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What is the Yoorrook Justice Commission?

The Yoorrook Justice Commission (Yoorrook) is the first truth-telling process into historical and ongoing injustices experienced by Aboriginal peoples in Victoria.

Yoorrook will investigate both past and ongoing injustices experienced by Traditional Owners and First Peoples in Victoria in all areas of life since colonisation to:

  • establish an official record of the impact of colonisation on Traditional Owners and First Peoples in Victoria.
  • develop a shared understanding among all Victorians of the impact of colonisation, as well as the diversity, strength and resilience of First Peoples' cultures.
  • make recommendations for healing, system reform and practical changes to laws, policy and education, as well as to matters to be included in future treaties.

Berry Street is deeply committed to reconciliation. We recognise that the truth must be told, the truth must be heard, and that the truth must never be forgotten.

Jenny McNaughton Berry Street Acting CEO

Why has Berry Street made a submission to the Yoorrook Justice Commission?

Berry Street has heard the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s call to action and welcomes the opportunity to honour our organisational commitment to truth-telling.

As one of Australia’s largest independent child, youth and family service organisations, our submission addressed the systemic injustices within the child protection and criminal justice systems.

In 1877, Berry Street was founded by a group of women concerned about the high rates of infant mortality for disadvantaged pregnant females. Historically, our services included hospitals, residency for women and their babies, adoption and day care.

From 1877 through to the 1970s, Berry Street was complicit in racist policies that forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their countries, cultures and communities. These actions, along with others, sanctioned the large-scale removal of Aboriginal children and their deliberate placement with non-Aboriginal families, missions, reserves, orphanages and children’s homes.

We understand the reasons for removal were race-based and the goal was to assimilate Aboriginal children. We recognise the physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse inflicted on many children who were forcibly removed. We acknowledge their pain, resilience and survival.

While history cannot be rewritten, we must continue to take accountability for our actions and embrace opportunities for healing. Aligning with our reconciliation values, Berry Street’s submission captures our experience and observations of systemic racism in the child protection and criminal justice systems along with examples of efforts to acknowledge and address this.

What are the five key focus areas of our submission?

Today, Berry Street provides a diverse range of programs to 40,000 children, young people and families in Victoria each year. Our services include education, out-of-home care, family violence services, therapeutic care, parenting, family and youth services. Across these program areas, we support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children, young peoples and families.

We are mindful of how decades of systemic racism have contributed to the over-representation of Aboriginal children and their families in child protection and criminal justice systems today and the intersect between these systems.

In our work with Aboriginal children, families and communities we work alongside and in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs), and we have Aboriginal identified roles in some areas. Some of our recent data indicates:

  • approximately 40% of young people in our residential care identify as Aboriginal
  • 20% of young people who access our Take Two therapeutic program identify as Aboriginal
  • 20% of students at the Berry Street School identify as Aboriginal.

In this capacity, the key focus areas of our submission are:

  1. addressing factors influencing over-representation of Aboriginal children, young people and their families in child protection, out-of-home care and the criminal justice system
  2. building culturally respectful service systems to address cultural abuse and neglect
  3. early years
  4. education
  5. sustainable resourcing for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).

Yoorrook Justice Commission snapshot and next steps

  • May 2021 – Yoorrook Justice commission was formally established
  • June 2022 – Yoorrook delivered an interim report
  • 1 Dec 2022 – Yoorrook hearings into systemic injustices in Victoria’s child protection and criminal justice systems commence
  • Dec 2022 – Berry Street provides our submission to Yoorrook Justice Commission: Issues Papers 1 & 2 Systemic Injustice in the Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems
  • June 2023 – Yoorrook to release a critical incidences report
  • By 2024 – Yoorrook Justice Commission will deliver its final report.