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Supporting care arrangements to be culturally safe

There are many ways to ensure the care arrangements for an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person is culturally safe. This means, they would be provided with a safe and positive environment where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity and they would be supported and nurtured by the carer and their family to be themselves to speak their language, express their culture, their spiritual and belief systems. (Source: SNAICC https://www.supportingcarers.snaicc.org.au/connecting-to-culture/cultural-safety/).

Legislative requirements

The legislation in relation to the placement of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children requires that every effort is made to explore options for placement, with priority given to the child being placed with their family, community or clan where possible. (Child Protection Act 1999, section 83(4)).

The Child Protection Act 1999 Section 5C, recognises Safe Care and Connection as an intentional practice approach in relation to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children that:

  • Recognises the right of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples to self-determination,
  • Considers the long term impacts of decisions on a child’s identity, connection with family, culture and community
  • Includes the five elements of the Child Placement Principle in all components of our work – prevention, partnership, placement, participation and connection
  • Acknowledges that families are the best source of information relating to their culture, traditions and customs

When an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander child is placed in care, including a respite placement, consideration must be given to:

  • the views of the child and parents
  • ensuring the decision provides for the optimal retention of the child’s relationships with parents, siblings and other people of significance to the child under Aboriginal tradition or Island custom
  • placing the child, in order of priority with (Child Protection Act 1999, section 83(4) to (8):
  1. a member of the child’s family group
  2. a member of the child’s community or language group
  3. an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is compatible with the child’s community or language group
  4. another Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person
  5. a person who lives near the child’s family, community or language group who can ensure the child’s connection to kin, country and culture

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship placements

The most appropriate placement option for an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander child is with their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander family members. Family supporting children they did not give birth to is a common and expected kinship structure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

As explored in the Seeing and understanding section, children have many aunts, uncles, mothers, sisters and cousins. When these family members take on a formal role in the child protection system, their role changes from being aunty to being an approved kinship carer, bound by many rules and expectations.

It is the role of the practitioner to help the kinship carer adjust to both roles, and work with the kinship carer to still be aunty and maintain their role in their family, while also working in partnership with Child Safety.

Note

Consider how intergenerational trauma may impact on the assessment, approval and support of kinship carers.

What support has the kinship carer identified they will need to provide for the child’s safety, wellbeing and belonging needs?

There are many benefits to kinship care. There are also many potential barriers to safely supporting the kinship carer and the children in care. For example:

  • The relationship between the kinship carer and their family may be strengthened or may deteriorate. It is important to nurture the relationship between the kinship carer and their family, as they may be the main members of the safety and support network for them and the child.
  • Family members may not like that the kinship carer receives a foster carer allowance for caring for a child when there are many informal care arrangements in the community where family members don’t get an allowance.
  • Family members may see the kinship carer working with Child Safety and exclude the kinship carer from family events.

When developing the placement agreement with kinship carers, be aware of these and any other worries the kinship carer raises. Encourage the kinship carer to open up by using appreciative inquiry questioning techniques and asking if they are aware of any other community members who have experienced something similar and how they handled the situation.

Drawing on the kinship carer’s strengths to overcome their worries will contribute to their sense of control and power of the situation, as well as reinforce the kinship carer as the decision maker in their own life (rather than them perceiving Child Safety as ‘taking over’).

Family contact when children are with kinship carers occurs naturally if the kinship carer and the parents and extended family members have positive relationships. If there are any safety issues, discuss the ability of the kinship carer to supervise the child during family contact. Explore a range of ‘what ifs’ to come up with a safe contact plan. If your assessment finds that the kinship carer is able to support or supervise contact, consider if the kinship carer is open to having family members visit the child in their home and attend family events together and support regular phone calls between the children and their family.

Practice prompt

Kinship carers facilitating family contact may be one strategy to increase the child’s connection to culture and help them feel culturally safe.

It may also contribute to regular family contact in rural and remote locations when Child Safety staff are not readily available due to the geographical location of the Child Safety Service Centre.

Care arrangements with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers

The placement of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children with non-Indigenous carers should only be considered after all other options have been extensively explored.

Prior to placing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child with a carer who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, practitioners need to ensure that the child’s proposed carer is committed to:

  • facilitating connection between the child and their family members, unless restrictions have been imposed under the Child Protection Act 1999, section 87
  • helping the child to develop and maintain a connection with their community and language group
  • helping to maintain a connection with their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander culture
  • preserving and enhancing the child’s sense of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identity
  • implementing any actions required of the carer within the child’s cultural support plan

If a child is to be placed with a non-Indigenous carer, the person must live near the child’s family, community or language group and be willing and able to ensure the child’s connection to kin, community and culture. This will include continuing to support the child to visit their parents, siblings and extended family, to attend events of cultural significance and participate in daily activities and rituals which the family hold as important to help develop and nurture the child’s connection to culture and community. 

The carer should be supported to seek out and continue learning culturally specific information in relation to the child, their family and community, which can be provided to the child as per advice and guidance from the child’s family.

Tip

The best way to find out specific cultural protocols for children and their family is to speak with the child, parents, family and support network and where appropriate, document as a record of what is important to their family.

Attention

When an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is placed with a carer who is not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, Child Safety must continue, in partnership with the placement agency, to regularly review the child’s placement and continue to attempt to arrange a placement for the child within their family, community or language group, in accordance with the order of priorities in the Child Protection Act 1999, section 83(4) to (8)

Tip

To learn how to understand the benefits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being connected to their culture, please read further, https://www.everyonebenefits.org.au/connect-to-culture

Care arrangements with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers need extra support to ensure the placement is culturally safe. Some ways of supporting care arrangements to increase the cultural safety include:

Informed and culturally safe placement agreements, can include:

  • the child’s language group, country and what contributes to their cultural identity, how they can feel culturally safe, and any languages they may wish to speak.
  • the carer’s negotiated undertakings for family contact arrangements
  • training/educational information for the carers to learn about the child’s culture
  • what the carers may do in the placement to support the child’s connection to culture and country

Informed and culturally safe cultural support plans, can include:

  • the child’s language group, country and what contributes to their cultural identity, how they can feel culturally safe, and any languages they may wish to speak.
  • who in the community will contribute to the child’s connection to culture and how
  • visits to country (if not placed on country)
  • the family’s wishes for the child’s culture and who is responsible for teaching the child. (For example, the uncle teaches the nephew to fish and hunt rather than the father.)

Having carers and the family members regularly meeting to share stories about the child and seek the family members’ input into the child’s routine, learning and connection to culture. As part of this, the carer:

  • can meet with the family before and after family contact to develop a relationship
  • facilitates regular family contact
  • invites family members to doctors’ visits and school events and to their house for special occasions.

How to support differences in child rearing practices

Being aware of and integrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ child rearing practices helps children and families feel that they belong, and supports important cultural practices. Understanding and embracing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing strategies is crucial in ensuring continuity for children between home and care arrangements.

Here are some tips about how to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child rearing practices:

  • Seek out and respect families’ values and beliefs about child rearing.
  • Encourage the family to come together to connect.
  • Support families in their parenting role.
  • View children as independent, capable beings.
  • Keep in mind that children can be responsible for looking after each other, so it is not appropriate to separate children’s activities according to their age.  This also means older children may be responsible or supportive of younger children’s routines.
  • Don’t blame a child harshly if he/she is wrong.
  • Accommodate the children’s sleeping routine and arrangements.
  • Respect the views expressed by the child and try to negotiate where possible to satisfy them and their needs.

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