factors crucial to education, then welfare reforms by themselves understandably will have no positive effect. As per the ‘Overcoming Indigenous Advantage Report Key Indicators’ in 2007, it was gleaned that 21% of 15 year old Indigenous people were not engaged in education, as compared to only 5% of non-Indigenous people. In 2006 only 50% of Indigenous students were likely to complete year 12. These statistics have changed very little between 2001 and 2005 (SCRGSP, 2007). The demographics of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in Australia are remarkably different. The trend of Indigenous populations is increasingly younger as compared to the Indigenous population which is ageing. (AHRC, 2008), (Biddle, 2012). The most disadvantaged Indigenous Australians live in remote areas of Australia (National Indigenous Languages Survey Report, 2005), it is these people that have been failed by all stakeholders in not developing these communities in order to reduce disadvantage in particular through education. The situations created in remote communities of the Northern Territory resulting in government intervention supports this argument. The Commonwealth Government’s wide-ranging Northern Territory (NT) Emergency Response (Intervention) began in June 2007, based upon the urgent need to address child neglect and social dysfunction in certain NT communities. The response was largely based on the release of the Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: ‘Little Children are Sacred’ Report. The view of the report that a significant contributing factor was the “breakdown of culture and society” (Wild et al., 2007, p.12) The Little Children are Sacred report included 97 recommendations in relation to government leadership ;family and children’s services ;health crisis intervention ;police ;prosecutions and victim support ;bail ;offender rehabilitation ;prevention services ;health care as prevention of abuse ;family support services ;education ;alcohol ;substance abuse ;community justice ;employment ;housing ;pornography ;gambling, and cross cultural practices. In particular, the recommendations emphasised that education is the key to helping children and communities foster safe, well-adjusted families. It emphasised that school is the way to keep future generations of Aboriginal children safe, and getting children to school every day is essential (Wild et al., 2007), (AHRC, 2008) Key Indigenous academics have welcomed the intervention. Marcia Langton observed that whatever its shortcomings, the Intervention was a great opportunity to overcome the systemic levels of disadvantage among Aboriginal Australians. Her comment “those who did not see the intervention coming were deluding themselves” (Langton 2008, p.1). She sums up that the outcome was in the failure of federal-state policy, in making Aboriginal Australians more responsible. The Northern Territory governments for nearly twenty years had failed in directing and investing funds to address disadvantages in education, health and basic services. Finally that key Indigenous agencies such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) were complicit in this tragic set of unfolding events (Langton 2008). The Intervention addressed the protection of children’s rights, recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It privileged such rights over others, including the prohibition on discrimination and equality before the law. (UNESCO, 2013) Despite the rhetoric created, the aim of the Intervention as stated by Children’s Court Magistrate and chairperson of the Intervention Sue Gordon (2007), in her Four Corners interview …“We need to think of the children for the future” (ABC. Four Corners, 2007). She further asserted that the Northern Territory Government and Indigenous leaders had known of the issues around child protection twenty years prior to the intervention and had failed the communities. The Northern Territory Intervention Response polarised Indigenous academic views on the treatment of the Indigenous people clearly one of the focus areas has been on the responsibility of parents and carers in providing them with the building blocks for opportunities to become engaged in education and training. Again Sue Gordon (2007) in her Four Corners interview made these valid points in relation to the Commonwealth Development Employment Program (CDEP). That CDEP marginalises Aboriginals by treating them as second-class citizens as they are in a sense working for the dole. That CDEP “does nothing for providing Aboriginal people with training and skills in getting them into real jobs paying award wages” (Four Corners, 2007). Hard hitting was her comment, “I have had young people in my court at 15 aspiring to go on CDEP at 16, this is not good enough”. (Four Corners, 2007). The NT Intervention identified that there is a real need for literacy and numeracy skills to be upgraded before Indigenous people can be put into real jobs, which I argue needs to be started at an early age. The attention given to the protection of children could have been averted if education was seen as a priority in these communities some twenty years earlier (Langton, 2008). I draw attention to the intervention as it was a crisis that was enabled by the lack of a holistic view in empowering the Indigenous peoples within these communities. The lack of early childhood programs promoting protective behaviours, child and family health services, parent support services, are paramount in order to strengthen caring and promote health and education within Indigenous communities. There is an enormous cost to not addressing early childhood development