Wirkara Kulpa, the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy is a first for Victoria and the nation. It has been developed in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy Steering Committee and the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

As the Executive Officer and representative for the Koorie Youth Council and the co-chair of the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy Steering Committee, it has been our fortunate position to be able to advocate, guide and drive the ongoing dialogue that has shaped this unique strategy to be underpinned with actions, strategic drivers and principles that will lead to genuine outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people who are involved in youth justice and abroad.

As a member of the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, it is important that this strategy builds on the movement and foundations laid by the Aboriginal Justice Agreements, community-led reports and driven by Aboriginal community leadership in partnership with government. Caucus members have played a key role to ensure this strategy was built with young people and community by young people and community.

I still clearly remember the first meeting Caucus and the department had around the strategy, in which Caucus strongly recommended a new direction that was underpinned by self-determination and genuine partnership. To the department’s credit, I would like to acknowledge the steps the department has taken to work in genuine partnership with community and Caucus through the whole process of the development of this historic strategy.

This Strategy creates the framework for a new way in defining and leading supports for some of our communities most vulnerable members. As we know, for Aboriginal children and young people who come into contact with the justice system, systems and services that are meant to support them have been known to turn them away, inflict harm and push them further into the quicksand of the justice system.

I recognise the significant steps that this strategy represents in turning the tide of over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system, but we must not rely on this strategy alone. The strategy presents the framework, but the action is in the responsibility of us all.

It takes a community to raise a child and this strategy helps paint the picture to practice this. It starts with ensuring our systems and supports empower our children, young people and families to have a voice, to recognise Aboriginal cultural values and connection and ensure that our systems value the strengths of Aboriginal children and young people.

In 2018, KYC released the ‘Ngaga-dji: hear me’ report calling on the Victorian Government to actively take steps towards change in the youth justice system and to truly hear the voices of Aboriginal children and young people. This included challenging and reframing the narratives negatively perpetuated about our children and young people who come into contact with the youth justice system.

This report called upon systems to truly understand the unique role that culture, family, Elders and community play in the lives of our children and young people.

Prevention starts with community and ends with community. We must support and elevate community designed and led youth support systems that move away from punitive approaches to those which understand the holistic, collective and active work that prioritises and centres the importance of Aboriginal children and young people to be with their families and communities.

It is through this collective work that we can ensure we walk with our children and young people, as has been done in our communities for over 2,500 generations.

I want to acknowledge the role of all the children and young people who put their trust in us to create this strategy. As co-chair, know that we hear you and we will strive to support you always.

I also want to thank every single supporter, organisation and/or individual, who has worked on this strategy, in particular the team at Aboriginal Youth Justice. Your collective work with Caucus and the community through the whole process has been great.

As highlighted in the Koorie Youth Council Ngagadji report, let’s walk together with the leadership of Aboriginal communities to continue to break down discrimination and injustice to ensure that our children and young people grow up happy, healthy and strong in their culture and community.

Indi Clarke
Co-Chair Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy Steering Committee
Aboriginal Justice Caucus member and Executive Officer, Koorie Youth Council