Coming On Board Out Yarrabah Way
Joining us from Yarrabah, Justice Program Coordinator Thelma Yeatman sits down with our evaluator to discuss her time in her emerging role and what her hopes are for her community.
Thanks so much for being with us today! How long have you been working for the Yarrabah CJG?
‘I’ve been in the role for six months. I want to show my strength, and learn leadership skills and become active in my community. Prior to this, I was an Indigenous Program officer.’
And what have you learnt about the role since coming on board?
‘How vital the role we serve in the community is, whether it’s supporting our Mob when they’re involved with the legal system or lowering negative statistics and incarceration rates. That propels me to be a strong advocate for Mob and focus on stressing the legal ramifications when Mob don’t understand or if they’re unaware of their legal rights.’
I’ve learnt the importance of access to services within community and getting to know the procedures around corrections and the court process enables me to be fully present in my role and step up, especially with service providers.’
‘All of this goes back to how we manage community and give back to it. Sometimes I feel like I’m going flat out!’
What are some examples of the support you give, or initiatives you’ve started?
‘Mostly, I focus on supporting my staff, empowering them; encouraging them to look at the different perspectives to their role and ways we can be more active in community in terms of DFV. How can we educate families, how can we remove the place DFV has taken up in our culture? It’s the same with alcohol and drug abuse.’
‘I want to build capacity around how we communicate, up to and including social media. Sometimes, just having that understanding around the holistic side of things, their [a client’s] overall health and wellbeing – what are some of the things that are driving them towards addiction? Whether social or emotional. I want to empower my staff to develop their understanding when approaching that area because I come from a background that specialises in alcohol/drug counselling and mental health. Trying to change your mindset is key for Community Justice Group members, just as much as having a strong relationship with the relevant service providers is.’
‘We need to come together as one; Community Justice Groups, our clients and our service providers. We all play a part in healing and it has a ripple effect. I want to ensure our community is a healthy, thriving one and we can do that when we all work to minimise the stressors in our lives.’
‘Certainly keeping Mob away from the court system helps but I also believe in prison alternatives. We need more rehabilitation opportunities – the chance to change is owed to everyone.’
Speaking generally to CJGs, what do you see as a challenge CJG members face in navigating their role?
‘Education and awareness is the starting point, it’s where we have to begin. I often see clients come through who don’t have strong awareness over certain rules and regulations, like quantity limits on substances. And this can be exacerbated by clients who have trauma as a result of FAS, or undiagnosed illness or conditions. You know, they’re coming through a system they don’t understand and this is where advocacy plays a huge role in what we do as CJGs. We get up there and we stand up, speak up for our Mob and let Magistrates know this person [the client] may not have standard decision-making abilities.’
‘Should I continue in this role, I want a stronger focus on advocacy and language. Even legal terms are something I think should be subject to recommendations for the benefit of helping clients navigate the court system – they don’t always get that legal jargon.’
So for you, you really go on a personal journey with your client?
‘I certainly do!’
‘Obviously, front of mind is always my personal and professional values, what I can and can’t do. As a community member and leader, generally my mindset is about empowerment and walking with them [the client] together. We can only change our mindsets together, even if we’re just doing one step at a time.’
‘Let’s put it out there! Let’s do it together, collectively.’
I imagine part of that approach is making sure your client never feels alone on their legal journey?
‘Yes! We provide that heavily in our transition service. Picking them up in community, taking them to court; we even go in and sit with them whilst in court, just making sure they don’t feel intimidated or scared as they often feel fear and a lack of understanding.’
‘You wear a few different hats in this role, you’re an advocate and an interpreter. I want to be there for the client, so I take what I do seriously, even if it’s just being a positive influence.’
‘For me personally, making a difference is my aim. I feel like that’s something I carry over from my previous roles. When you work in this space enough, you see a lot of crossover – certain skills just go hand in hand, like managing alcohol and drug abuse. I see clients “masking” [such as] how they use substance abuse like a band-aid, or sometimes going to prison is also a way to “keep safe” and we need to change that.’
