Creating culturally safe spaces for… | Alannah & Madeline Foundation Skip to main content

Courts might not be a place you’d picture children spending much time in, but unfortunately, it happens all too often.

That’s where Cubby House comes in. Cubby House is an Australian-first initiative, that provides a safe haven for children and young people. It's staffed by qualified and experienced youth workers and provides a much-needed positive environment for children who often feel vulnerable as decisions are made about their futures in court.

Koori children, especially, are over-represented in the Children’s Court. Marram-Ngala Ganbu, Koori Family Hearing Day, aims to provide a more effective, culturally appropriate setting to create better outcomes for Koori children and their families.

The setting of Marram-Ngala Ganbu is different from the mainstream court. Instead of sitting in the front row with a lawyer at the bar table and the magistrate on the bench, everyone sits around an oval bar table “to have a conversation as a family as opposed to a hearing,” says Ashley Morris, Gunditjmara man, and Manager of Koori Services and Programs at Children’s Court of Victoria.

Marram-Ngala Ganbu is one example of fostering cultural safety. According to the National Office for Child Safety, cultural safety is “more than 'cultural awareness' and 'cultural sensitivity'. It empowers people and enables them to contribute and feel safe to be themselves.”

Ashley spoke about the significance of culturally safe spaces for children within the court environment.

“It's really important in our roles to make sure that people feel comfortable and safe and like they are part of the process, especially in the Family Division. And the environment plays a big factor in that. If it's a sterile, clinical environment, you're not going to truly engage in the process,” he explains.

During Marram-Ngala Ganbu, children and young people are empowered to share their voices. Cubby House stands beside them, offering support and a safe environment whenever they need it.

“Often young people will really want to come to make sure their voice is heard, and we might get a bit too overwhelmed with the process. We'll reach out to John upstairs at the Cubby House, and they can hang out up there while the adults do the adult stuff,” explains Ash.

Transforming Cubby House into a more culturally safe environment

The Cubby House at Broadmeadows Children’s Court isn't a Koori-led or Koori-designed service, so Ashley and his team engaged local providers to gather Koori-specific resources to make sure there were appropriate resources for children to fill in their day. These resources included books from local traditional owner groups and Koori colouring-in pages.

The young people really enjoyed being able to use stuff that they were connected with,” says Ashley.

How the Cubby House and Marram-Ngala Ganbu teams work together to help young people feel safe

With such a close relationship between the teams, the parents know that it's safe for the children to be up there at Cubby House while they attend Marram-Ngala Ganbu.

"John is amazing with the families and the kids. It’s so helpful to be able to tell the families that there is that extra support,” explains Kristen, Koori Services Coordinator.

“He is always bringing things up and down the stairs, like toys, colouring books, and activities for the kids to do while they wait around. It makes a difference. He does amazing work...and really prioritises that child while they’re waiting.”

The Marram-Ngala Ganbu team explains that the children they work with often look forward to going back to Cubby House. Whether they’re hopping on a PlayStation with the youth workers, watching a movie or having a nap, the young people know they have a safe, calm space to wait in.

“That's the beauty of Cubby house,” says Ashley. “Before Cubby House, that young person would have just had to sit out in the foyer or not be here at all, sitting at a department office pending the outcome of a court hearing.”

At Cubby House, we're proud to work alongside the Marram-Ngala Ganbu team and be guided by their wisdom in creating culturally safe spaces.

We will continue to be guided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure our work is culturally safe for Koori children.

Learn more about Cubby House