Of all the children in out-of-home (foster) care in Australia, 40 percent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Many of these children reside in New South Wales, on Wiradjuri (‘Wir-add-jury’) Country in the centre and west of the state.
In a bid to improve these children’s outcomes by helping them maintain cultural and Kinship connections, a University of Sydney researcher and her sister have developed workbooks on Wiradjuri language that can be used by children and their carers, families, and teachers.
They will be launched at an event at the University of Sydney today (9 March 2022), with an opening address from the NSW Minister for Families and Communities and Minister for Disability Services, the Hon. Natasha Maclaren-Jones.
Workbook authors Associate Professor Lynette Riley and her sister Diane Riley-McNaboe, Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi women from Dubbo and Moree, say though the Wiradjuri language is no longer widespread due to ‘cultural genocide’, current attempts to spread it, such as through their workbooks, may provide a cultural bridge for disconnected children.
“Language is culture and culture is language,” Associate Professor Riley said. “Children’s wellbeing is linked to their cultural and Kinship connections. Once they transition from out-of-home care, they will rely on those connections for the rest of their lives. We need to do all we can, while they are in out-of-home care, to foster and build those connections.”
We developed them during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which caused so many biological families to be unable to spend time together and maintain cultural ties. There was no Zoom, no phone calls. As a mum, I was really heartbroken about that
The workbooks, which will ultimately number seven in total, contain lessons and activities on Wiradjuri sounds and words; greetings; Acknowledging Country; numbers, symbols and tracks; family terms; and body parts and colours.
Both Associate Professor Riley and her sister Diane Riley-McNaboe are educators, so the workbooks aren’t just culturally rich; they’re pedagogically sound. “They’re designed so that you have to do them with someone and talk about the language and activities, whether that’s a carer, parent or teacher,” Associate Professor Riley said. These books will be available online for free via SBS Learn.
“We developed them during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which caused so many biological families to be unable to spend time together and maintain cultural ties. There was no Zoom, no phone calls. As a mum, I was really heartbroken about that, and, together with my sister, took it on personally and professionally.”
The workbooks form part of a larger, three-year Australian Research Council Linkage project co-led by Associate Professor Riley. Funded by the Australian government, Fostering Lifelong Connections for Children in Permanent Care is a partnership between the Research Centre for Children and Families at the University of Sydney, the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, and seven out-of-home care non-governmental organisations. It involves foster care caseworkers trialling and evaluating changes to improve children in permanent care’s experiences of ‘family time’. The project, grounded on respect for Aboriginal Kinship, is underway at four sites: Dubbo, Sydney, Maitland/Newcastle and Wollongong.
The launch of the workbooks will be accompanied by the launch of two other project-related books, as well as a keynote speech by Professor Peter Pecora, Managing Director of Research Services, Casey Family Programs and Professor, School of Social Work, University of Washington. Professor Peter Pecora is a leading researcher involved in creating change in child protection and out-of-home care in the United States and will speak about the action research methodology he pioneered, which is being used in the Fostering Lifelong Connections project. In this action research model, a team of researchers and practitioners work together to reflect upon and change practice while documenting and sharing learnings.
The books are by project co-researchers with personal experience in the foster system. Bobby Hendry has written ‘My Family Time is Mine’, a guidebook to family connections for young people in the foster system. Billy Black’s book, ROAR, is a picture book to help young children navigate the transition to foster care.
Hero image: L-R: Associate Professor Lynette Riley and her sister, Diane McNaboe. Credit: Kadeisha Langman.