A Shout Out from the Treetops for Australia’s generosity

Lucy shouting from the treetops in Tassie – April 2017.

I want to shout from the treetops.  Yippee!   I am overwhelmed by the level of interest and demand for our therapeutic children’s picture book, ‘The Life of Tree’.  We’ve even had media requests from the most unexpected places.

I’m also here to shout out to those generous people who gave to our crowdfunding campaign.  We raised almost $2500 which is allowing us to send a whopping 99 free books out to remote women’s refuges across Australia.  So far I’ve posted 47 books to every remote emergency accommodation shelter in the Northern Territory and Western Australia , directly targeting Aboriginal children escaping domestic and family violence in their communities.

As promised, here is our Shout Out to the donors on Chuffed who wanted to know where their book ended up.  But thank you to all 63 individuals and organisations who kindly donated.

Wadeye – Toni Woods

Photo: Glenn Campbell, Crinkling News, March 2017.

Yuendemu – Jennifer Treyfrey-Bath

Angurugu – Christine Sellman

Raminginging – Annette Bex

Maningrida – Jean John

Peppimenarti – Judy Byrne

Wurrumiyanga – Anne Davis

Kalkarindji – Shaun Pearce

Lajamanu – Bridget Verrier

Ti Tree – Verity Kowal

Wugularr – Erin McKeegar

Ngukurr – Barry Sullivan

Ntaria – Jana Norman

Yarralin – Simon Faulkner

Our hope is that ‘The Life of Tree’ will be read to children by support workers in these refuges, to help them talk about and make sense of the trauma they have experienced.   We also have hopes that refuge staff will engage in strength-building conversations that acknowledge the skills, abilities and knowledge that children have in surviving and coping with storms in their lives.  We can’t wait to hear how these books are received in the refuges.
In the meantime, we are starting to hear some great stories about how other people are using the book in their communities.  After buying 10 copies for their school, Gunbalanya community is incorporating the use of ‘The Life of Tree’ into their school curriculum.  Cops For Kids, a charity in South Australia are funding 20 books in schools in the APY Lands.  Our book is being snapped up by a diverse range of services from rehabilitation, community health, mental health and Aboriginal health, to legal, counselling, foster care, disability and child care services.  We are posting from Tasmania to Darwin, Perth to Alice Springs.

We continue to get messages of thanks for the free books and appreciation for our work.  This means so much to Christine and I.

Perhaps we’ll write and paint some more one day if it helps those who have experienced trauma…. but for now, we’ll keep shouting!  Yippee!

Just one day left to ‘Give Aboriginal Kids a Voice’

Cassie and other Aboriginal Support Workers use various ‘talking tools’ in their work to assist clients accessing the community Safe House.

A month ago I set out with a goal of getting my new book out to as many remote communities as I could, so that Aboriginal children might be better placed to speak up about their experience of domestic and family violence.

This week, as I revisited my hopes and intentions to achieve this goal, I wondered whether Aboriginal Support Workers in Safe Houses across the Northern Territory would also be able to see the benefits of using this simple resource with their clients.

This week I tracked down one such worker in Cassie Daniels who works at Milikapiti Safe House on the Tiwi Islands. Sharing a digital copy of ‘The Life of Tree’ with her, I was delighted to hear of her excitement that this resource would be heading her way very soon.

Cassie revealed that it had really got her thinking about how this book might be used to assist children and families that stay at the Safe House.  As well as with individual clients, Cassie sees the potential for using the story with weekly women’s groups and at community events that focus on family and domestic violence.  She says

I love the pictures.  It’s easy to see the pictures and talk about them relating to their self experience”.

In considering how Safe House workers might put extra supports in place for children who have been exposed to domestic or family violence, Cassie goes on to say that this book will be a source of reassurance.

Older women in the community who have the wisdom and knowledge of history that’s in line with this book [will] give hope to children who are experiencing storms at home; [knowing] that they do have roots that are strong in their identity [and] through other family to help.”

If you would like to empower other Aboriginal women in their communities to help children talk about their experience of domestic and family violence and get the help they need to stay safe, then head over to our crowdfunding page.

There’s just 24 hours to go to ‘Give Aboriginal Kids a Voice’.

