What does ‘family’ mean in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture?
Family is the cornerstone of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, spirituality and identity.
Family is often more broadly defined within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture than within white culture. Those involved in children’s lives, and helping to raise them, commonly include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and members of the community who are considered to be family.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a complex system of family relations. Extended family relationships are the core of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship system that are central to the way culture is passed on and society is organized.
The kinship system is a complex system that determines how people relate to each other and their role, responsibilities and obligations in relation to one another, to ceremonial business and to land. These systems vary across Australia.
Why is it important for a child to be in contact with their family?
How can I help children to keep a connection with family and community?
Part of your role as a carer is helping children to stay connected to their family.
Tips for supporting ongoing family connection
- Keep parents informed about events/achievements in the child’s life. This could include school sports day, concerts or sporting events.
- Keep a Life Story Book for the child.
- It is important for the child to know you don’t view their family negatively.
- Avoid blaming or criticizing the child’s family.
- Talk to the kids about how they feel about seeing their family. Be prepared for contact to stir-up some mixed feelings – anger, sadness, confusion.
- Plan ahead. Talk about travel arrangements in care plan meetings. Be sure to let the caseworker know early if you are unable to take the child to visits.
- Prepare children for visits. Be sure the child is dressed neatly and appropriately for the occasion.
- Don’t forget special occasions like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays or anniversaries.
- Encourage the child to take items to share with their family. For example a school art project, photographs, homework, or their Life Story Book to share with family.
- Be there for the child after the visit – ask questions and listen to the child if they are ready to talk about it.
- Provide various options for different kinds of contact, for example, phone, e-mail, Skype, writing letters, or sending photographs or art works.
- Speak with respect to family members and when speaking about them to others.
- Ask the family about cultural events and activities that they feel are important for the child to attend and be involved with.
- Share stories with parents about activities and events you have taken the children to.
- Learn more about Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture.
“It’s a team effort – you as the carer family, the worker and the parents – we’re all important to the kids.”
“I don’t really like the parents but I never put them down. I try to be positive and say to my child you have two sets of parents who all care about you.”
“I took my child to Kempsey from Sydney to visit her birth Mum. I think they both really appreciated that.”
What can I do when contact with family is difficult?
Yes, carers will at times find family contact challenging.
Challenges may include:
- Mixed emotions toward the child’s parents relating to issues of abuse or neglect.
- The child’s challenging behaviour before and after a visit.
- Resentment and anger toward you from birth parents.
- Parents trying to see children outside arranged visits.
A guide to managing contact that is difficult: