Keeping Aboriginal Children Connected

As part of the National Foster and Kinship Care Conference, children’s Services Provider, Key Assets and foster carer, Marlie Burgermister presented on the importance of keeping Aboriginal children connected with their culture.

Key Assets Cultural Practice Leader, Tony Calgaret says a child’s cultural connectedness is essential to the development of a strong cultural, community, family and individual identity.

“Nurturing the essential human need to belong, to know where one ‘fits’ and to know one’s story is an essential component of caring for any child who is not able to live with their family, or remain in their community and, or cultural group,” Mr. Calgaret says.

“Sadly, Aboriginal children make up 52 per cent of children in care in WA. It is vital that cultural planning for children in care is of the highest priority.”

Key Assets launched their Reconciliation Action Plan earlier this year and as part of their commitment to increase cultural responsiveness, they developed and introduced ‘My Cultural Plan’—a plan that links the child to people and resources to help enhance their knowledge, connection and experiences of their culture.

Key Assets WA Assistant Director, Brenda Yelland says the cultural plan for children was developed in consultation with the community.

“My Cultural Plan comes with an information booklet for Noongar children and a My Cultural Storybook is also in development—a place to put photos, information and stories gathered. Children receive a cultural welcome pack which contains their plan, a journal, a blanket with their own personal cultural design, a jar for collecting things off country and other bits and pieces,” Ms Yelland says.

“The plan was developed in heavy consultation with the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Group which includes a community Elder and an independent Aboriginal professional, as well as the local Aboriginal community. We are also seeking feedback from children in care on an on-going basis.”

To introduce the plan to carers and staff, Key Assets held workshops and training sessions.

“We held face-to-face training sessions and workshops for staff and carers, run by our practice manager. All new carers are also introduced to the plan, policy and resources.

“We’ve collected a lot of resources for carers and staff to be able to access information, children’s books, videos, community organisations and more to help aid in the learning and exploring of a child’s cultural background.

“We hope that by sharing our cultural plan today, we inspire other organisations in the sector to implement a plan to keep Aboriginal children connected to their culture,” Ms. Yelland says.

Key Assets carer, Marlie Burgemister has been fostering for four years and is looking after a sibling group of three Aboriginal children aged 2, 5 and 7 years.

“It is extremely important to keep children connected with their culture. Children need to develop a strong sense of self to help build their resilience. They need to know where they have come from, who their family is, their family stories and their language to develop a sense of who they are,” Ms Bugermister says.

“We have a very strong relationship with the siblings’ family. This connection had not previously been made. We have built close connections with local Aboriginal community members who have contributed greatly to our learning and have given us ideas and information on how we can incorporate the culture into our daily lives.

“As a family, we are learning the local Aboriginal language. The eldest child is teaching her class one word a week which is great to see. We have set-up a culture corner that has books, music, traditional musical instruments, dolls, audio books, cushions and chairs covered in Aboriginal print.

“We all wear something of culture each day whether it’s a bracelet or a hair tie. We also take tours run by Aboriginal people, attend galleries, celebrate significant days such as NAIDOC week and Sorry Day. We learn about native foods and medicines and are planning our own Noongar edible garden.

“One of the children pointed out to organisers at a recent welcome dinner in front of a crowd of about 60 people that they had neglected to up her flag—the Aboriginal flag! It was a proud moment for me to see how proud she is of her culture and also how much her confidence has improved since coming into our care,” Marlie says.