Connection to culture: How Belinda is strengthening Latrobe City’s Indigenous families
Safe, respected, connected. Three vital needs that must be met for every child to thrive. No one understands this more deeply than Belinda Crawford, Latrobe City Council’s Early Childhood Leader, who is dedicated to ensuring the First Nations children in our community get the best start in life.
A safe space for children to flourish
Belinda Crawford is a proud Kurnai woman with a strong connection to her clan and culture. As Latrobe City Council’s Early Childhood Leader, she’s dedicated to creating a safe space for our most vulnerable families.
You see, safety was something Belinda’s mother and grandmother often did not feel. Growing up, Belinda was tremendously impacted by their stories of struggle.
“My mum and grandmother experienced suffering,” Belinda says. “Although they never had family members taken away, they told stories of hiding children in bushes so the authorities couldn’t find them. I’ve seen the ripple effect the stolen generation has had on Aboriginal peoples over the decades. It is just so important to give children the best start in life - that’s where my heart has always been.”
Belinda’s passion for supporting children comes to the fore in her role with our Family Services department. In the three years she has been with us, Belinda has reconnected vulnerable Latrobe City families to critical maternal and parenting support services. She’s also been the driving force of First 1,000 Days Australia - an initiative that strengthens First Nation families through cultural, educational and community support.
“The First 1,000 Days refers to a child’s first two years of life,” says Belinda, who began her career in childcare. “This is when a child’s foundation of wellness and development are established. It’s also a critical time to connect Aboriginal children and their families with their culture.”
Each year, as part of the First 1,000 Days program, a ceremony is held where Aboriginal children up to two years old are officially welcomed to country by their elders. It’s an event that holds a special place in Belinda’s heart.
“It’s a beautiful ceremony. Families get to learn more about their family tree and totem animals. It’s heart-warming when people tell us how much it means to them to feel that connection with their elders and culture. It’s a special program we’re really proud of.”
Creating meaningful change
Often, it’s the small things that have the greatest impact. Belinda sees this every day through her work with Latrobe City’s preschools. Working alongside Victoria’s Department of Education and Training, Belinda supports preschools to become more inclusive of Aboriginal families. Staff training combined with small yet meaningful practices, such as displaying the Aboriginal flag and an acknowledgement to country plaque, can make a profound difference.
“Aboriginal families are amongst our most vulnerable people,” Belinda reflects. “When you don’t feel respected, you disconnect. So, when families walk into a preschool or office and see the Aboriginal flag, it automatically tells them this is a safe space for them. They feel acknowledged and comfortable.”
And these practices are working - the data proves it.
“Over the past three years, the numbers tell us we are significantly re-engaging families - especially those with children aged two to three. It’s a massive achievement.”
The sky’s the limit
Belinda relishes a challenge. For her, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and add even more value to the community. And it’s why she loves working with an organisation that puts employee development first.
“Prior to working on the First 1,000 Days, I’d never been a Project Manager before - I was working in the facilitating space,” Belinda says. “But with the support of my manager at Latrobe, I’ve achieved some enormous learning. I’ve come to trust my instincts and know how to find better solutions.”
As a mother of three children, Belinda loves Latrobe City Council’s flexibility, which makes balancing home and work life so much easier.
“I have control over my work days. There is the expectation that I complete my hours, but how I do that is up to me. I receive a level of trust from Latrobe City Council I’ve never experienced with other organisations.”
For now, Belinda is happy in a meaningful role where she can drive significant change within the community. But she knows if she ever does want to explore other career directions with Latrobe City Council, she will be fully supported.
“I love that I’m valued. My opinions matter here. I’m part of an extraordinary team where every single person is passionate about their job. I get so much support and opportunities to grow, I don’t want to leave!”