With the COVID-19 pandemic amplifying pressures on families, a timely new initiative is seeking to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s social and emotional wellbeing.
The resource series, developed by The Healing Foundation and Emerging Minds, highlights the undercurrent of intergenerational trauma among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and outlines a strengths-based approach to healing.
Fiona Cornforth of The Healing Foundation and Brad Morgan of Emerging Minds discuss the program below.
Fiona Cornforth and Brad Morgan write:
The importance of child development is now more relevant than ever. The pressure on parents and our children brought about during the COVID-19 pandemic – on home schooling, increased screen-time, isolation from family and friends, and the missed opportunities for traditional socialising and care – add a new dimension to an already complex time for our kids.
This new package, released recently to coincide with National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, contains free e-learning modules, factsheets, and an animation to help elevate the importance of a child’s development.
Culturally appropriate training materials will provide resources to the sector’s service providers that will help them to understand the impacts of intergenerational trauma so they can create a new narrative – one that is strengths-based, hope-inspired and promotes instead the opportunity for intergenerational healing.
It’s important that we provide these protective factors now, in the light (or darkness) of COVID-19 and the lockdowns currently being experienced across the country. Many families are struggling to keep up with work and family commitments, while trying to keep children occupied as some states close playgrounds, and keep schools closed.
Social and emotional wellbeing
The impact of colonisation meant First Nations peoples and communities often experienced a disconnection from kinship, country, spiritual and cultural practices. The trauma experienced as a result and its ongoing impact on subsequent generations must be understood, but we cannot stop there.
Leaders of the Journey of Healing for this nation of many nations, including Stolen Generation survivors have laid a strong platform for today’s practitioners to join the cause for intergenerational healing. We can build this narrative, and commit to reconnect with, strengthen, and develop our story weaving back into child development practices.
Many are still unaware of the impact of trauma on childhood development. Practitioners need to be skilled up to support parents and families by understanding the impacts of intergenerational trauma on kinship structures and recognising trauma responses as barriers to engagement, and to development.
Having an ability to recognise early warning signs, and then to utilise a tried-and-tested range of strategies and resources to work alongside children and families, is crucial. Trust and safety is key.
A respectful, non-blaming practice, grounded in cultural protective factors enables a pathway to healing.
Children’s emotions and connections to family start from the day they’re born. Their experiences at a young age impact their social and emotional wellbeing throughout all stages of their life, which is why it is critical to raise this level of understanding around the importance of a holistic and trauma-aware, healing-informed approach to First Nations child development.
Through schooling children have the opportunity to build life skills to complement what their first teachers have taught them. The ability to thrive in formal education settings is dependant on the safety and wellbeing of a First Nations child in that environment. Strengths-based First Nations guided learning should continue in the school setting. Building capabilities around solving problems, regulating emotions and forming friendships will be maximised by a strengths-based approach to the embedding of cultural learning.
The importance of culture
We know that connections for our children are important throughout their developmental stages and this plays a vital role in their social and emotional wellbeing.
And while the pandemic has thrown up challenges around attending school and social activities, we can still support children to find creative and culturally safe solutions that will enable them to thrive.
Walking alongside our communities, we also know that multiple strong connections exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and extended family. And while kinship is at the heart of our society and has been our cultural strength over thousands upon thousands of generations, repeated lockdowns and isolation threaten these protective structures. Our young people need to explore their rites of passage, and develop their own identities, maintaining a sense of strength in their cultural paths, and if they are to navigate successfully, the two worlds.
We know the importance of strong connections to culture (and fundamentally, language), family, community, country and spirit as enablers to healing that will help contribute to positive wellbeing outcomes for children.
They develop strong and healthy when they are well supported from an early age. Creating early intervention practices that reclaim our cultural and ecological connections, kinship, songs, dance, language and stories from our ancestors are vital for our children’s social and emotional wellbeing.
Fiona Cornforth is CEO of The Healing Foundation, and Brad Morgan is Director of Emerging Minds.
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