Child Placement Principle in action



About the organisation

The Palm Island Community Company (PICC) is a not – for- profit organization which was established in 2007.  It is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation committed to principles and protocols of self-determination through the provision of whole-of life services for people of the Island that reach across generations.

It is innovative, community driven and designed to support and strengthen the social, cultural and economic fabric of the Palm Island community.

It has focused on building the social infrastructure of a remote Island, creating local jobs and delivering vital human services to the community. PICC is supported by the belief that the residents of Palm Island are entitled to have ready access to a range of reliable, high quality human and social services like those to which most Australian’s have easy access to.

PICC’s vision is to create A healthy, resilient, and productive Palm Island. Values of responsiveness; empowerment and empathy; leadership and responsibility; integrity and productivity; engagement; transparency and accountability guide all the work of the Palm Island Community Company.

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The community

Palm Island, the main inhabited island of the Palm Islands group, is 50 km east of Ingham, and 70 km north of Townsville. It is part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and whales can be seen in Palm Passage.

In 1918 Palm Island was selected by the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, to replace the cyclone damaged Hull River Aboriginal reserve north of Tully. Over the next 20 years dispossessed Aboriginal people were removed to Palm Island, notorious for its conditions and harsh supervision. Employment opportunities were very restricted, and most families were dependent on relief payments. Forty-two language groups were brought together on Palm Island. They called themselves Bwgcolman (‘many tribes’).

In 1957, angered by the treatment of women and a cut in wages, residents staged a ‘strike’. Ringleaders were identified and they with their families were expelled. The community aimed for greater social determination and a community council was formed in 1966 but dismissed in 1974. Assessment of Palm Island at that this time found that Palm Island was still being run like a penal settlement with heavy restrictions including on movement of its citizens. Departmental rule and supervision ended in 1986 when a new community council was given title to the island.

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The challenge

With limited relevant services to support families, parents or individuals concerning issues relating to Child Safety. Parents and families lacked support and information to empower them, to understand their rights when liaising with such as Child Safety, Magistrate Court, Family and Domestic Violence Services.

Under the Act our families lives were controlled, as a result families, especially our older people are still scared of government intervention. They think that white people are still there to control them, so the transgenerational trauma of those times is still very strong in our people. It has created a lot of fear and makes it hard for families to trust.

So, when the opportunity came up to create a Safe House, we saw this as an important step to support our children and families. The Safe House provides placements for up to four children and young people who are subject to ongoing intervention by the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women. Typically, resident children are on Child Protection Orders and are referred by the Department.

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Outcomes achieved

“We help our children and families to learn to live with one another. As we have  over 40 different tribes, we have learnt to live with one another and survive and adapt – these will be important skills for our children to learn from us”

One of the strengths of PICC is that we have a stable staff and have built strong relationships with families and services. Departmental staff change all the time, and this is difficult for us, but one of the reasons it is important that the Department pay attention to our knowledge as we are the constant in families lives and will be able to drive the greatest changes.

Doing whatever needs to be done, we can support families move through whichever program it is and get the service they need – families should not need to worry about or care who is funding the service – they just need the service and we are the ones that have to adapt and provide flexibility

We have established and strengthened relations with individual, families and the community. We focus on good connections, communication, and we work on being consistent with clients to drive positive results, even if we cannot create change, we keep trying because we are committed to our families.

We have raised the profile of our services through promotional events and activities and developed strong partnerships with stakeholders.  Most importantly we have empowered our families by providing information and support in their interaction with other services.

“But respect is our most important ingredient in driving our outcomes. The most important thing to create change is trust and this cannot happen without respect.”


Our recent independent impact evaluation found that:

Local Indigenous knowledge – The local Palm Islanders working for PICC ensure that culturally safe services are delivered appropriately.

Connector – PICC is improving health and wellbeing outcomes through empowering Bwgcolman families and the Palm Island community. PICC helps connect Palm Island residents with the right services at the right time and facilitates the connection between families and highly specialised human services providers.

PICC is relevant (wanted and valued) by most community and stakeholders. Almost all staff surveyed (91%) felt that working for PICC allows them to contribute to making a positive difference in their community and that PICC was focused on achieving positive outcomes for the Palm Island community.

To deliver the right services to the right people at the right time in the right way requires skilled local staff and cultural knowledge. PICC has enabled approximately 400 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander staff an opportunity for employment and to develop their skills and capacity. PICC has been able to contribute to improving programs and policies through thought leadership, advocating for community members, consulting with community, showing compassion and challenging the status quo.

The literature supports community-led decision- making, self-determination and empowerment as important mechanisms for improving health and wellbeing indicators.


Stakeholders and staff say that without PICC it would be very difficult to connect individuals, families and the community to the right services they need at the right time. Services say that working with PICC enables them to deliver culturally appropriate services and to engage with clients and community. As well as connecting people to services, PICC also delivers effective high quality funded services, evidenced by program performance reports, quality audits and client outcomes. PICC has had to be creative and innovative to maximise potential outcomes from what may be limited, constrained or short sighted, or short term funding agreements.

How has your model supported?

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Lessons learned

  1. Listening and working with other services and sharing ideas to create a strong case plan with your families is very important to driving success.
  2. Not everything goes to plan there will always be some conflict, disagreements amongst families or other challenges. So, it is important to monitor the journey of families, adapt your practice to suit family’s needs, analyse the gaps in the service or develop a program based on their needs. It is always important to be reflecting on how you engage with families including your own communication style.
  3. The five elements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle: Connection, Placement; Prevention; Partnership, Participation are wholly integrated into our service and at the heart of how we practice.
  4. Attending trainings with other services increases your knowledge, including better understanding of what they deliver and how to better your program most importantly it also lets you better yourself.
  5. Every Community has a different view on their upbringing, so as the FPP we must know the dynamics with the families and must have strong relationship with our stakeholders and have a good communication with our clients & other services by switching language between us.

What would you like to do in the future?

We would like to strengthen our data collection and even possibly develop a data base that will let us capture our outcomes more substantively.

It would be good to establish some more formal partnership agreements which may assist us in enhancing service delivery for families

Having a strong service model would enable us to advocate more for reunification and change our relationship with the Department. Many of our families are still very afraid of the Department. Having an ability to draw on our evidence and challenge departmental decisions, would support us to have greater self-determination and give our families the feeling that we are finally moving from out from under the act.

Key messages

The Cultural Leadership provided by the staff at PICC, drawing on their local community knowledge and experiences is providing children and their families with the opportunity to strengthen their own identity helping them build pathways to their stories and history.

It also allows enables culturally adaptive programming, ensuring that programs are meeting local community circumstances. This includes being able to adapt to the local cultural context, including responding to emerging issues and stresses. This increases not only cultural safety for families, but also ensures that more families are able to access services that reflect their understanding and are supported to build greater skills within a culturally supportive environment.

Cultural Connection for children and families is critical to healing and strong social and emotional wellbeing. We know that strong cultural identity is a pathway to building resilience for children across their lifetime.

Research demonstrates that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people who are removed from their families, experience poorer physical, psychological, and social outcomes than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are not forcibly removed (Hunter et al 2020)

Recent reviews of current practice urge practitioners who are supporting children and adults who are experiencing intergenerational or more current trauma, the connection to culture supports healing and recovery, because of the protective and resilient properties it imbues (Menzies, 2019).

This highlights how important the work of the PICC Family Wellbeing Centre, Safe House and Family Participation Program is undertaking in restoring children and families to a strong identity, growing their cultural connections and supports. The importance of this framework for practice cannot be overstated.