Calling out for Aboriginal carers

Carers Shane Matini and Lynn Orcher.

OF the 700 children and young people living in out-of-home care in Canberra, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples  make up 26 per cent, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.  

But the crisis doesn’t stop there. It’s currently stretching across the whole of Australia says the Canberra regional manager of ACT Together, Rebecca Jeffrey.

There is an urgent need for Aboriginal carers but there is also a desperate need for any carers, she says.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander foster carers are needed to build a child’s identity and connection to culture,” she says.

ACT Together helps connect children to their culture through the indigenous child placement principle, which outlines that children should be placed with their extended family first, a member of their community second, another Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person third and with a non-indigenous carer as a last resort.

Carers Lynn Orcher and Shane Matini have a five, nine and 10-year-old in care with them as well as their own biological children.

Lynn is an Aboriginal woman who works with the Care and Support Team at ACT Together and Shane is a Maori, and a big sports lover.

Both Shane and Lynn were from less-fortunate and poverty stricken towns, which became a driver for them to give children something different.

“Shane and I felt we were needed to be carers to give the children a predictable and stable environment to grow and be healthy,” Lynn says.

“We foster because we’ve seen the desperation in communities that is there, the entrenchment and the issues through family.

“We foster because we care. We do it because we enjoy it and it brings life to our home having children around.”

Indigenous culture plays a large part in their own home and keeping the traditions alive is very important to them and their children.

“We keep that positive in their life, because it’s their identity and they need identities, especially in today’s world,” Shane says.

“If they can hold on to one thing, and that’s what they have, they can cherish that and move ahead in life.”

Lynn says that their home is filled with large, wooden-framed Aboriginal art and around the home the family uses “Aboriginal slang”.

“The kids pick up on that, and it’s all very much in jest that we do. We talk all day and every day about home, we return to country,” she says

“We also like to engage with the birth parents and the children’s case worker around learning their family history, genograms, life story work.

“It’s not just about Googling, it’s about taking the children back to where they’re from, working through their cultural plans with them to expand their education and knowledge so that when they leave care or when they leave us, they have a fairly well-grounded sense of their culture and heritage and where they’re from.”

The 10-year-old girl in Lynn and Shane’s care came to them without a strong sense of her culture.

Recently during after-school-care she discovered an untapped talent in Aboriginal painting, which Lynn says gives her peace and adds to her identity.

Lynn says it’s moments such as watching her paint where the rewards of a carer far outweigh the challenges.

“We’ve had challenging behaviours that have come through our doors,” she says.

“Nothing that we haven’t seen too far from what our own children have been through over the years.

“They just want predictability and stability, and to know that there’s adults in their lives that they can depend and rely upon to keep them safe.”

Information about foster care via 1300 933 678

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