Creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for families in East Kimberley

2 April 2013

Robert Reichel has a vision for the Ningkuwum-Ngamayuwu Aboriginal children and family centre he manages at Halls Creek, a small town in the East Kimberley region of WA.

“We want this to be a family-friendly place that people feel comfortable in attending to get a range of services and help — what we’re trying to deliver is an integrated model,” says Robert.
“To make sure that when an Aboriginal person walks in the door, no matter who they are or what place they come from, that without them leaving, they can get the help they need.”
The children and family centre at Halls Creek has been operating since January 2012.

It is one of 38 new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and family centres being established across the country by the Australian Government in partnership with state-territory governments.

The centre is a joint venture between the Wunan Foundation — an Aboriginal development organisation and the lead agency in the partnership — Little Nuggets Early Learning Centre and Save the Children Australia.

The facility consists of three separate areas: the licensed child care area is in the middle, while on either side are the medical consulting rooms and the family centre, which contains a dedicated education and training area.

Robert’s aim is to create a ‘one-stop shop’ for Aboriginal children and families in Halls Creek, bringing as many existing services together in one place to change what he calls a “fragmented” delivery of services in the town.

Breaking down the barriers
He believes a one-stop facility would help break down the barriers to accessing services which sees, for example, only 20 per cent of Aboriginal residents in the Halls Creek area currently accessing medical services.

Robert says a priority for the centre in 2013 will also be to identify and close major gaps in the provision of services. He says providing more and better- structured support programs for parents and carers (such as grandparents) is one such gap that needs addressing.

Little Nuggets, which has provided child care services for the past eight years, runs as a separate entity with assistance from Wunan. The child care service has five full-time staff and six casual early education officers. Little Nuggets has places for up to 6o children, but is currently providing services for 20 to 25 children.

Halls Creek has a population of around 1400, with Aboriginal people representing 75 per cent of the population. It’s a fast growing and young population — Robert estimates there are 300 children in the area — and has a high proportion of young mothers.

The demographics create a huge challenge to meet the needs of families and children — a challenge made bigger by the low incomes and high unemployment rates of Aboriginal residents at Halls Creek.

Adding to the challenge is recruiting qualified child care workers, which Robert says is a difficult task for a number of reasons, including the remoteness of Halls Creek and a lack of accommodation for prospective staff.

The centre is working hard to secure Child Care Benefit (CCB) funding to be able to offer subsidised child care fees so that more children can attend the service.

According to Robert, Wunan’s aim is to build the capacity of Little Nuggets as a viable business so that it can eventually take over running of the whole centre.

A lack of certainty in government funding beyond June 2014 is a major obstacle in realising the goals of Little Nuggets and the children and family centre as a whole.
The uncertainty is making it even harder to recruit staff and to attract existing services to use the facility as their base if they potentially have to relocate in 18 months’ time.
Creative solutions to meet needs
Budget restrictions and a shortage of staff have led to creative initiatives to meet the needs of families, such as holding playgroups which come at no expense to families.
“What we quickly realised is that we must broaden our approach to early education and we chose the playgroup model,” Robert says.

“This year we’ve been able to expand from three to five days a week. We’ve employed five Aboriginal women to run those programs and, in consultation with other agencies, we’ve broadened it so that we have a different focus on each day of the week.”

In an informal setting, the playgroups deal with a range of issues — from early education to medical, legal and housing issues, nutrition, language, culture, art and music.

“We’ve had some fantastic success there,” Robert says. “Some of the women that have come on board as playgroup leaders are showing great leadership potential, now they’ve been given the opportunity to express it. “They are passionate about what they’re doing and reaching out to the kids and their own people, all local Aboriginal women. They are feeling very good about being able to learn themselves and then teach others how to raise their kids in a better way.”

(Author: Giuseppe Stramandinoli. Publication: SNAICC)

Topic: Education