Children’s Ground is disrupting the status quo to give First Nations children better outcomes

by Women’s Agenda
Tuesday 11 October 2022

First Nations child with cucumber on their eyes and laughing

Not-for-profit organisation Children’s Ground has a bold change agenda.

With a 25-year strategy, the First Nations led and designed organisation wants to end the enduring injustice and disadvantage facing First Nations children, families and communities. The idea is to work within communities to break down barriers and walk alongside children for an entire generation, giving them the best opportunity to thrive.

The approach at Children’s Ground is two-fold. First, partnering with First Nations communities to deliver services (from within the community) that address five key pillars of wellbeing: learning, health, community, culture and economic opportunity. Second, Children’s Ground is undertaking a 25-year longitudinal evaluation of its work, gathering evidence to prove its community-led approach to change is working.

Children’s Ground is already using this emerging evidence to advocate for change to education and health systems that have been failing First Nations communities for generations.

Cherisse Buzzacott, a proud Arrernte woman and Head of Health at Children’s Ground, said it’s essential First Nations people are able to take the lead when it comes to creating lasting change in areas like education, health and wellbeing.

“We are the makers of our own future, and we hold the strength and knowledge to ensure that our little ones are growing up with culture, language and identity,” Buzzacott says.

“[At Children’s Ground] there’s a strong importance in allowing us to take back the control that was taken from us and leave First Nations people to determine how education and health and wellbeing can be delivered within a system that is developed by us rather than imposed onto us.”

“It gives us the power to make decisions on what is best for our children and the way in which they learn every day, which occurred thousands of years before colonisation.”

According to Arrernte Teacher Specialist Felicity Hayes, western style education is not working for First Nations children, and it’s important First Nations communities take the lead.

“It’s really hard for our little children to go to mainstream preschools and schools and understand,” Hayes explains. “The children have different first languages that are learnt at home with parents and grandparents and English can at times be a fifth language.”

“This creates a huge disadvantage for our children needing to face the challenges of beginning their education whilst learning a completely new language and culture.

“If we take the lead in this ourselves, as we should, then we remove this disadvantage. We also have thousands of years of knowledge on how to do this, so it is important we have the lead.”

Veronica Turner, also an Arrernte Teacher Specialist, agrees, and says learning on country is essential.

“Before we ever had any chance to speak up for ourselves, somebody would tell us what to do and how to do it. This has never worked; we were taught in the mainstream way instead of our own language and ways,” Turner says.

“We didn’t have the chance to read or write in our language. We didn’t have our culture because of this, and this wasn’t taught, but when we really learned it was on country with family and grandparents teaching us. They were our teachers on country. 

“They held the knowledge strong and passed it on to all of us. They knew what was right and it balanced our mainstream learning.But this shouldn’t be an afterthought anymore, this approach should be leading the way.”

Executive Director of Mecca M-Power, Lisa Keenan, said the approach of Children’s Ground should be supported and celebrated.

“The Children’s Ground approach is built on First Peoples ways of ‘knowing, being and doing’,” Keenan says.

“It elevates the voices of women as the holders of ancient knowledge, the glue that binds families and communities and the drivers of real economic and social change. 

“It envisions a future for First Nations children of better health, a keen sense of identity and culture, economic independence, and an ongoing connection to Country as well as the global community. If we can get it right for kids, we can get it right for everyone.”

Looking into the future, Cherise Buzzacott says it’s a goal of Children’s Ground to be able to hand the power back to First Nations communities, and prove the approach is working.

“For too long we have been dictated to on what is best for us. We have the solutions and the knowledge, kept strong by our Elders, we just need the uplifting of our voices to allow us to make a meaningful impact, especially when it comes to health and education,” Buzzacott says.

“System reform, adoption of the Children's Ground model across all First Nations communities, giving strength and power back to First Nations people.”

And, as Veronica Turner makes clear, we need to invest in children, because they are the future of First Nations communities.

“We want to see our children be strong in our language and English. Keeping our language and culture strong will keep them strong as well,” Turner said. “This will make them strong role models who can lead the way, they are our future.”