Making time to learn about Aboriginal culture

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‘We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing and inclusion.’ Max de Pree.

Therese Inwood is a key worker at Bathurst Early Childhood Intervention Service (BECIS). For the past 3 years, she has been working closely with Towri Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Services (MACS) to support the inclusion of young children with developmental delay and disability. Therese has written this reflection about how her partnership with the staff at Towri has developed and what she has learned from this relationship.

Viewing ‘time’ differently can be a major challenge for many of us. In my early days of connecting with Towri,  an invitation to just come and talk about the Wiradjuri people was often extended to myself and other key workers from BECIS, but frequently dismissed due to time constraints and with the conceptual perception that visits were all about spending time with the children and families requiring inclusion support.

One of the first lessons I learned  when eventually I did accept the invitation to meet with the whole team, was that the conversation only touch the surface of the real ‘issues’ at first and may not have an immediate, tangible outcome.  At the conclusion I will admit I initially had a feeling of having talked an awful lot, with not much being addressed! However, I realised this talking was very important. It was about building this relationship. Taking the time to simply chat cannot be underestimated and applies equally to staff and parents. The real ‘issue’ might not be covered in full at this initial stage, it might not be until the second or third meeting that questions are able to be  more fully addressed.

worker with busClearly, taking the time to ask parents and staff about their culture and to listen and learn seemed to greatly enhance and strengthen our relationships. This was evident in the genuine level of excitement from Aunty Kerrie at Towri, in sharing information with me about her culture. Auntie Kerrie, a staff member and Kamiliaroi lady from Walgett, made the point that culture is not static and very much multi-tiered with wide variations within single cultural groups. Aunty Kerrie respects the way other Aboriginal people outside of the Wiradjuri people live, and does not interfere, as there are many differences and cultural diversity within specific Aboriginal cultures.

Aunty Kerrie, gently explained some of the cultural differences within the Aboriginal people.  For example, making very minimal  eye contact is very much part of the  Aboriginal culture and referring to  Aboriginal elders as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’, buying premarin online followed by their first name is actually a sign of great respect, which is greatly appreciated. However, individual differences may occur within Towri, with some families being of Christian faith, and feeling more comfortable being referred to by their Christian name only and engaging in frequent eye contact.  When working with the family as a key worker, it is important to be mindful and avoid making assumptions.

The discussion with Aunty Kerrie revealed that for many families, attending an unfamiliar venue was likely to cause stress, and could lead to feelings of being overwhelmed.  Ways of reducing such feelings included continued outreach visits, and inviting the family to ask a support person, from their own culture, to attend meetings such as an Individualised family Support Plans (IFSP). The presence of an Aboriginal person from the Towri staff can make parents feel more relaxed. Together, our agencies explored the possibility of conducting initial developmental screens at Towri, as opposed to requesting the family to come to BECIS for this initial session.  Simple changes to the way we do things can prevent families from ‘falling through the cracks’.

worker with child in carAunty Kerrie has noticed benefits from working in partnership with Therese from BECIS too. Aunty Kerrie said: “It’s about everyone being equal, all people getting access to the help and service they need. Nobody misses out, regardless of colour, all children deserve to have the same start.”

Transport is a very big issue for many of the families attending Towri MACS, with many families not owning a car. The Towri bus service is essential to the success of the service. BECIS offers home visits, which frequently help us see the bigger picture which is essential to fully understand situations that may be more complex than is evident on the surface.

Consultation with Aboriginal communities means that relevant people from the community are involved. To ensure that all owners and custodians are reached and consulted, discussion and information needs to involve a wide range of Aboriginal organisations and groups.

‘It’s good to have a relationship with Therese, we work together for the children and now have kids being a real part of things and joining in with what the other kids doing things. Our relationship is based on equality and respect, we learn from each other. We can talk to each other about all sorts of things and know that the real thing is to make a real difference for every child, because every kid here matters’ said Aunty Kerrie.

Thinking independently, but together at the same time to be truly inclusive is like asking a child to pat their head and rub their tummy… but guess what… we can do it!

Emma Pierce
Emma Pierce
Transition to School / Inclusion Coordinator Emma has worked in the non-government disability sector for the last 18 years. She has developed and facilitated training and resources for parents and professionals across NSW and presented papers at national and state conferences. Emma was previously the Manager of Building Blocks® Early Intervention Service at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect). Emma also lectures casually at Western Sydney University and works as an independent consultant to Early Childhood Intervention services. Emma is the main author of ECIA NSW’s Transition to School Resource and has worked for ECIA NSW/ACT since 2013.

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