Ann Oakley (née Hawke) founded Kinship Connections in 2012. She is a descendant of the Yawuru people from Broome on her grandfather’s side (Hawke family) and Gooniyandi people from the East Kimberly on her grandmother’s side (Cox family). Ann is the third generation in her family to have been affected by government removal policies.
Immediately before starting Kinship Connections, Ann worked in the Department for Child Protection for some 6 years as a Senior Field Officer within Fostering Services. She worked first as a trainer on best practice fostering but soon moved into recruitment and assessment of potential Aboriginal foster parents. Her achievements include:
- Delivering the “Supportive Learning” training Package to relative carers and Cultural Awareness in Fostering across the sector for non-Aboriginal carers.
- Reversing the trend of potential Aboriginal carers dropping out during the assessment phase, and helping them become and remain long-term registered carers with the Department. Her practical interventions enabled the Department to substantially increase its numbers of Aboriginal carers.
- Assisting Department Case Workers and non-Aboriginal carers across the metropolitan districts to access and establish durable kinship connections for children in their care, and observing how much better the long-term outcomes were for these children. It was this particular aspect of her work that gave Ann the idea to establish Kinship Connections WA, a unique approach to supporting Aboriginal families caught up in intergenerational contact with the Department for Child Protection and Family Support.
Ann’s knowledge and expertise continues to be sought by the Department and other agencies on a regular basis. She sits on the Foster Care panel for CPFS and, and is a key resource on Aboriginal and fostering issues across the NGO sector in WA. Her detailed knowledge of kinship relationships across the Aboriginal community is frequently called on by CPFS (previously known as DCP), and she takes a growing number of after-hours calls on this issue.
Ann brings wide-ranging life experience and skills to her work with Kinship Connections. She was taken into care herself as a young child aged 4 years old and lived with foster families and in institutions until she was aged 18. On leaving care, she went through a very difficult period which lasted for several years. She felt she belonged nowhere and she carried a great deal of psychological pain both because of being removed from her family – and kept away from them, and from her sometimes less than adequate experiences of being a foster-kid. In one 12 month period she had a total of 13 placements.
Later, when she had got her life back on track, she became a birth parent to 4 children, and a foster parent to some 40 children, including her own grandchildren who had been taken into the care of the Department. One such child who proved to have Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was given into her care aged 10 months and now aged 24 still lives with the family; this has given Ann practical insight into the challenges of raising children with undiagnosed developmental delay. Ten of these years were devoted to fostering teenagers who knew they would be leaving care shortly, which together with her own experiences enables Ann to have a deep insight into the hopes and fears of these young people as they approach their transition out of State care. She maintains relationships with almost all of these young people.
Ann knows firsthand how out-of-home and institutional care can strip people of their identity, Aboriginality and self-respect, and leave them wary of showing affection or developing attachment bonds, even within their own families.
Because of these tough life experiences, Ann has a unique capacity to relate to people and families caught up in the Child Protection system. She is able to track down and engage with children’s wider family networks in order to find family members who are able and willing to engage with the child or young person – and with the Department. Ann has developed a number of programs and processes that specifically address:
- supporting the identity and stability of Aboriginal children in care,
- meeting the emotional needs of Aboriginal children transitioning out of State care
- preparing Aboriginal parents for re-unification with children that have been apprehended
- teaching non-Aboriginal carers how to successfully raise Aboriginal children in their care.
Ann has extensive qualifications for this role: she holds a double degree in Aboriginal Health and Community Development, and post-graduate qualifications in Indigenous Healing Arts, gained from Sydney and Curtin universities. She is a qualified Private Investigator, a training she undertook in order to track extended family members for children transitioning out of State care. She is an experienced trainer, delivering Cultural Awareness and Aboriginal Parenting Perspectives training to foster families and organisations.
Ann began her career working with Aboriginal Elders who were members of the Stolen Generation through a HACC program delivered by SouthCare, where she introduced Healing Art Therapy so that they could address their direct experiences of Historical Trauma. She established social programs to enable the Elders to reconnect to their extended family and to friends; and she ensured that they connected back to culture through attending funerals and celebrating NAIDOC, among other activities.
She next moved to work with Manguri Aboriginal Corporation, supporting a group of notorious Homes West tenants who were all members of deeply troubled families because of previous government policies. These policies had effectively broken down family cohesion and social norms. The team enabled all 12 families to maintain their tenancies, and to maintain and repair their properties. The agency also worked closely with a specialised kindergarten to introduce childcare norms to these families, and to prevent any further removal of children; Ann’s team were responsible for ensuring attendance at kindergarten. She provided counselling to the families on keeping children safe, and on complying with DCP requirements.
During this period Ann was invited to sit on the Juvenile Release Board, a position she held for some 5 years.
From Manguri, Anne moved to work at Crossroads West with Aboriginal children and young people transitioning out of State care. This role gave her further frontline experience of just how difficult this transition can be. Whilst working at Crossroads West, Ann was invited to sit on the Adult Parole Board, and saw how all too often young people exiting State care, and inadequately equipped to live independently, came into repeated contact with the Justice system throughout their adult lives. During this period, she was Vice Chair of the WA Foster Care Association for some 5 years.