Improved outcomes can only be achieved if effective and respectful partnerships are established between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations. These partnerships ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are involved in coming up with and implementing plans that relate to their families and children.
Planning and delivering services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people, families, and communities can be a complex task for practitioners and policy-makers. Social problems are often deeply entrenched, and need to be approached with consideration of historical, social, community, family and individual factors. Furthermore … Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are not homogenous, and as such communities can differ considerably. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities often have characteristics specific to geographic location, with significant variation evident across urban, rural, and remote communities.
(Neckowaya, Brownleea, & Castellana, (n.d.) as referenced in Price-Robertson & McDonald, 2011).
It is generally recognised that the best way to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, children and communities is to:
- work with (rather than do to)
- ensure you and your work are culturally competent
- focus on attracting and retaining the right staff (having people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in the workplace)
- cultivate useful networks and relationships.
Make a point of showing respect. Always follow proper consultation processes with appropriate cultural authorities and seek approvals and permissions.
Respect the communal nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social structures, timeframes and decision-making processes. A group may have to wait for the ‘right’ people to be present, and meetings may need to be scheduled around cultural obligations or travel considerations (especially in remote locations). Understand that the consultation process may be lengthy, as each community needs time to consider and consult.
Play an active role in the community and participate in as many relevant community events and discussions as possible. In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, word of mouth is very important, and once an outsider is known as someone who has taken the time to build trust and listen, others in the community will know they can engage with that person as well.
Have a community development focus in engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities. Community development is based on the idea that local people already know what the issues and problems are and how to solve them. The community development approach means working closely with communities and recognising the strengths, skills and knowledge of local people.
- contacting local organisations and land councils and arranging a visit to meet people in the community
- attending community open days, fair days and events
- wherever possible, attending functions in the community that you are invited to
- contacting parenting groups to get to know the parents in the local community and schools
- gaining some basic knowledge of the community, including dominant family groups, preferred names, original custodians and language groups
- organising activities in the community such as breakfast clubs, family fun days, children’s camps and barbeques. (In order to develop better relationships with families you will need to involve the whole community.)
- becoming involved in supporting local events and functions. This is a great, informal way of meeting the community and establishing relationships
- having barbecues or lunches to celebrate or commemorate significant dates in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendar. This is an excellent way to introduce yourself, your service and staff to the community. Be involved with the community and demonstrate your enthusiasm to the community
Obtaining cultural advice
Practitioners need to build their own cultural capability to ensure the methods they use are respectful and culturally sound and value the knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The main sources of information are:
The child or young person and their family—A child or young person and their parents and family are the primary source of cultural knowledge about the child or young person. Start with them, because they are the most appropriate source from which to obtain advice about this.
Child Safety—The cultural practice advisors, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders, and colleagues are valuable internal resources for you to consult with and seek advice from. They will have knowledge of the community you are working with and of the protocols to be followed. They will be able to provide you with guidance on the most effective and culturally appropriate ways to work with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families and communities. Where possible, seek advice from within Child Safety first before approaching staff from external organisations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations—There are many of these organisations throughout Queensland. If you take the time to develop a genuine connection with them and nurture these working relationships, they will be willing to provide you with general cultural advice and guidance to assist in your work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, children and young people.
When workin with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
- familiarise yourself with the area in which you are working
- use the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups map or a phone app to get to know the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language group/s in your area. Learn the history of those groups
- research relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land councils and other service providers and develop partnerships with them
- learn the preferred names to use. Does the group from your area prefer to be referred to by the clan/language group name?
- create a relationship with your cultural practice advisor and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander regional practice leader and colleagues
- organise a cultural information session for your office on the community history and dynamics of the area. This could be given by a local Elder
- make the workspace culturally welcoming. Display geographic posters/maps, have the flags in a prominent location, and have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the foyer. (This could be a project with children.)
- develop useful regional/service centre initiatives and resources to educate staff
- practise and deliver an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of meetings or events hosted by the service centre
- if there is a need to have someone present as a representative of the original custodians, ask Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander staff members. They may be able to deliver the Welcome/Acknowledgement or recommend someone else. Alternatively, you can organise this through your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land council.
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