Identity — a child’s sense of self Cultural considerations

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Identity — a child’s sense of self

Cultural considerations

Cultural identity is about a sense of ‘belonging’ within a community. Embrace the child’s culture — get involved. Encourage the child’s school to be involved too.

If the child in your care is Indigenous, develop a close contact with the Recognised Entity (see the section titled ‘Our commitment to providing care’).

Every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child will have a cultural support plan as art of their case plan. The cultural support plan helps to nurture and support children to strengthen their cultural identity and connection to what it means to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

As a carer, you can help an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child in your care to have information about their culture and facilitate their inclusion in important rituals and ceremonies, as appropriate.

The development of the cultural support plan will also assist you by determining what support you require to maintain and support a child’s cultural identity.

This is particularly important when a child is placed with a non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander carer or with a carer who is not from the child’s clan/tribe or language group.

How can I find out what Indigenous activities are going on?

Your Recognised Entity will be a good source of information. You can also ask your school or council about any local Indigenous activities or events that are coming up.

I am a grandmother looking after my grandchildren. I want my grandchildren to be proud of their Maori heritage — my people. I do not see that it is my job to make them aware of their Aboriginal side.

As a grandmother, you have every right to promote your Maori heritage — but as a kinship carer, you also have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure your grandchildren know about their Indigenous Australian roots. The Recognised Entity can help you.

Be aware of different cultural ways and mannerisms, and the way these can affect communication with the child in your care.

The child in my care would not look me in the eye when I spoke to him. And he turned away when I was scolding him. I thought at first, he was being rude — avoiding me and being dismissive. I did not realise it was his people’s way — to look into my eyes would have been disrespectful, turning his back was acknowledgment of having done something shameful.”

(Foster carer)

What if I am a non-Indigenous carer caring for an Indigenous child?

We will work with you to develop a cultural support plan that ensures the child maintains their connection with their family and culture. For more information, see the section titled ‘Our commitment to providing care’.

Foster Care Queensland can also put you in touch with local Indigenous foster and kinship care representatives.

Tip: NAIDOC Week — which stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebration — is held in July each year. For more information, visit

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), the national peak body for Indigenous children, has published a handbook to assist non-Indigenous carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care.

This resource, Foster Their Culture: Caring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is free for foster carers and agencies supporting carers. A free copy can be downloaded from the SNAICC website or ordered from SNAICC by calling (03) 9489 8099.


You need to respect the views of the child’s family.

The child in our care maintained that she was an atheist and that she was never coming to church with us. But at 12, we did not feel comfortable leaving her alone at home. So we asked that she just come to the venue, but not participate — at least she was near us. A year later, she is a regular face at our church. She still chooses not to participate in sacred aspects such as communion, but she is the first to join in when there is a social event!”

(Foster carer)

Baptism and confirmation

Ask yourself the following questions when dealing with a child’s religion.

  • Was the child in your care baptised before entering out-of-home care?

  • What are the parent’s views?

Children’s own views should be considered in a way that is appropriate for their age and ability to understand.

What if religion has never been a part of the child’s life — there are no feelings either way towards it — yet it is a part of our family life?

Religion is personal. Offer inclusion but do not force it. Do not be upset if your offer is not accepted by the child.

What is mine is mine

Children in care can get mixed messages about what belongs to them and what does not. Many children in care have suffered trauma and loss, and may become very attached to gifts bought for them.

You can help by being clear about possessions and gifts. Consider the following examples.

  • If the child wears an item or uses an item for grooming, it is personal, and it belongs to the child (for example, a toothbrush or hairbrush).

  • If the item is purchased using the fortnightly caring allowance, it is the child’s to keep.

  • If a child loves ‘Dora the Explorer’ or ‘Bob the Builder’, and you buy bed linen and towels with those characters for that child, they are personal and are the child’s to keep.

  • If you give a child a gift, consider it theirs to keep. Not just at your place, but forever.

  • Towels that are pulled out of the cupboard and used by anyone belonging to the household are not a personal item.

For items that do not belong exclusively to the child in care, a more practical option or solution may be to approach it as a ‘long-term loan’, or ‘for as long as you live with us’ scenario. For example, the swing set in the garden, the X-box that a number of children use or the bike that is shared. No one person owns it — it is a shared household item.

The importance of a life diary

Our sense of self is formed, to an extent, from our experiences and memories of the past. Traditionally, many children in care have grown up with disruptive and incomplete life histories.

Each child in care needs a record of their placement and the time spent in out-of-home care. When they turn 18 years old, they can apply for their official file under Freedom of Information.

The life diary is not the official file — it is a personal memoir of growing up. It is theirs to keep.

Information to put in a life diary

  • Birth family details

  • Foster or kinship family information

  • The Child Safety Officers assigned to the child

  • Medical history

  • School records

  • Details of special events or occasions

  • Developmental milestones

  • Special achievements

  • Sports, hobbies and activities of interest

You will need to gather together:

  • photographs

  • certificates

  • special toys

  • mementos of special occasions.

Keep a copy of the life diary. The child in your care, or the family, may lose the original diary (or destroy it in a temper). Having a copy saves those special reflections as well as regrets.

How to present a life diary

Life diaries do not need to be fancy, expensive or time-consuming. A photo album with notes on the back of photos (for example, date, who is in the photo, where it was taken) is enough.

It can be fun to make and it should not be a chore. Depending on the child’s age and interest, it may be an activity you can do together. Pass a copy of special photos to the Child Safety Officer to put in the child’s file.

Make sure you involve the child. Provide a disposable camera or digital camera to capture ‘a day in the life’, photographing what is important to the child.

TIP: Life diaries are a great way to unleash your creative side. Try scrapbooking or create a photo book. Search the internet or ask friends for suggestions, ideas and scrapbooking suppliers.

Foster Care Queensland has Record of Care folders available. For more information, call (07) 3256 6166.

Child Safety Services’ booklets My journey in care and Kids’ rights — Charter of Rights for children in care help children and young people understand what it means to be in care. They are available from your local child safety service centre.

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