Appreciation for birth-certificate program

Mary Coleman goes through birth certificate application forms for her two sons with Aboriginal Birth Certificate Project coordinator Hilton Naden and Shana Haurua.

From joining a sports team to gaining a driver’s license or opening a bank account, a birth certificate acts as a passport to many of life’s milestones.

All Saints Catholic Primary School Liverpool hosted a sign up day on October 20 for the National Aboriginal Birth Certificate Program (NABC), which aims to provide birth certificates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who don’t have one or whose births have not been registered.

The free service is a partnership between non-government organisation Pathfinders and the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The sign up days hosted by two Sydney Catholic schools were open to the broader community including families who attend local government schools.

About 50 applications were received at All Saints’ with applicants coming from Liverpool and as far afield as Maroubra, Campbelltown and Bidwill. The visit follows one to Bethlehem College Ashfield on October 19 where more than 35 applications were received.

There’s still a huge stigma in regards to anything to do with government.

– Elizabeth Burke

Sydney Catholic Schools Education Officer: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, Elizabeth Burke, said the program met a significant need in the community.

“It’s all of the things our families can’t access without a birth certificate that make the program so important,” she said.

“Boys can’t do football or join any sporting events and girls the same, because they need a birth certificate to register for sport. Quite often families will make excuses and say ‘Oh we don’t want you to get hurt or injured or ‘Not with that mob’ rather than say ‘Look we don’t have your birth certificate’.

“Older students transferring into work or apprenticeships don’t have a proof of birth to access those things or to apply for their own Medicare card, or driver’s license, or access government funding for anything.

“The sign-up days have been amazing. Some families have older children who are registered and with birth certificates but they haven’t done it for the younger ones yet so it’s a chance to get it all done together.”

National Aboriginal Birth Certificate Program Coordinator Hilton Naden said the program was funded to provide about 7,500 birth certificates to people who needed them in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, and the ACT. Close to 50 per cent of those have already been applied for in NSW alone.

A lot of the kids need a birth certificate before they can transition to Kindergarten and from primary school into high school.

– Hilton Naden

“Staff from Births, Deaths and Marriages join us at sign up days and we sometimes bring a Justice of the Peace along to certify documents,” he said. “For any application they need at least three forms of identification, preferably a Medicare card because it links the children to the parent or applicant.

“We do have grandparents come in to apply for their grandkids. A lot of our mob are a bit scared to apply because they think they are going to get fined for not registering their child, or there’s a penalty incurred. That’s not the case. It’s all free of charge.”

Mrs Burke said there were a number of reasons many Aboriginal families had children whose births were not registered, and that fallout from the Stolen Generations may also be a factor.

“It may be leaving the hospital without having decided a name,” she said. “There’s still a huge stigma in regards to anything to do with government – the idea that by registering your child that means they can take them.”

Mr Naden said misinformation was also part of the reason there were high numbers of the Aboriginal community whose births are not registered, with many believing they needed to pay a fee.

Though the program is for young people from birth to age 21, the organisation is receiving many phone calls from outside the age group and beyond the areas where sign up days have been held as word spreads through the community.

“We do have older people applying because they just haven’t had a birth certificate in the past,” Mr Naden said.  “We’ve been inundated by phone calls and requests to go to a lot of marketing days and sports events for sign-up days. We’ve tried to streamline process so people aren’t waiting long.

“It’s necessary because a lot of the kids need a birth certificate before they can transition to Kindergarten and from primary school into high school. It’s much appreciated that the principal and the school have gone out of their way to help us.”

All Saints’ Primary Principal Christine Scanlon said she was pleased the school could offer the community support through the sign-up day.

“We do what we can for the community,” she said. “We do have indigenous students and get a lot of refugee families and our aim is to make everybody feel welcome as a parish community. This is something extra we can do.”

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