Thanks for your support.

Giving Aboriginal Kids a Voice – Part III

“Jack” from ‘The Life of Tree’ children’s therapeutic book

As a counsellor who has worked in remote communities, I have seen the lack of resources available to children fleeing violence in remote communities.   For many years, children in domestic violence shelters were not recognised as clients needing support and assistance in their own right, with much of this being offered to their mothers or caregivers.  Thankfully things are changing, slowly.  We know that children are impacted by hearing, seeing and experiencing it too!

With less than a week to go in our crowdfunding campaign, we are encouraged and amazed by the response by people all over Australia, to help us achieve our dream of giving ‘Aboriginal Kids A Voice’ on their experience of violence or trauma.

As I write this, we have raised over $1700.  This will allow us to send 68 copies of our therapeutic children’s picture book to domestic violence shelters in the NT, WA and Queensland.

We have shared our story with Lyrella Cochrane at ABC Radio Darwin and Emelia Turzon at ABC on line.  Any day now, a story will be published in the Crinkling News, the national newspaper for young people.  Be sure to look out for it.

As we have already blown away our initial target, we have now expanded our goal to support children who arrive at shelters in South Australia and NSW too.  We’ve also been asked to consider translating ‘The Life of Tree’ into Indigenous languages to make it even more accessible for children through schools in Arnhemland.

If you would like to be part of this amazing opportunity to sponsor a book, that will help children share their story and get the help they need to start the healing process and stay safe, head over to our campaign page at https://chuffed.org/project/giving-aboriginal-kids-a-voice

Thank you so much for your support.  One book is one more voice.

If you know how to ‘Walk the Talk’ then let’s ‘Talk the Walk’

Walking the Talk on a Bathurst Island beach

In Wiktionary, to ‘walk the talk’ means ‘to perform actions consistent with one’s claims’.  I first came across this term in Reconciliation circles.  It implied that if you really wanted to make a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people, then don’t just talk the rhetoric; you have to get off your backside and walk with them in the fight for justice and recognition.  To me, it is also important to walk alongside, not in front and not behind.

So how do we walk alongside in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, when practising social work, a profession which has a history of baggage like removing children from families?  This was a question I was trying to answer when I graduated with my Social Work degree.

At that time, working with Indigenous people seemed like a daunting task.  I remember feeling so inspired and passionate about living out my social work values of human rights and social justice, that I upped and moved my young family from big city life to the remote North.  To be honest, it was scarey, I didn’t know where to start and I had no real mentors to show me the way.   Like many others, I was thrown in the deep end, flying out to remote communities, with nothing but a listening ear to offer.  For two years, I felt like I was in a big bucket of water, with just my mouth sticking out, gasping for air, just surviving.  I continually questioned ‘am I doing this right’?  Am I making a difference?  Or am I contributing to the problem?

Most of us come with good intentions, bringing all of our head, heart and hand to the work, but how do we do it in a way that is decolonising and authentic.  What does best practice social work in Australia’s indigenous communities actually look like on the ground?

‘Talk the Walk’ will feature interviews with those who have trod a well-known path.

This is the question I hope to explore in a new podcast, I’ll be developing and launching in the coming months.  Don’t throw out your textbooks, but I believe there is real value in hearing stories of experience, straight from the mouths of those covered in dirt, sweat and dust.  “Talk the Walk” will feature interviews with those working in the field as well as traditional voices with words of wisdom for the whitefellas in white Toyotas.

My hope is that “Talk the Walk” will be a valuable resource for graduating social work students preparing for the journey ahead, and a watering hole for the rest of us who continue to learn every day!

If you or someone you know would make a great interview, please drop me a line through our Contact Us page.  They could be a social worker, community development worker, counsellor or other allied health professional, or an Elder or Indigenous community member.

Yes, I can see the irony here.  A podcast is all about talking.  So my thinking is that, the podcast is a learning tool to help all of us get off our butts and do the walking.

So if you know how to walk the talk, tell me your story.   Let’s ‘Talk the Walk’ together.

Giving Aboriginal Children a Voice – Part II

Bloopers captured in time on our crowdfunding campaign video

This blog goes out on the cusp of the release of my first children’s therapeutic picture book.  Nerves aside, it’s been an exciting but hectic week as Christine and I prepare for media interviews.  We’ve also been busy creating a crowdfunding campaign to get the community on board with our hopes for the book.  We are new to all this stuff, so of course there have been many laughs along the way (hence the blooper snapshot captured here while filming our campaign video).  If you really want to know what all the fuss is about, then maybe this Q&A might provide some answers.

What is the book about?

There are two characters in the book, a little boy called Jack and his friend Tree, who lives with his family (or other trees) in the bush.   I think the blurb on the back cover is a good summary of what happens in this story.

“Tree is living a peaceful life in the bush until a wild storm comes along and damages his environment.  His friend, Jack is worried that Tree won’t recover and be able to play with him again.  When Jack also lives through a wild storm in his home, he comes to realise just how strong they both really are.  Jack has strong cultural roots, just like Tree that brings hope and healing to his whole family.”

This story is really exploring the ‘storms of life’ that children go through and how this impacts on them.  It’s also a story of healing which comes through connection, culture and the support of family and community.

How did this story come to me?

The story was just slowing coming together in the back of my mind, mulling away there for a long time.  Then one day, I think I was in a day dream state and the idea just popped into my head.  I then went away and wrote it fairly quickly.  Often ideas come to me in my dreams day or night.

Book Cover

What are the aims of the book?  What are my intentions in writing it?

I think the book reflects what I am trying to do in my counselling work with children.  First, it’s about helping them find their voice and give words to the ‘problem story’ of their lives.  It’s also about making visible the ‘strong story’ of their lives – what is it that is keeping them going, stay safe and be happy.

I am hoping that the adults in children’s lives will use this book to give voice to the strong story of children’s lives and perhaps even document this.   This could include the skills, abilities, beliefs, values and knowledge the child has in coping and keeping themselves safe.

‘The Life of Tree’ is another resource that people can add to their tool box in their conversations with children.

Who is the book for?  Who would be interested in reading it?

This book is intended to be read by an adult to Aboriginal children who have been affected by trauma.

This book will appeal to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people care for, live or work with children who’ve experienced trauma such as domestic and family violence.  So this can include family members and foster carers as well as professionals such as counsellors, social workers, support workers or case workers.

 What inspired me to write the book?

 My biggest motivation is to help children tell their stories.  One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my work with Aboriginal children, apart from the obvious cultural and gender barriers is gaining enough trust, for children to feel that it is OK to talk about the really tough stuff.  And that what they are feeling is normal.  Kids do feel sad and angry about violence in their families.  And it’s shame and fear that really hold them back from speaking up and healing from their experience.  So in order to gain trust we need to create a safe space for the conversation.

Another motivation is to provide a culturally safe tool for professionals.  ‘The Life of Tree’ uses images and themes that children can connect to because it reflects their own cultural traditions and beliefs.  Christine has done an amazing job bringing her artistic talents to this story.  I haven’t really found any other resources like this out there.

Of course, my favourite part is the use of metaphors because this has worked in other areas of my practice.  I’ve been practicing narrative therapy in my work with children for 8 years, with groups of children in remote communities as well as in individual counselling.  I have witnessed how the use of metaphors is effective in connecting with people and creating a safe space for conversation about difficulties in their lives.   Asking direct questions isn’t always going to work, but people seem to spontaneously want to share their own story, if they hear a story that is similar to theirs.

What initially got me interested in this topic?

10 years ago I arrived in the Northern Territory virtually green from university. The first 6 months working out bush as a drug and alcohol counsellor, I drank lots of tea and did a lot of listening.  I later moved into children’s counselling and I was hearing lots of stories from women Elders about their concerns for their children and grandchildren.  I guess, I’ve always been listening for ways I might be able to meet an expressed need – that’s what community development is all about.  If there is some way I can walk alongside communities to find solutions to the problems in their communities, then there is a place for me there.  Along the journey I’ve found myself more and more in the healing space, finding ways of bring healing to people’s lives.

When is the book being released?  How can people buy it?

The book was released on Wednesday 1st March 2017.  You can access further information and a Sneak Peak of pages from the book from my online Shop.  There you’ll also find a downloadable Order Form.

