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View from the Frontline with Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian

by PeakCare Qld on 8th July 2014

Home -> Articles -> 2014 -> July -> View from the Frontline with Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian

An Interview with Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian

What is your current position/role?

I am a Director and the Chaplain of IWC Ltd Bundaberg. I also hold directorships on several other Boards in Queensland.

I thank Creator Spirit for gifting these Ministries to me. As the Chaplain for IWC Ltd I work with our Child and Family Safety and Protection Services. I also counsel, I listen, I do therapeutic work with staff and their families and clients (9000 +) and their families and members of the community who come to me through word of mouth and off the street.

I assist all who come to my office, with techniques that offer them an opportunity to have greater awareness of their spirituality, capacity to ‘Be ‘, and know and understand their resilience to live at peace and in wellbeing and wellness with themselves and others in today’s world. Currently my ‘parish’ covers Bundaberg, Gayndah, North & South Burnett, and the Fraser Coast.

As a Director I work with 6 other Directors to capacity build our community, rejuvenate our culture and, through deep humility, respect and protect our sacred lands and waterways. We do this by providing services to our region under the umbrellas of health, dental, community, youth's and men’s business, child and family safety, aged care, psychological, spiritual awareness/awakening and counselling.

What motivates or inspires you in working with or on behalf of children, young people and/or families?

Our children are truly our future. In my Aboriginal world, due to policies operating in the past, I saw a generation being ‘skipped’ because the children of that generation became ‘children in limbo’ and then as adults became ‘people who fell into the gaps’ of our society. That is injustice going into ‘borderline collective insanity’ and it continued the colonisation of Aboriginal children and families.

In the 20th century, these children who had come of age and were now parents never knew what it was like to have a Mum and Dad; they had a Matron and/or a Superintendent Mission Man or some other staff person to wipe away their tears; these now adults, never knew what it was like to have their own room, they had lived in a dormitory; these now adults never knew ‘family’ because they were living with kids who like them were taken away from family and they were trying to ‘make’ a family without parents to guide them. And here we are in the 21st Century, living under similarly imposed policies, sophisticatedly dressed up in current political ‘speak’ and I sometimes wonder if we will lose another generation.

If I can reach one child and support him/her toward being resilient, focused, motivated, and committed toward growing into a grounded and rounded adult with a cultural identity that they appreciate and respect, then I will be motivated to do more through what I do already.

Children, healthy children, who know they live in wellness and wellbeing just by being the gift of joy that they are to us, will always inspire me because through their joy of life I can return to my own childhood memories of being loved, wanted, respected, appreciated and protected by parents who were the first role models I came to know.

Do you think outcomes will improve for children, young people and families in Queensland as we commence implementing reforms recommended by the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry?

Yes and no! I think some of the reforms recommended will enhance the lives of children and families.

I also think some of the reforms will be challenges to overcome toward improvement. Aboriginal children in care, according to the QLD Department of Communities, Child Safety, and Disability Services, was 55.5% and higher than non-Aboriginal children intakes. That tells me that the systems in place work at a minimal rate or don’t work.

If the reforms now being set in place will reduce that alarming number of Aboriginal children in care then the outcomes will speak for themselves. To me this is a ‘wait and see’ expectation.

How long have you worked within the child protection system? In what kinds of positions or roles have you previously worked.

My first involvement was in 1982-1985 as a Direct Caregiver to 13 Aboriginal children at Marribank Family Centre, a Baptist Church Mission in South-West Western Australia. It was on an Aboriginal Community.

My position gifted me an opportunity to address a Senate Standing Committee on The Child Welfare Act of WA and be involved in the reform of it. This was where I was exposed to horrendous past practices in relation to Aboriginal children.

Whilst working in prisons in WA (1986–2002) with men who had committed violent and/or sexual crimes I provided therapeutic services to victims of these crimes and children were often the client pool to which my services were offered. Further to this, I provided Pastoral Counselling to the Christian community in WA (1989-2003), particularly to the children of Pastors and Leaders in churches. This was a private and confidential service primarily where clients were referred to me by word of mouth.

On return to Qld I provided counselling to students at CQUniversity where I held the position of Coordinator of the Nulloo Yumbah Learning, Spirituality and Research Centre. Often, students would come to me with their children and I provided support and counselling services, to parents and children, particularly where studies, truancy and finances were key issues of concern.

I currently provide counselling to our community where grief and loss, obligation, domestic violence, lateral violence, child/parent separation, grandparent sole child parenting, cultural identity, and information of traditional owner cultural practices and protocols are requested.

In most of my contact with adult family members, children also become a client as I primarily work in Healing Circle work; a cultural therapeutic/counselling methodology that is culturally appropriate to work I do with families.

What do you think are the greatest challenges that we face in the future in implementing these reforms well?

Practitioner and agency service delivery requires attitudinal change toward cultural nuances articulated by Aboriginal people toward practitioners and policy development and change.

In reality, the reforms recommended have always been available and around in one report or another. This report appears to have brought them into one place.

Those who are blessed to implement the reforms will need a paradigm shift before they develop, plan, implement or progress them.

In my Aboriginal world Australia’s First Nations peoples are still being traumatised by earlier policies of ‘taking the children away’. However, in the 21st century, ‘taking the children away’ is still well and truly strong in practice.

I think practitioners need to clearly understand what is a culturally appropriate placement not only in accordance with legislated Placement Principles, but also in accordance with principles of Aboriginal Law around family, caring and sharing, and obligation and reciprocity.

In this way ‘taking children away’, potentially, will not be as traumatic as it is now for all those involved.

Cheri is photographedholding what is called a ‘Women’s Bone’. It has been carbon dated at approximately 40,000 years old.

"I sometimes use this Bone in the work that I do. Children are curious, and it does open up a conversation with them. Once it is explained to participants, what generally occurs is a ‘yarning’ process is then put in place and I can begin work from my cultural knowledge and we begin to explore in a Healing Circle what a child, or a family wants to explore with me."