Law and Order CPU: Care and Protection Unit Corey Smith, fourth year Law student, UNSW
“I now do consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about Care and Protection law and I feel more inspired than ever to actually go out and make a difference to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our country.” Jim Carrey once said that “life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.” Now I admit that Mr. Carrey is probably one of the most mentally unstable Hollywood celebrities around, but I’ve always liked this quote and I think it encapsulates my attitude towards university, and life in general for that matter, pretty well. Last summer was certainly no exception for me. Yes, I can tell you’re just dying to hear what I got up to over the uni break and who I worked for - you’re probably even thinking “but Corey, you have so much going for you, is there really anything else that you can possibly add to that amazing CV of yours?” A perfectly valid question but as it turns out, yes there was. You see I got an email shortly after I finished my exams from the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS). They wanted two law students to intern with them throughout the holidays. I’ll be honest though, I was a little hesitant at first. I mean come on, I just finished the third year of my degree and I already committed to supervising the pre-programs.
Corey Smith, UNSW 4th Year Law student. Image supplied
Oh, and I was also doing some part-time work for the George Institute thank you very much. Okay okay I’ll admit it, I was pretty tempted to spend my break lazing around like many a uni student before me. However, my inner Jim Carrey proved too strong and I simply couldn’t let
this opportunity slip by. After giving an amazing interview, sorry, but it was pretty good, I got offered one of the intern-ships. I was absolutely over the moon and the placement proved to be one of the best experiences of my life. Kyron McGrath, who I now consider a close friend of mine
received the other placement. Alright, I think it’s about time that I actually discussed what kind of work Kyron and I did. Firstly, for those of you who don’t know, the ALS is an organisation that gives free legal advice and representation to Indigenous peoples. In NSW the ALS has two
departments - one is the Crime department and the other is Care & Protection. My internship was with the latter and essentially the practice represents parents and children in child protection matters. It’s an area of law that I had very limited experience with, but I have to say this prospect actually excited me; I think it’s important to do things outside your comfort zone every now and again. The work proved to be quite challenging and I say this for a number of reasons. Our clients themselves all face a number of social issues, the most prominent being substance or alcohol abuse. It’s a sad reality that Aboriginal children make up close to 45% of children in out of home care. I found it difficult at times to listen to our clients describe their lives and how
they ended up having their children taken off them. At the same time it allowed me to open my eyes up a little more and I came to realise that nothing in this area is so clear cut. It’s easy to read a client’s file and cast judgement, but when you actually take the time to talk to them you start asking bigger questions like “what happened in this person’s life that led them to this point?” Most often it turns out that our clients actually experienced a lot of trauma as children. This is not to say that they should escape responsibility for their actions, but I think it’s important that we focus more on the “why” question so we can create better policy in the future. For the most part of my internship I took instructions from clients and liaised with the Department of
Family and Community Services on their behalf. Often I would be asking for more contact hours between our clients and their children. However, the most important aspect of the ALS’ work is ensuring that the children are going to a culturally appropriate placement. Essentially this means advocating for the child to live with extended family or with an Indigenous foster carer in the community. I believe it’s incredibly important that all Aboriginal people are at least given the chance to learn about our culture - we simply must learn from past mistakes. In particular, I am alluding to the Stolen Generations. Overall, I loved working for the ALS. I got to do a lot of clientbased work and this is a godsend to any Law student.
I think we spend a bit too much time with our heads in text books - not that I don’t love reading a few thousand pages on different areas of law every semester. I also got to actually prepare submissions and cross examination for court, so I was very relieved that I wasn’t just pushing around paperwork and buying my boss coffees. I now do consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about Care and Protection law and I feel more inspired than ever to actually go out and make a difference to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in our country. Whilst we have a long way to go, I do believe we are getting there one step at a time. So thank you ALS for this opportunity and thank you Mr Carrey!!
For more employment opportunities whilst studying at UNSW please contact: Jeremy Heathcote, BSocSc, Indigenous Employment Coordinator, Tel: 02 93852514 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Nura Gili Centre for Indigenous Programs, Electrical Engineering Building G17, UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES, UNSW SYDNEY NSW 2052 Telephone: 02 93853805 - Email: email@example.com - Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org - Website: nuragili.unsw.edu.au