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Curiosity doesn’t always kill the cat: Using a curiosity-oriented approach to promote connection to culture and community for young people in out-of-home care

Aug 2022

Written by Lena Ford

Lena Ford is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker who has worked in the field of children, youth, and families for more than 20 years, in both government and community settings. A significant focus of her work has been alongside culturally diverse communities, as well refugee and asylum seeker children and families, including unaccompanied minors in Australia and in the UK. In her current role as a Cultural Engagement Practitioner at the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH), she provides support and advice to Child Protection practitioners to support their work with families from a CALD background.

Children and young people need adults in their lives to make decisions that are in their best interest, create safety and foster positive relationships; this is paramount for children in out-of-home care. These best interest decisions are especially true for children and young people from culturally diverse backgrounds who are in out-of-home care or have a statutory intervention. Unfortunately, I have often seen a breakdown in relationships and communication due to language barriers, cross-cultural misunderstandings, and missed opportunities for repair and strengthening of protective factors.

In my role as a Cultural Engagement Practitioner (CEP) with the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH), I have often sat in care teams or case consultations and asked myself, “what does this child or young person need from the system to thrive?” From a trauma-informed perspective, we know this to be safety, connection, and meaning-making. As well as safe and trusting adults, children need to be and feel connected to their culture, language, faith, rituals, and spiritual traditions. Connection to culture strengthens identity, belonging, and self-esteem and influences positive outcomes for young people in the longer term.

Children and young people need the system to be culturally responsive to their parents, their culture, and their community to help foster safety, connection, and repair. Children and young people need the system to understand how important this is.

In the child protection space, there can be numerous barriers to cultural responsiveness in working with families, including competing demands, high turnover of staff, limited training, the need for immediate risk assessments, and complex decision making. One of the most common issues presented during consultations with Child Protection is a concern about the apparent lack of engagement and involvement with services in a child’s care team once the child is in out-of-home care. Beneath the surface of these concerns are notions that despite their best intentions and motivations, practitioners may lack the knowledge, skills, confidence, and support structures to balance risks of harm while communicating safely and inclusively with culturally diverse families and communities.

What does this look like in practice?

Children and young people need the system to be culturally responsive to their parents, their culture, and their community to help foster safety, connection, and repair. Children and young people need the system to understand how important this is.

In the child protection space, there can be numerous barriers to cultural responsiveness in working with families, including competing demands, high turnover of staff, limited training, the need for immediate risk assessments, and complex decision making. One of the most common issues presented during consultations with Child Protection is a concern about the apparent lack of engagement and involvement with services in a child’s care team once the child is in out-of-home care. Beneath the surface of these concerns are notions that despite their best intentions and motivations, practitioners may lack the knowledge, skills, confidence, and support structures to balance risks of harm while communicating safely and inclusively with culturally diverse families and communities.

Taking a stance of curiosity with young people and their families of origin can be a powerful, therapeutic intervention to help with the so-called lack of engagement. It is up to the “adults” in the child’s care team to undertake the responsibility of engagement and trust, which takes time—implementing curious questions, showing empathy and respect, and cultural humility. While it may feel cumbersome, the rewards are far-reaching.

Working with culturally diverse communities requires us to reflect on our biases, values, sense of culture, and relationship with it. Through this, we can better delve more deeply into understanding others. It is vital to understand generational differences and cross-cultural parenting practices, to help children and young people reflect their own relationship to their culture and level of acculturation.

Consider the following:
  • What culture does the child/young person identify with?
  • What aspects do they reject?
  • How much did this matter before being in out-of-home care?
  • How much does it matter now?
  • What does this mean for their relationship with their family and community?

As young people grow and develop, their views and experiences change. Additionally, young people’s relationship with their culture and how this shapes their identity can evolve and change over time. Therefore, connection to culture and community must be viewed as dynamic and ongoing, with continued efforts to foster positive relationships to improve outcomes.

Lena Ford will be part of a panel on August 31, 3-5 pm along with Dr. Kathomi Gatwiri (Southern Cross University) Kathy Karatasas (Multicultural Program NSW) Urge Dingede (Department of Families, Fairness and Housing ) discussing how to respond to the needs of children and young people in out of home care from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

To find our more and register for this free event, click the following button:

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