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Parental mental health

A report by Judy Atkinson for the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse reports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians' experience of child welfare removal policies has been devastating. The consequences of these policies have long-term social, physical and psychological impacts for those directly involved, as well as their families and communities.

Due to systemic abuses and discrimination, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents may be fearful and suspicious of government agencies. These worries may be magnified by a parent’s mental illness. This is important to understand in order start to build trust with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.

Think beyond mental illness and diagnosis

If there are worries about a parent’s mental health, seek to understand their life experience including any history of violence, oppression and trauma. Think beyond a diagnostic explanation of a parent’s behaviour and into their cultural experience. This will help to understand how to best build safety for children and avoid pathologising families because you do not understand their culture or story.

‘It is sometimes difficult to know what are the sociocultural norms for different expressions of affect and behaviour. It requires learning about Aboriginal culture, being guided by Aboriginal people, and developing appropriate mental state examination skills…  Care must be exercised to avoid stereotypical attributions that can suggest psychological problems.’

(Sheldon, 2000).

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