Listening to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children: Celebrating the wins, facing the challenges
Finding the secret garden
I have a secret garden, but you don’t see
I feel my family circling me with love, is this what you see?
I am the future of how you work and how you interact with me,
I am shaped by this experience
When you’re working with my parents you see our skin, poverty, and violence, but I see how you look down at me.
I feel sad that you think you know, but you don’t know me
What you see on tv, that’s not me
My culture is beautiful, is that what you see?
I see you not listen, that’s what I see
I hear my family angry because of what you say about my people, they are part of me,
I see fear, you are scared of me
but I need your help, why are you scared?
I have a secret garden, but you don’t see
The barriers to mainstream service providers working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities are well researched. At times, these barriers can seem impenetrable and positive practice can seem out of reach. With First Nations children so disproportionally represented in child protection, homelessness services and juvenile justice systems, we know that mainstream services increasingly must work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, their families and their communities and must be able to do this effectively.
At times this story of over-representation and disadvantage shapes our interactions and can create a story that might be for some but is not for all. How do you get to know the families and avoid getting caught in a story potentially coloured by white ways of doing business?
This toolkit draws from the expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consultants, practitioners, non-Aboriginal practitioners and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations. Rather than focusing on why it is difficult to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, their families and communities, it will explore how non-Aboriginal practitioners and services can develop genuine connections with Aboriginal people and communities to create the best conditions for effective service delivery; services based on respect, learning and creating shared understandings.
An Aboriginal consultant contributing to this project shared her views about her culture and how others view it:
“I feel so lucky! I am part of this amazing culture that has been here for thousands of years! Why don’t others understand this? I feel like my understanding is like a ‘secret garden’ – you know the ones that have a door that only some people can see and then when others look, it disappears? I get to see the door and go into the garden whenever I want, but others will never get to see this; they don’t know how.”
Non-Aboriginal practitioners seek clarity and guidance over cultural expectations but the fear of making a mistake and offending often prevents opportunities to learn knowledge and gain experience. The aim of this toolkit is to encourage and motivate non-Aboriginal practitioners to develop the skills and understanding to build genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities and to understand how this will benefit and enrich them personally and professionally.
“Working within the community has changed my life. I feel like I can’t work any other way now and really, this is how we should be working with everybody.” (Program Manager)
This toolkit will not be providing ‘rules or procedures,’ but instead invites non-Aboriginal practitioners to look and listen, learn and reflect, and practise the principles that support genuine engagement with First Nations children, families and communities. Through taking this journey, practitioners will be provided with an insight from the lived experience of First Nations practitioners that will support hopeful, proactive and culturally and emotionally intelligent service delivery that demonstrates respect and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
You will make mistakes and you will not know how to handle all situations, but that will be okay. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will support you if you ask questions and are respectful. This is a journey!