 What about people who can’t afford to buy the book?

We are officially launching a crowd-funding campaign on Tuesday to raise money to send free books to communities.  Christine and I would like to put donated books into all the women’s refuges in remote communities of the NT, WA and Queensland.  We are both aware that the support for children coming into remote safe houses is pretty limited.  ‘The Life of Tree’ is one way, that Aboriginal workers in those services could engage children and directly support them.

So if there is anyone out there who would like to sponsor a book, they can look up our campaign ‘Giving Aboriginal Kids a Voice’

Christine with ‘The Life Of Tree’

7 Reasons why Social Workers should Blog

It’s scary out there but you can show new social workers the way!

Curiously, I recently searched the web to see how many Australian social workers have a personal blog about their journey.  Disappointingly, there are not a lot of us out there!

My main motivation for starting a blog was linked to my own experience upon leaving university.  During my degree, there was not a great deal written about social work in Indigenous communities and the task seemed daunting. I would have really appreciated being able to hear real-life stories about ‘how to do it’.  (Ah-hem – from real people, not academics!)

Thankfully, there are loads more academic texts and journal articles around these days on Indigenous social work.  But my vision was to offer a space for graduating students to connect and prepare for their journey through stories.  As well as a go to resource for the rest of us who continue to learn every day!

So here are my 7 reasons why you should start a blog.

1.  You can make a difference

Remember when you first started studying social work because you wanted to make a real difference to people’s lives?  Well, having your own blog is one way of teaching others about what works and how to avoid making the mistakes you made.  You will be shaping and mentoring the next generation of social workers.

2. Experienced professionals want to hear your voice

You will be surprised at the wide range of people that will benefit from reading your stuff.  Not just senior social workers, but nurses, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, youth workers and even entrepreneurs.  Some of these people don’t ‘get’ what it is we do.  Now you can show them.

3.  New social workers need to hear your voice

Social work in Indigenous communities is bloody hard sometimes.  Newcomers need to hear that!   We need people who are prepared to walk the talk, take the knocks and pick themselves back up, accept they are not going to change the world and be content to take the small wins.  So we have to tell it like it is.  I have seen too many people come to remote Australia expecting to change the world, only to leave feeling helpless because they had no idea what to expect.  Whatever field you practice in, there is a lot of work to be done and you can help prepare newbies.

“Oh, the places you’ll go and the people you’ll meet!”

4.  You can inspire people with the rewards

OK, so entrenched social problems arising from a history of colonising practices in Australia make this one of the most challenging fields of work.  But it also comes with a-m-a-z-i-n-g rewards and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, if workers have the patience and perseverance to stick around long enough to see it.  With stories about the people you meet, the places you go and the successes you have, you can inspire them.

5.  You can tell stories about the real world

Some people just want to know what ‘A Day in the Life of a Remote Social Worker’ actually looks like.  You can’t get that from reading a journal article or text book.  Stories of lived experience can teach others about the pitfalls, the challenges, the rewards, the tips and the strategies for surviving and thriving.  Blogs are authentic and practical – real world stuff!

 6.  Blogs are immediately accessible

Writing a journal article takes a lot of time and is a highly scrutinised process.  I just wanted to get my ideas, my opinions and my experiences out there.  You can write about a current issue and hit publish today.  You can start a conversation, mobilise a mob and get immediate feedback.  How powerful is that!

7.  You can earn PD points.

Having a blog is another alternative for reflecting on your practice with yourself initially (like when you’re staying out bush and you’ve got nothing else to do)  and then with all your followers who hopefully send comments.  Even the AASW recognises the value of social workers sharing their perspective and contributing to the growth of the profession.  Go to Category 3 ‘Professional Identity’ to claim PD points for ‘Presenting or Promoting the Social Work Perspective’ and claim the hours you have taken to write your piece.  Bonus!

So if this has convinced you that blogging is a good thing, go for it.  There is lots of information out there about how to get started.  Please drop us a line if you do.  I, for one, would love to be the first to read it (and comment).

The Greatest Tragedy of All Happens in my Street

The easy access of my local 'bottlo' contributes to the tragedy unfolding in my neighbourhood.

The easy access of my local ‘bottlo’ contributes to the greatest tragedy of all unfolding in my neighbourhood.

Over the past few weeks as the wet season has taken hold in the Top End, an increasing number of homeless Aboriginal people (called long grassers) are on the move.  The bus shelter across the road from our house has become a shelter, a mere stumble from our local handy-store which freely sells alcohol.  This is the site where arguments break out just after 10am daily about who is paying for the grog or the taxi, women yell profanities at their men at the tops of their voices and beer bottles are smashed on the road.  Since the Country Liberal party decided to scrap the ‘Banned Drinking Register’ 3 years ago these scenes have become all too common again.  On the weekend, my husband had to stand at the end of our driveway to motion for cars to slow down, as a man lay on the middle of the road after going biffo with another intoxicated family member.

The greatest tragedy is not that the police showed up half an hour after I called, enough time for someone to lose their life.  Nor is it that there are people passed out on the footpath day after day and how sad it all seems to be living a life like that.  The greatest tragedy is that there is most often a small child in a pusher or clutching on to their mother watching all this.

Don’t get me wrong.  All of it is extremely disturbing and very upsetting to hear and see on a daily basis.  But I can’t help imagining that this child’s future is being laid down right this very minute in front of my very eyes.

Unfortunately I don’t see an end to the drinking and antisocial behaviour in the near future.  Despite the introduction of mandatory treatment of people who break the law while drinking, the trauma, the hurt, the pain remains and the drinking continues.  I despair thinking it is too late for this generation who have most likely grown up in violence or abuse themselves.

We can change the future for the children.

But the children.  That is a different matter.  Here we have an opportunity to make a real difference.  To change things for them.  To put a stop to the cycle.

This is where I have great faith in the work of the Healing Our Children project.  The power of the project lies in working with Aboriginal women who are caring for young children to understand the impact that witnessing violence has on the developing brain in pregnancy and infancy.  It is my hope that women will be in a more empowered position to make good choices on behalf of their children.  A conscious and fully-informed decision between staying and putting up with the abuse or leaving to find a safe place, could make all the difference to the life of an accompanying child.

As I sit and stare outside my window to that babe in arms, I feel paralysed knowing there’s nothing I can do at this very moment.  I am also full of determination and hope that we can prevent this tragedy affecting the next generation.

For more information about my work with the Healing Our Children project visit Relationships Australia.

Why I do Learning Workshops, not training in Aboriginal communities!

learning-workshop

A Learning Workshop on the Tiwi Islands

One of the aims of the Healing Our Children project in which I work involves “building up the capacity of the community to respond to domestic and family violence”.  One of the issues I have with this statement is that it assumes that people don’t already have capacity.  Having worked on the Tiwi Islands for almost 10 years now, I know that there are many people in community actively responding in protective ways and resisting the effects of violence in their families.

So how do we honour what it is that people already know and do, when our aim might be to contribute to the conversation with new knowledge and skills?  My preference is to facilitate ‘Learning Workshops’, however to satisfy the needs of funders and other service providers I find myself using the language of ‘training’ with them.

Perhaps I fell into the concept of ‘two way learning’ because it fit with my values and ethical ways of practising, but there is also a lot written about this from the field of education.  The two way or both way learning approach grew out of the work of Mandawuy Yunupiŋu and Nalwarri Ngurruwutthun in Yolŋu schools in the 1980’s.   Indigenous culture and language was taught alongside the Western curriculum, acknowledging the value and worth of both world views.

One of the strongest beliefs for me is that I have just as much to learn from Indigenous folk as they may learn from me.   By introducing a concept from the Western knowledge system and inviting dialogue about it amongst the workshop participants, so much more can be gained from the experience.  In fact, the results can be quite surprising.

What would this look like exactly?  Well, here’s one example of a simple activity I conducted in a recent learning workshop on the Tiwi Islands.

You may be familiar with the widely used Abuse of Children wheel and the corresponding Nurturing Children wheel developed by Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP).   As you would understand, a learning workshop on abuse of children can get quite heavy, so I am always interested in lightening the conversation and focusing on the strengths, skills and abilities of communities.  I decided to cut up the different parts of the Nurturing Children wheel, a bit like slicing up a pie.  Each participant took a piece and talked with a person next to them about how they see this aspect of nurturing children happen in their own community.  Coming back to the bigger group, after clarifying what some of the Western ideas and words meant (some of them were unfamiliar), we came up with a list of ways Tiwi people are nurturing children.

