Key Practice: Finding Cultural Connections

One of the driving principles of our radically personalised model for shared care is ‘embedded culture’: that respect for and connection to Aboriginal Culture is central to our work and is given equal weighting to clinical practice.

​Unearthing and facilitating the connections that young people have to their culture helps to improve wellbeing, self-esteem and self-determination while they are in our care and beyond.

Young people often come to us with limited formal information about who they are and where they are from, and it is always our responsibility to discover as much about them as possible so that we can meet their needs. Finding cultural connections shines a particular spotlight on young people’s cultural identity, so that they can explore their histories, languages, stories, relationships through informal networks that might at that moment be known or unknown to them.

Here, Aboriginal Practice Leads (APL) and Family Link Workers (FLW) play key roles as they engage with the young person and his/her family and community (if known), explore what is known about the young person already, undertake research and reach out to connections in the community to connect dots, and create meaningful connection opportunities in collaboration with the young person and others in his/her life.

Principles and practices for cultural connectivity

Through collaboration with Aboriginal people who had experience in creating family and cultural connections for Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care, important insights have emerged which shape how we should explore cultural connection.

There are some foundational principles which should guide our approach to cultural connection:

Connected by default: All children and young people in out of home care should be connected with their family, culture and community as a default. These connections take work, and that work must be prioritised.

Voice and choice for child and family: Connection work needs to be done by ‘walking alongside’ children and young people and their families, giving them genuine opportunities to have a say in what happens when it comes to connection.

Trusting and supporting Aboriginal people with the work of connection: Aboriginal cultures put a strong emphasis on relationships, and Aboriginal people have deep expertise in finding and making connections to family and culture that should be valued and respected. When this work is left to a small number of Aboriginal staff, however, undue pressure is placed on those staff, and so Aboriginal staff must be supported with this important connection work.

Elaborating on these principles, we have identified a series of enabling conditions that help to make cultural connection work possible and impactful. These are conditions that we’re working hard to create and sustain at Parkerville as we roll out the Our Way Home model:

Clarity of roles, responsibilities and authority: Ensuring Family Link Workers (FLW), Aboriginal Practice Leads (APL), and other staff have clarity on their roles, responsibilities and authority when it comes to connection work. The default is that APLs make connections with families while FLWs liaise with the Department and support connections between carers, families and CYP, but flexibility based on relationships and context is crucial.

Authorise Aboriginal staff to find connections: Finding family and cultural connections for Aboriginal young people in out of home care is uniquely Aboriginal work, and Aboriginal staff should be given the support and authority needed to carry out that work in culturally appropriate ways.

Support all staff to build relationships: All staff should have the skills and support needed to build relationships with family and community in order to facilitate creatively safe connections for children and young people. Our recruitment, onboarding and training processes, along with our support systems for the Parkerville team, can help to make this a reality.

Our continuous learning journey

In order for us to understand the impact this practice makes on young people, their families and communities, we will continue to reflect, seek feedback and refine how we support cultural connections as the model is implemented. Cultural connection in this context isn’t a destination but a journey that we embark on with young people in the driving seat, as we help them navigate connections that are right for their wellbeing, self-esteem and self-determination.