The Evidence Portal


Critical Element

Self-determination is a founding principle of cultural safety (Ramsden, 2002). The right to self-determination for Indigenous peoples is affirmed in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and endorsed by the Australian Government. What this means within the Australian child protection context is the source of much debate (see for example Davis, 2019). Whilst acknowledging that scholars and sectoral representatives have argued that self-determination is not currently enacted as a guiding principle in Aboriginal child protection (Davis, 2019), it is identified in policy framework documents and the research literature as a critical element of cultural safety (see for example Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services, 2019). This indicates that much work is to be done by government agencies to enable self-determination and within the sector to determine what self-determination means in relation to early support service provision, and how this can be translated across the diversity of service offerings.

There are a number of activities that service providers can adopt and adapt to ensure that Aboriginal clients feel safe and empowered. Self-determination within service delivery begins, however, with Aboriginal people meaningfully leading, designing and implementing services (Davis, 2019). This will ensure that programs for Aboriginal clients are informed by Aboriginal culture, cultural protocols and ways of knowing.

Some activities are listed below but it needs to be remembered that what may work for one child or family or community, may not work for another, and therefore self-determination should be negotiated with the local Aboriginal community for each service context.

  • Respecting the right of Aboriginal families and communities to choose not to engage in program offerings (Davis, 2019). Past policies of child removal and assimilation mean that Aboriginal families are often reluctant to seek assistance from government agencies or NGOs.
  • Co-designing and implementing services with the local Aboriginal community will ensure that their needs are addressed and their values and beliefs are acknowledged. To enable this level of participation, organisations need to build meaningful relationships with members of the local Aboriginal community.
  • Whilst it is the right of the Aboriginal client receiving services to determine if they were culturally safe or not, it is the responsibility of the service provider to seek feedback from Aboriginal clients to enable them to assess whether their services are experienced as culturally safe. Asking Aboriginal clients for feedback, including whether they feel heard and supported, as well as whether they are happy to continue working with a particular service or practitioner is important. Feedback should be collected in a way that protects the confidentiality of clients. And should itself be conducted in a culturally safe manner. It has been suggested that using person reported experience outcome measures may increase use of client feedback.

Implementation activities include:

  • Cultural safety initiatives are directed and guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners and others with local cultural expertise and/or authority.
  • Co-design services with the local Aboriginal community to ensure that their cultural knowledge, values and beliefs are embedded in service offerings, and that community support needs are addressed.
  • Seek feedback from Aboriginal clients on their experience of receiving support and feelings of empowerment.
Last updated:

25 Mar 2022

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