This represented ‘Caring for Children – Tiwi Way’ and it looked something like this.

tiwi-nurturing-and-care-wheel

Out of this grew a conversation about the importance of Tiwi culture in growing up strong kids.  There was a strong sense of needing to do something for the children and families who had been affected by violence.

The Elders of the group then started sharing stories about the ceremonies and traditional practices they had used for healing and had been taught about by their ancestors.  These included smoking ceremonies for healing the good spriit and releasing the bad, and the use of white clay for strength and vitality, applied to the body in the bush and left there until it wore off.  They reflected that occasionally the traditional practice of applying white clay to the grieving widow was still happening, but there was a sense that these practices were slowly disappearing.  The women began talking about how they might bring traditional healing practices back, to take the children and families affected by violence out bush and to pass on this knowledge.

From learning to dialogue to action.  This is the power of the ‘two way learning’ approach.

I employ the same approach for everything, whether it be sharing new ideas from the field of neuroscience or introducing people to modalities of narrative therapy.  Oh, and another very important thing.  I develop the content and process of the workshops alongside a cultural adviser, and where possible they are employed and co-facilitating the workshops with me.  This ensures the whole things is culturally-safe!  It means a lot of work has already happened behind the scenes sharing the knowledge with the cultural adviser first!

The process is a piece of pie really!  Take a piece of Western knowledge and serve it up in a digestible way, break it up into bite-size pieces, allow people to chew it over and add their own flavour, and see what is spat out.  You are likely to uncover some precious tried and true recipes of community knowledge, skills and values!

References

Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP)

‘About Both Ways Education’ at The Living Knowledge project

Externalising the ‘Storms of Life’: Creating Movement Towards Healing

Top End storm over Fogg Dam. Image by I. Morris.

Top End storm over Fogg Dam.  Image by I. Morris.

What I love about using art in therapeutic groupwork with Aboriginal women is giving them an opportunity to do some gentle inner reflection during the creation process, without causing retraumatisation.  The idea from narrative therapy of being positioned on the riverbank to look at a problem, rather than feeling tossed around in the river, influenced the development of an activity we’ve called the ‘the storms of life’.  This exercise was developed with an Elder with the intention of allowing women who have experienced violence or other trauma, to observe their problem moving away from them and letting go of whatever may be holding them back.

Any kids of art materials can be used such as paint, pastels, pencils or collage bits and pieces.  The women are instructed to close or lower their eyes and imagine they are sitting on a beach, with water lapping at their feet and the sound of waves and a gentle breeze.  They are safe and comfortable in this place.  They do not have to leave this place of safety.  They are encouraged to picture a storm in the distance over the horizon, slowly moving away from them.  This storm holds memories of those things that have happened in the past, that still cause uncomfortable or painful feelings for them.  After a few minutes when the women have a clear picture in their mind, they are encouraged to draw what they see.  It is important the women stick with the metaphor and do not draw the bad things that have happened.  You may like to encourage the women to think about colour; if it is dark or light, loud or soft, heavy or light; and the presence, intensity and distance of clouds, lightning, rain or wind.

A drawing is burned on the campfire to rid bad feelings.

A drawing is burned on the campfire to rid bad feelings.

I usually give women a good 20 to 30 minutes to draw or create.  There is never any pressure for women to share their drawing however some choose to do so.  This has been a powerful affirmation with others in the group as witnesses, of women’s intentions to make one small change for themselves or their children.

The fire is a strong symbol of healing, as a gathering place for sorting out problems, sharing stories and offering support to each other.  Tiwi Elders have also used fire as a way of ridding bad spirits.  When we have run this activity on healing bush camps, the women have been keen to burn their drawings as a way of letting go of bad feelings.

It has been interesting to observe the sense of movement that is created on paper through the externalisation of ‘the storms of life’.  This movement has transferred to women as a collective following their traditional instincts of letting go of bad spirits, creating a profound sense of healing.