How children can help Aboriginal Elders during lockdown

Mutual caring between Kinship and foster carers and the children in their custody emerged as a silver lining during last year’s lockdown, a new report finds.

Pandemic-induced lockdowns have yielded stories of both hardship and resilience. This extends to the Kinship and foster carer community, which has weathered unique challenges as children are physically (and sometimes virtually) cut off from their biological families.

A new report by the University of Sydney Research Centre for Children & Families sheds light on these experiences. Researchers surveyed organisations working with foster and Kinship carers in NSW throughout 2020, and found that various positives for Aboriginal communities emerged:

  • Having children in their care protected Elders against social isolation during lockdown and vice versa
  • Seeing care as a cultural obligation and having Kinship networks could be a buffer against otherwise potentially stressful individual caring responsibilities.

Yet, there were also negatives for carers, including First Nations carers, such as:

  • An increase in mental health issues among both carers and children, directly related to COVID-19 health measures like lockdowns and physical distancing
  • The exposure of a crippling ‘digital divide’ in terms of access to computers, internet, and low technology literacy, especially for older carers.

“Despite existing financial stress and social disadvantage, the self-reliance and resilience of Aboriginal communities emerged as a strength that helped Kinship carers cope during 2020,” said Dr Susan Collings, Research Fellow and Program Lead, Disability and Child Protection, Research Centre for Children and Families.

Yet she noted that the report’s findings suggest there is room for improvement: “The main areas of carer support needs related to keeping children in contact with their families, schooling from home, and coping with the impact on children’s behaviour of losing everyday routines. The out-of-home care system must take stock of these lessons, so it is prepared to support carers with their critical role of caring for vulnerable children and young people during future crises.”

About the report

The researchers drew on four data sources to provide a snapshot of foster and Kinship carers’ experiences in New South Wales during 2020. The data collection for the study included: 222 telephone support requests to My Forever Family carer support and training provider; 36 online surveys of registered Out of Home Care organisations; nine semi-structured interviews with workers at services that support Aboriginal families; and 30 case summaries from specialist therapeutic services for children in care.

Hero image: Three Rivers by Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas, Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation.

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