What can be done to promote a shared responsibility to create communities where people feel they are involved and can contribute?
The recent tragic death of a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy from deodorant sniffing, raises questions about how something like this could happen, and what we can do to stop this from happening again.
The issue of sniffing petrol and inhalants is a complex one, encompassing diverse perspectives across the health, educational, cultural and community professions. But the question remains – how can we better provide practical help that is helpful; an approach that promotes a shared responsibility in creating communities where people feel they are involved, and can contribute to the good of themselves and others? Tackling this question gives us the best possible chance of understanding the problem and preventing further loss of life.
Of course, getting answers is easier said than done, particularly as the community sector is wrestling with so many challenges of its own. One major issue is the recent loss of funding to the sector in providing services that meet the social and welfare needs of its community. In the recently published ACOSS Australian Community Service Sector Survey 2014, 80 per cent of services reported being unable to fully meet demand from their clients, with employment and affordable housing being considered as the top priority.
Commonly, failure to meet these fundamental needs can perpetuate and exacerbate other areas of concern. For example, the lack of stable accommodation can impact on physical and mental health outcomes, with the lack of income deterring food security, nutrition and general social mobility.
Additionally, the need to also connect with Indigenous culture and land can impact on access to a sense of community. Without a consistent and shared approach in providing effective support across various areas of an individual’s life, people can become further marginalised.
What’s needed is a whole-of-community, whole-of-government approach to developing a professional response that is conducive to meeting needs from a holistic perspective. This may require more of a collaborative approach between government agencies in conjunction with not-for-profit services and the corporate sector.
A further challenge for services in the community sector is the lack of professional skills, paired with limited cultural knowledge and perspectives in providing such practical help to Indigenous communities. If we expect to provide practical help that is helpful, we need to value the professional skills required to assist and address the way in which local services create initiatives that actually meet the needs of people.
It is also important to promote a more rigorous approach to the way in which we measure social and welfare outcomes at the grassroots level. A more structured, practical approach needs to be developed to meeting needs, rather than a hollow framework that would be filled with content that is not practical or engaging enough to make a real change or impact.
An example here are youth centre drop in programs; especially in the urban fringe and regional localities. Traditionally, in most of these services, there have been no specified outcomes mapped, apart from providing a much-needed space for young people. This type of service could benefit by providing a more structured approach of educational and social programs, psychosocial case management and counselling support.
Another important issue for the community sector is that it finds it very difficult to attract skilled workers, as wages are not commensurate to the complex needs of the roles they work in. The Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Industry Award 2010 went some way to addressing these issues; but securing adequate funding levels for services to operate is still a problem. It’s a problem further exacerbated by a high turnover of projects and programs due to government short-term funding, offset by wavering political perspectives on the values of social services, and the lack of recurrent funding in general.
With all these variables at play, it’s no wonder that it can be difficult to provide consistent solutions.
If we are to effectively provide practical help that is helpful, then the return on investment needs to be taken more seriously. Adequately funding a sector that employs professionally-trained people to implement models of service provision that holistically measures outcomes is needed.
Attention to the development and empowerment of Indigenous communities to be involved as professional workers in the community sector, could also occur through the up-skilling of individuals via tertiary training and professional courses.
Most importantly, we need to promote a shared approach across the wider community, rather than diminishing this as a concern for a particular community group to deal with the matter alone.