A cultural training program has been running in the southern Perth suburb of Armadale and has been providing Indigenous and non-Indigenous carers with essential skills to help develop the cultural identity of the Indigenous children in their care.
According to the Department of Communities, more than 50 per cent of children in out of home care in Western Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The number of Aboriginal foster carers across the state is 23 per cent.
Two years ago, three Aboriginal staff members at the Armadale Child Protection and Family Services office created the Cultural Space Initiative, a program to help carers understand the importance of culture for First Nation’s children.
Whadjuk – Ballardong woman Renee Ronan has been working in the Child Protection industry for 14 years and has been a facilitator for the Cultural Space initiative since the beginning.
“Sadly the number of children in care exceeds the number of family carers that we have who are able and willing to care for children, so we do end up with quite a few children in the care of non-Aboriginal carers,” Mrs Ronan told NITV News.
“So it’s really important that these carers are given the tools to expand on their cultural knowledge so that they can support the children in their home,” she said.
Mrs Ronan said she and the other program creators, Natasha Kickett and Lauren Lawrence, developed the program after they noticed carers would ask similar questions about Indigenous culture and they felt a need to provide more cultural education to benefit both the carer and the children.
The program pairs carers with Aboriginal elders and was developed to connect carers with the local Aboriginal community, establish the ongoing support needs of carers of Aboriginal children, and to increase carer’s understanding of the cultural support needs of the children.
Activities run in the program include cooking, braiding, weaving, Aboriginal mental health first aid, and cultural planning for carer’s children.
Non-Indigenous Carer, Sarah Nottingham has been caring for children in the Armadale area for the past nine years and currently has a seven-year-old Aboriginal girl in her care who has been with her since birth.
“So everything I’m learning here is helping me to teach her because she had quiet little connection with culture, so this is the only way I can learn things to pass onto her,” Mrs Nottingham told NITV News.
Mrs Nottingham said she has seen improvements in her child who has developed a sense of pride in her Indigenous heritage.
“She’s starting to recognise that she’s an Aboriginal girl. At first, she went through a stage where she didn’t really have that interaction and that connection to culture, she was seeing that as a negative thing, so that things I have been able to learn and take back to her, she’s now quite proud to be Aboriginal,” she said.
The program facilitators said they feel a responsibility to the Aboriginal community to ensure children in care gain a sense of connection to culture.
“In our own perception of protecting children one of the key areas is for us to impart as much cultural knowledge as we can to the children,” Mrs Ronan said.
“It’s important that we engage local Aboriginal elders, community, and businesses to come in and impart this knowledge with us to the children to both support their families of origins and their own life and development over time,” she said.
At the moment, the Cultural Space initiative is only run at the Armadale office but the Department of Communities hope to have similar programs rolled out in other districts.