Good communication with school and long-term planning are very important for children in out of home care.
Children living in care
More than a thousand Aboriginal children in Victoria live in formal out of home care, away from their parents. A majority live with extended family or other Aboriginal families, while others live with non-Aboriginal carers.
Many more children live in informal care arrangements with Elders or other kin. Informal care is where no government department or foster care agency has got involved. Arrangements are made within community.
Care arrangements might last for a short time, occur regularly, or be full-time over many years. Formal care arrangements include foster care and permanent care. Permanent care is more like adoption; permanent carers are their child’s legal guardian, and can make all decisions for them.
Getting help for your foster child
If you’re a foster carer, organising to meet your child’s special needs at school can be complicated.
You can make most day-to-day decisions, but the foster care agency might also be involved. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has to sign off many bigger decisions, and give permission for things like medical treatment or out-of-school activities. They also need to cover school fees, uniforms, camps and other costs.
These processes can slow things down – like getting permission for camp, or organising the help your child needs.
It helps a lot if you have an open relationship with the school and DHS. Keep in regular contact, and remind them to pass on any information related to your child.
Keep in touch with the teacher and school staff at drop off or pick up, through meetings and your child’s communication book. Keep in touch with DHS, and let them know if there are things that they need to sign off and when they’re needed, so your child doesn’t miss out, for example on attending excursions or camps.
Planning to help your child
It can take time to get permission for your child to have medical treatment or take part in out-of-school activities like camp. It can also take time to organise funding for extra help or equipment, so you need to plan ahead.
Early each year, talk about what’s coming up in the year ahead. Plan for the help your child will need to attend community cultural events and festivals, school camp, special excursions, swimming or sports. Sometimes, for example, aide or personal care time might have to be saved up, so your child can take part.
The school should have Student Support Group meetings with you at least once a term – more if needed. The foster care agency will usually attend. They might also be able to organise extra support, like sessions with a therapist, to help your child at school. You can also get an outside advocate to help you and come to meetings.
If you are a non-Aboriginal person caring for an Aboriginal child, you should have received training on how to help the child stay in touch with their family, community and culture. You can work with the child’s school, to help support the child’s Aboriginal identity and connection to their culture.
Read other family’s suggestions for how schools can show respect for Aboriginal students’ culture. Also, encourage the school to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources and perspectives in their curriculum. Suggest that they invite local Aboriginal Elders or other community members to come and talk at the school.
The Secretariat of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has a booklet called Foster their Culture: caring for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care. You can download it from their website or order a copy. It includes a section on Aboriginal learning styles and working with preschools and school teachers. The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) can also help with cultural and community matters.