Funding cut gives birth to fears for Aboriginal maternity service Moort Boodjari Mia

Rekeisha Voss of Ellenbrook with Hunter (5 months).
Picture: David Baylis   d449657
Rekeisha Voss of Ellenbrook with Hunter (5 months). Picture: David Baylis d449657

Moort Boodjari Mia (family, pregnancy, home) provides free, “culturally secure” pregnancy care to indigenous women and their families in the north metropolitan area.

The program was part of the national partnership agreement, Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health. The North Metropolitan Health Service said an ongoing funding source “had not been identified” and staff contracts would end on June 30.

A federal Health Department spokeswoman said states and territories had primary responsibility for child and maternal health services.

Pregnant teenagers, substance abusers and partners at risk of family violence and homelessness are among the 200 women supported since the Aboriginal-led program began five years ago.

In 2013, the Midland-based service won the team excellence honour at the HESTA primary health care awards.

“This program has been hugely successful and developed a great reputation among the community and maternity sector,” a senior health worker said.

“Pregnancy and birth outcomes for Aboriginal people are appalling… funding this program is an investment in the health and wellbeing of families.”

A local health manager said to establish a culturally secure health service took months of relationship building in the community.

“This is a service trusted by the local Aboriginal communities,” she said.

“In many cases, Aboriginal women fear their babies will be ‘removed’ after delivery.

“Intergenerational trauma is common. Most families have a living relative who was removed from their home; a child of the stolen generation.”

Babies born to Aboriginal women are twice as likely to be underweight than those born to non-Aboriginal women.

Moort Boodjari Mia helped close the gap, with 94 per cent of mums on the program giving birth to newborns weighing 2.5kg (5.5lb) or more in 2014-15.

“The State Government consistently promises to close the gap, but instead it’s closing the door on a proven solution for Aboriginal babies and families,” the health manager said.

“If we don’t provide a safe place for young Aboriginal women, they don’t turn up for health clinic appointments.”

Aboriginal mother Rekeisha Voss, of Ellenbrook, said her family had experienced the trauma of stolen generations.

She became pregnant with daughter Elyra in the year she was about to graduate from high school.

“I had my mother’s support, but I felt vulnerable,” she said.

Support from the MBM program extended beyond the safe delivery of her two children.

Through the program, she connected with linked services and completed her education while living independently.

“You get to know staff on a personal level, the service they provide is not text book and there is no judgement,” she said.

“It’s more like seeing a kind aunty; you learn how to become a parent in a fun and comfortable environment.”

Ms Voss (23) achieved a diploma in beauty therapy at Tafe and works part-time while caring for her family.

Maternity and child health researcher Jenny Dodd has worked closely with MBM since the service began.

She said attendance by Aboriginal women at antenatal clinics had increased by 74 per cent since 2013.

“Before the MBM program, most of those women would have waited until they were in labour before seeking maternity care.”

In the last financial year, the Department of Child Protection and Family Support had an open file with about 20 per cent of MBM clients.

Ms Dodd said less than two per cent of babies were removed from their mother’s care, a result she attributes to ongoing work between MBM and the department.

The Close the Gap – Not Maternity Services Advocacy Group is petitioning Health Minister Kim Hames to save the maternity program.

More than 21,500 people have signed the online petition, which is at: