2018 - Family wellbeing and loss of identity

Theme: Family wellbeing and loss of identity

Hearing the voices of researchers, community members and practitioners is a vital part of the Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC's) work. On 7 June 2018 in Townsville, the QFCC heard from speakers, panel members and attendees passionate about the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The discussions that took place at Research in the Round will help the QFCC play its part in supporting the wellbeing of all families.



Panel Members:


Ms Cheryl Leavy, Deputy Commissioner, Queensland Family and Child Commission

The session was facilitated by Ms Cheryl Leavy, Deputy Commissioner of the QFCC who joined the Commission in June 2017. Cheryl is passionate about promoting and advocating for safe, caring and connected communities and reducing the over-representation of First Australian Children in the child protection system.

Cheryl has enjoyed a notable career working with both the private sector and across state and federal governments in the health, taxation, education and transport portfolios. She has served on several boards including as a representative of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Cheryl has deep experience and expertise engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations.

A Kooma Traditional Owner, Cheryl's country is in southern inland Queensland between Cunnamulla and St George.


Professor Kerry Arabena

Professor Kerry Arabena is Chair for Indigenous Health and Director of the Indigenous Health Equity Unit at The University of Melbourne. A descendent of the Meriam people from the Torres Strait, she has a Doctorate in Human Ecology and a degree in Social Work. Professor Arabena is the Executive Director and Lead Investigator of First 1000 Days Australia, an invterventions based pre birth multigenerational cohort study designed with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The model aims to provide a coordinated, comprehensive strategy to strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families so they can address their children's needs from pre-conception to two years of age, thereby laying the best foundation for their future health and wellbeing.

With an extensive background in public health, administration, community development and research, her work has made significant contributions in areas such as sexual and reproductive health, family violence, gender issues, access and equity, service provision, and harm minimisation. Professor Arabena is currently a member of the Aboriginal Economic Board of Development. She is an author and business owner; a mother and a grandmother with interests in achieving equity for all Australians.

Professor Kerry Arabena spoke of the First 1000 Days Australia project and the importance of men in Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander families.

Professor Kerry Arabena's presentation (PPTX, 59.3MB)Professor Kerry Arabena's presentation (PDF, 2.99MB)Professor Kerry Arabena - Research Summary (DOCX, 307KB)Professor Kerry Arabena - Research Summary (PDF, 490KB)

Dr Lynore Geia

Dr Lynore Geia is a Bwgcolman (Palm Island) woman, a registered nurse, midwife and researcher, and is the Academic Lead of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health in the College of Healthcare Sciences at James Cook University. Lynore is passionate about her community and in her PhD explored the intergenerational strengths of child rearing practices of Palm Island families. Lynore's vision is to see community development arising from the community itself, informing government/non-government organisations out of genuine partnership and social investment into people, more than programs.

Dr Lynore Geia described the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research methodology and the importance of celebrating strengths within Indigenous families.

Mrs Dorothy Savage

Dorothy Savage is a proud Bindal and Biriah woman from the Birrigubba Nation of Queensland. She is a Traditional Owner of the Townsville area. She also has South Sea Islander heritage. Dorothy has strong family values and cultural beliefs. She is currently employed as adjunct lecturer in Social Work at James Cook University (JCU). Her connections to JCU span many years and her career background includes 27 years working with Education Queensland. Dorothy sees her role at JCU as supporting students with academic studies and cultural and social wellbeing so they can engage in university life successfully. Her vision is to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people graduate and become leaders in their professional fields. Dorothy believes that with a strong sense of identity and belief in oneself almost anything is possible to achieve.

Dorothy has contributed substantially to the social work program at JCU for approximately seven years where she lectures in a social work subject that seeks to prepare Indigenous and non-Indigenous students for working respectfully and successfully with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. She also provides guest lectures in a number of other subjects, she has been involved in a range of research projects at JCU, and she has published in peer reviewed professional journals. Dorothy is also Chair-person of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Work and Human Services Advisory Committee. This committee won an award for excellence in 2016. Dorothy, along with Associate Professor Sue Gair - Social Work, received a citation award for outstanding commitment to leadership, learning and scholarship in Social Work education in 2017.

Dorothy's presentation Picking Ourselves Up, and Dusting Ourselves Off discussed her research findings regarding the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students and the effects of racism on family wellbeing and loss of identity.

Mrs Dorothy Savage's presentation (PPTX, 896KB)Mrs Dorothy Savage's presentation (PDF, 3.01MB)Mrs Dorothy Savage - Research Summary (DOCX, 306KB)Mrs Dorothy Savage - Research Summary (PDF, 365KB)

Panel members

Mrs Rachel Atkinson

Mrs Rachel Atkinson, a Yorta Yorta woman, has dedicated her whole working life to improving the lives of her people. Mrs Atkinson has extensive lived-experience in working in rural, remote and urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Mrs Atkinson works from a strengths-based perspective, striving for empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has a strong commitment to self determination and supporting the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people nationally.

Mrs Atkinson has over 20 years' experience as a CEO of non-government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. Mrs Atkinson is a current member of the SNAICC National Executive and Co-Chair of Family Matters Queensland, as well as a past President of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, former Chair of the Partnership for Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, and a former representative of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Reform Committee.

Mrs Atkinson is the General Manager of the Palm Island Community Company and has two degrees, a Bachelor of Social Work and Bachelor of Community Welfare.

Mrs Florence Onus

Florence Onus is an elder from the Bindol community and is a Mother and Grandmother. She is a survivor of the Stolen Generations and draws from her experiences to support and encourage others to begin their healing journey. Her many achievements include Chair of the inaugural National Healing Foundation from 2009-13 and she is currently Chair of the Stolen Generations Reference Committee.

In 2013 Florence with a small group of community leaders established Healing Waters, who partner with numerous groups to deliver healing and capacity building of individuals through education and training. Each week she hosts Tiddas Yarning Circle to support women experiencing domestic and family violence.

Mr Chris Congoo

After the presentations Mr Chris Congoo joined the speakers and fellow panel members to answer questions from the audience.

Photos from Research in the Round