How sad I was, listening to the comments, on ABC’s AM the other morning, by twelve year old ‘Elise’ (pseudonym) from Kununurra, who someday soon “wants to stop stealing, breaking in…’cause it’s bad. I want to be good and have a happy family.” The story revolved around the issue of children, some as young as eight, roaming the streets of Kununurra in Western Australia, because it’s safer than being at home.
The same problems have been occurring in towns in western NSW for years. Aboriginal Elders and community members have repeatedly expressed their concerns to successive Governments, worked with under-resourced department officials, participated in numerous initiatives, but their concerns are not being allayed, in fact they are growing.
More and more funds are being poured into programs in schools, where Principals are tasked with providing everything from clean showers and breakfast to transport services and after-hours support. Teachers are expected to provide the guidance, encouragement and structure normally reserved for and undertaken by, parents. But they only have six hours a day with the children who, in some cases, only show up because if their attendance drops below 80% it affects the payments their parents receive.
We have created a problem that no one wants to truly tackle. Those who are closest to the problems can see what needs to happen; unfortunately the decision makers spend little or no time in communities and don’t like taking advice. How can we continue to polish our ‘developed, First World’ veneer whilst children in our own back yard are living in Third World conditions? How long are we going to allow them to be used like a debit card at the ATM?
Occasionally, very occasionally, there are wins. Children who are able to see there are many paths to be chosen if you have the right directions. It must be these few “wins” and small gains in self-respect that keep teachers and overworked, under-resourced departmental staff from becoming totally overwhelmed with the task at hand.
At least they’re ‘having a go’.