as is evidenced by welfare dependency, social isolation in the wider society, loss of culture and identity. Families and society also incur the costs of social and emotional problems in particular, welfare dependency, mental health issues, involvement with the justice system and incarceration (Zubrick et al., 2012). Indigenous disadvantage can be defined by Nobel economics prize winner Armartya Sen who argues, that poverty and disadvantage are to be understood as deprivation of opportunity to develop human capabilities and competencies (Sen, 2000). At the 2007 Australian Indigenous Health and Welfare Conference (AIHW) former Senator Henry defined Indigenous disadvantage in terms of human capability. He argued that there were three key interdependent foundations to Indigenous disadvantage. “Poor economic and social incentives ;the underdevelopment of human capital and capability in general ;and an absence of the effective engagement of Indigenous Australians in the design of policy frameworks that might improve those incentives and capabilities” (Henry, 2007). It is important to recognise key policies that provide a framework for addressing Indigenous disadvantage. This is anchored by the Closing the Gap policy which is a formal agreement between the Australian Government, States and Territories, with the National Indigenous Reform Agreement (COAG, 2009). The Closing the Gap policy sets out ambitious benchmarks in Indigenous outcomes directed across seven building blocks: early childhood ;schooling ;health ;economic participation ;healthy homes ;safe communities ;governance and leadership. The Closing the Gap approach to improving Indigenous disadvantage mirrors the World Health Organisation (WHO) Closing the Gap in a Generation Initiative (The WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health). The commission particularly emphasises “the importance of early childhood development including not only physical and cognitive or linguistic development but also crucially, social and emotional development”. The WHO estimates some 200 million children worldwide are not achieving their full potential (World Health Organisation, 2008). The importance to preserving language and culture is carried with the education of children. This theme is encapsulated in the ‘Little Children are Sacred Report’. Which says, “In our law children are very sacred because they carry the two spring wells of water from our country with them” (Wild et al., 2007, p.2), this reflects the traditional Aboriginal law of the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The key factor in preserving language and cultures begins not only with the paternal parents and community but is built and maintained through education which leads to self-fulfilment and greater life opportunities. Oral language development is acquired rapidly in the first five years of a young person’s life, the ability to speak that language is lost if it not continued into adolescence (Zubrick, 1991). This position is supported by Valerie Martin, an elder from Yuendemu a remote Northern Territory community who argues that the intervention has made no difference four years on. In relation to language and culture she stated to ABC News, \"our language is not being taught in schools ... our kids in our future need to understand their cultural side as well” (McNally et al., 2011). Indigenous young people, like other young people from minority groups, are \"disabled or disempowered by schools in very much the same way that their communities are disempowered\" in society (Cummins 1986, p.23). In their schools, as much as in the wider world, they are likely to meet indifference, distortion and harassment. Schools, however, can make a significant difference. Groome and Hamilton (1995) found that schools which were prepared to accept the identity needs of Aboriginal young people and work with, rather than against these, were successful in retaining and fostering these students. Critical to engaging young Indigenous people in early education is the identification of health issues. One specific area is that of mental health in which the suicide rate of young Indigenous people is unacceptable. Indigenous suicide is ranked sixth as the cause of death, “it is almost three times greater than that of the non-Indigenous population” (Silburn et al. 2010, p.92). Early detection of learning difficulties and behavioural problems are critical in this domain in particular anxiety disorders which are linked to distressing social economic and social issues. Unfortunately there is no specific research into anxiety disorders, although a 2005 health survey in Western Australia indicated that 24% of Aboriginal children aged 4 to 17 years were categorized as high risk of having clinical emotional or behavioural difficulties. (Adermann et al. 2007). These behaviours can be detected early within a holistic partnership between health and education. There are a number of schools actively working with Indigenous children yet in context to all Australia they represent a small number. One particular school is the Mildura Primary School in regional Victoria which works collaboratively with Mallee Family Care, and the Mildura Aboriginal Cooperative.The school works in partnership with the Menzies School of Health Research based in Darwin - Northern Territory and the Mildura Base Hospital Human Research Ethics Committee. The driving factor for this research which commenced in 2008, “is an increasing awareness and understanding of the real disparity in developmental outcomes of children on entry to school” (Nutton,
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