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'Economic reconciliation' key to addressing child welfare: Canadian innovator

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A visiting Canadian social innovator says Australia needs to focus on “economic reconciliation” to address Indigenous inequality and increase autonomy.

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The McConnell Foundation president and CEO Stephen Huddart visited Adelaide yesterday to speak to philanthropists and social sector workers about Canada’s approach to social issues including public policy and reconciliation for Indigenous people.

Huddart, who was invited to speak at a forum held by Philanthropy Australia and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, said that, like Australia, Canada was grappling with a growing number of children in out-of-home care, the vast majority of whom are Aboriginal Canadians.

Latest figures show Aboriginal children account for nearly half of all foster children in Canada, despite representing only seven per cent of all children.

In Australia, one in five Aboriginal children grows up away from their parents.

Huddart told InDaily governments and community groups need to reassess the economics of current child protection systems.

“We’re spending all this money to prop up a broken system [and] it no longer makes economic sense, not to mention judicial sense, to perpetuate a system that is so dependent on a group being broken or not having the autonomy to do and say what their preferences are,” he said.

“There’s more to this than just apologising and moving on – now we have to build the economic structures, the institutional arrangements [and] the shared commitment to each other’s futures.”

The concept of economic reconciliation has only recently emerged in Canada and involves what Huddart describes as incorporating “Indigenous ways of seeing, knowing [and] acting” as part of a community-based approach to self-governance.

“We talk about scaling up but it’s also about scaling down to the community level, the family level, and looking at how is this system being held in place and where can we innovate to bring better outcomes,” Huddart said.

“Investing in the reconciliation economy is a priority for us (Canadians) and for others and I think it’s part of that effort to reduce the gap in wellbeing and access to resources.”

Huddart gave the example of the Winnipeg Boldness initiative, a social innovation project which aims to improve the welfare of children and families through Indigenous-led consultation and “polycentric” governance.

“Boldness borrowed the Maori idea of integrated family-centred decision-making whereby case workers have to cooperate with each other to develop integrated strategies and support options for families,” Huddart said.

“[They also] came up with a doula initiative – a non-clinical care-worker who supports a mother through her pregnancy and through the birth.

“We, and the people that we support, have to be prepared to truly live with the problem [and] the people who are living with the problem are people in communities who have the wisdom, the experience, the hopes and desires to do something better.”

Kaurna Nation Cultural Heritage chair Jeffrey Newchurch, who attended Huddart’s presentation, told InDaily he was interested in learning more about the Boldness project.

“It’s like what we’d like to do here in Adelaide,” he said.

“The government brings people together [but] that’s under a controlled system – it’s not under a system where the Aboriginal people have got the ability to control their pathways.

“It (Aboriginal child-welfare) is an Aboriginal problem – solutions will come from Aboriginal people.”

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