‘Some Mob have become reliant on seeing jail as a “safe space” and that mentality is not okay. There are other services out there to educate and empower communities and families.’
Can you speak more to how re-entering the system has become a “safe space” for some clients?
‘Over the years, it can be difficult for them, because that space is familiar and doesn’t challenge them to change. That’s why we have to work hard to change that attitude, but also practice patience and understanding. We don’t have the magic wand to make them change, so we focus on encouragement, reminding them they are important, they are loved and have that validated by community. Treating the individual and then working with the family can play a big part in keeping community safe.’
‘Let’s draw on people’s strength instead of shunning them! If I can do this in a professional role with respect to boundaries, I will.’
In this way, compassion has become an integral part of how you perform rehab and transition?
‘Yes, and we’re privileged to have a parole board that recognises that, like by way of providing us with video links so that we can talk to Mob [in prison] prior to coming back to community. We encourage follow up, checking to see if they’re okay – we see support as ongoing. Engaging and encouraging Mob to become a part of community is huge.’
What is a challenge you face in your role?
‘At this moment, I’m still learning. Everything’s been good so far!’
‘Obviously, we face the same challenges a lot of small communities’ do like infrastructure and transport issues, but I guess for me a challenge is grasping that greater understanding of the politics involved and how we can become more politically prominent?’
What is the biggest difference CJGs make by being part of a community?
‘The biggest difference we make is having the capacity to advocate for Mob.’
‘We can sit beside them, and when they can’t speak for themselves, we do – we talk to the Magistrate and we explain their background, their history. We break down what the client needs to understand, what the judge just said etc. We provide that transition support as well, family support and making referrals on client’s behalf, paperwork, administration, writing letters, information gathering, visiting Mob in prison, helping with reporting requirements.’
‘Or even just giving them advice – we do it all! The community have expectations of us that we’re happy to support.’
‘Sometimes with our Mob, they bottle it all up. No one wants to talk about what they’re going through, their feelings and emotions. In a professional setting, you want to be able to identify those things, have that ability to practice it but that starts with being able to recognise your own feelings, cultivate your own emotional intelligence. Together, you have to break it down, make sure no feels judged, discover ways to move forward.’
‘But sometimes, you just have to give them a growl [laughs]!’
It’s definitely a balancing act! We all need that good growl as much as that compassionate approach.
‘Yes! True, true. I’m grateful and lucky to have a community who recognise that I can do both and that I am just trying to be respectful, and they give me that respect in turn as I practice my role.’
At a foundational level, what do CJGs need to be effective in meeting the needs of their community?
‘Strong leadership, foremost. Dedication, commitment, strong policy making around community protocols, cultural awareness – they go hand in hand! – understanding the needs of their community, having financial support, having the necessary infrastructure, good governance, having a strong platform, dedicated advocacy roles to support Mob, having a good relationship with the Magistrate and correction facilities and parole boards, bespoke safe places and healing spaces.’
‘All of this works towards a central vision.’
‘And involving Elders! Strengthening our relationships with Elders is so essential. I’ve been going back and reading about the history of Elders to CJGs and how they stood up because they were a group of people who wanted to do something to address issues in their communities. We need to support Elders because they continue to play a big part in our services even now. We call upon them, we ask for them to share their views and give advice and they in turn stand beside us.’
Lastly, can you give me a highlight so far of your time in the role that speaks to the work you do and the impact it has had on you as a CJG coordinator?
‘Well, certainly strengthening our MOUs with the QPS. Having them on board, identifying who’s been attended to, making sure referrals are coming directly to us – that’s been a milestone. We didn’t have that in place before – same with Youth Justice in FNQ – so we can share resources. That work empowers not just our local youth but our staff.’
‘It’s not just about lowering re-offending rates; for us, a good news story is simply when we’ve worked hard to try and create a space where we can all work together.’