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Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families

In Working with a child with disability and Working a parent with disability, the importance of adapting your communication and engagement with a child or parent with disability was explored to ensure your interaction is as meaningful as possible in a way that meets the person’s needs. We also confirmed the importance of ‘starting where the person is at’ and going at their pace. When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children or parents with disability, build on these foundational concepts by developing your understanding of respectful communication.

Respectful Communication

Your communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be culturally sensitive and respectful. Protocols for consultation and negotiation with Aboriginal people and Proper communication with Torres Strait Islander people are available via the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP) website and should be used to inform your practice and guide your engagement.

The resource Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences available from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website also provides information on terminology and different types of communication. It highlights the importance of considering whether the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples you are communicating with are from urban, regional or remote settings which can support you in adhering to communication and cultural protocols.

Support an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child with disability

Child Safety is responsible for ensuring that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child subject to ongoing intervention gains the full benefits of all the disability supports and services to which they are entitled. Regardless of where the child is living, support the child and family’s participation in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) planning for the child. By partnering with the child’s family and understanding family and cultural views on the child’s disability, you will be better able to understand the child’s needs and also support the family in meeting the needs of their child. For more information on supporting a child to access the NDIS, refer to Procedure 5 Respond to a child's disability needs.

For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, they may lack knowledge about services (either mainstream or culturally specific) and have suspicion of health or government agencies who can support their child’s disability due to past government policies. Providing education and support to a child and their family members regarding their child’s disability and linking them with support services can enhance their understanding and ability to respond to their child’s needs.

Further reading

For general information on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who care for children with disabilities, read the resource ‘Message book for disability services: A resource for service providers working with Aboriginal people with disabilities’. This resource provides practice advice, cultural information and perspectives from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and caregivers which will help inform your practice and ability to respond.

Culturally appropriate services

The following story from Hayley highlights the importance of culturally appropriate services to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability:

“I grew up without being accepted. I had to choose between my identity as deaf or Aboriginal. I went to a deaf school and I didn’t have the same opportunities as my brother and sister to celebrate being Aboriginal. I’m hoping to set up a group where people like me can be proud to be both deaf and Aboriginal without feeling forced to pick one.

At TAFE they have opportunities for Aboriginal students but I wasn’t able to participate because I’m deaf. A lot of Aboriginal organisations aren’t set up to communicate with deaf people and the Deaf Society doesn’t understand my culture. I’m just tired of being left out”. (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015).

In collaboration with the child, their family and safety and support network, explore what culturally appropriate services are available to support the child with their disability. If no culturally appropriate services exist, work with the child, family and service to consider how the child’s culture will be nurtured through the services the child is accessing. Include this information in the child’s cultural support plan for regular review and discussion.

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