Kinship care plays a vital role in ensuring the cultural preservation and well-being of First Nation children. Kinship Care involves family members or close community members stepping in to care for a child when their biological parents are unable to do so. Families want to play an active role in caring for and providing for children who cannot live with their mother or father. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children are not in a stable statutory kinship care placement despite the Child Placement Principles having been implemented nationally for nearly 4 decades.
In her recent thesis, Dr. Annaley Clarke looked at factors to improve placement stability. The research considers Assessmment and Training from the perspective of the kinship carer and explores familial and non-familial kinship carers and whether the kinship carer identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. The research undertaken by Dr Clarke provided an important framework for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families when recruiting, assessing, monitoring, and training statutory kinship carers.
In all aspects of working in the Kinship Sector, professionals need to recognise the role they play in trust-building and supporting families to be self-determined. The process may start with recruitment and engagement, however, the role professionals play in assessment cannot be understated.
The assessment process can be perceived as intrusive and lengthy, impacting on the overall outcome. “As professionals, we must be family-led in the assessment,” says Dr Clarke, in a recent conversation on her findings from her PhD. “Family are the experts in their own lives and the lives of the children they care for, so we need to be guided by that” continues Dr. Clarke.
Ms. Angela Tyson, KICS Senior Support Worker reminds us of the importance of shared knowledge. “Assessment and even training need to take into account that our lived experience may not be the same as the Kinship Carer, however when we come from a place of listening and knowing families are the experts, we can make a connection of mutual respect for each other’s life experience” says Ms Tyson.
Agency staff, such as KICS Support Workers who are responsible for undertaking assessments of Kinship Carers have a role in keeping carers informed of the statutory requirements however the delivery of such information will look completely different for each family. “The key to a good assessment is to listen to the family and provide them the necessary information in a way so they can make the best decisions for themselves and the child or young person in their care” adds Dr Clarke.
A powerful statement from the SNAICC 2022 Family Matters Report is a reminder that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait people have raised safe and strong children for thousands of generations giving them a place to feel loved, cared for, and a sense of belonging”.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship carers may face specific challenges that necessitate a tailored assessment approach. Addressing the individual needs and challenges during the assessment process is crucial for providing appropriate support and resources to the carer and the child, ensuring a safe and nurturing environment.
From commencement, the process of moving to a stable placement through Kinship Care needs to highlight the family connection to the child and the ability to support the child with the view that the child can go back home to mum and dad whenever possible. In situations when this might not be possible, the assessment can provide information on the stable family connection for a child surrounded by culture and community.
Ang points out “Assessments are necessary to ensure families have ongoing support, ensure placements do not break down, and children are safe and connected. But it is essential that the assessment process acknowledges and values the unique cultural aspects of both the child and the carer.”
By involving the extended family or community members in the assessment, the child’s support network is widened, creating a sense of belonging and stability. This inclusivity contributes to a holistic approach to the child’s well-being and care.
Dr. Clarke’s PhD offers recommendations on questions that draw out both the strengths and struggles Kinship Carers may have with ongoing placement for the child. These can provide vital information to the practitioner in applying the knowledge for ongoing training and support throughout the placement.
The assessment process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship carers is a multifaceted journey that encompasses preserving culture, strengthening community ties, addressing unique needs, and providing education and support. Through a compassionate and culturally sensitive assessment process, we can empower kinship carers to provide the best possible care for Indigenous children, ensuring their wellbeing and preserving their rich cultural heritage. Together, let us advocate for a more inclusive and effective assessment process that truly embraces the values of kinship care within these vibrant and diverse communities.
KICS Kinship and Foster Care Service (KICS KFC) is a child and young person centred, whole of family focused out of home care service resting on the foundation practice framework of the Family Partnership Model (FPM). This model provides out of home care support while maintaining a whole of family lens focused on wellbeing, attachment and bonding through case management and the application of family led decision making principles. Our team will work collaboratively with the whole family including parents, grandparents, and extended family, to secure a stable and enduring kinship and foster care placement while it is required.
SNAICC, 2022, Family Matters Report 2022