Father Chris Riley on National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week is coming up and runs from 27 May to 3 June. Each year, Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week highlight the issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) in a broader Australian culture. This year is no different, as we focus on equipping our first people with the abilities and tools to make a difference and close the gap between black and white Australia. What about the other 50 weeks of the year? Is Australia, as a nation, just paying lip service to issues that impact 3% of our population?

At Youth Off The Streets we respond to the needs of a community and work with young people in the area to identify a program that will best suit their needs. Each community we work in is made up of many different cultures and religions, however they have one thing in common, ATSI people are over-represented in welfare service and experience greater disadvantage than other Australians.

In our crisis accommodation service Don Bosco Home, part of the Inner West Youth Homeless Service, ATSI young people make up 14.7% of the young homeless people we help (in the last six months). This is a troubling statistic given they make up just 3% of the population.

Aboriginal young people at Don Bosco Home are difficult to engage, but our Aboriginal Services aims to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children, young people and their families and communities. They do this by offering Outreach and Early Intervention services based on proven models that are culturally appropriate and specifically tailored to meet the needs of the communities in which we operate. Our Aboriginal Services works across Youth Off The Streets ensuring the rights, needs and aspirations of Aboriginal young people are considered in all activities and programs.

We work in partnership with Aboriginal Elders, local service providers, government departments and community members with the aim of continual and lasting improvement in outcomes for the young people, families and communities involved.

This approach ensures that we equip communities with the tools to create positive change. Our vision is for all communities to work within a spirit of co-operation; accepting diversity, acknowledging strengths and supporting each other.

It’s time that we start putting our money where our mouth is, not only during Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week, but for all 52 weeks of the year. We call for more Aboriginal specific funding and make sure the government knows the need for culturally appropriate programs and support.

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