Ask John Lochowiak why family matters and he recalls childhood trips with his grandfather to the Pitjantjatjara lands.
“We’d sit down and he’d nod and say `there’s your brother over there’. I’d meet him for the first time but straight away we’d behave as brothers,” says John, a Wati (initiated man).
“In traditional settings we don’t use names. We use how we are related and behave accordingly and it strengthens that relationship.
“Uncles and aunties don’t exist because they become our mothers and fathers, and cousins become your brothers and sisters, so our extended family is huge ’’
Family is at the core of the Aboriginal world view, says John, Manager of Centacare’s Aboriginal Services, but he believes this should not preclude non-Aboriginal families from caring for vulnerable children.
The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care is almost 10 times that of other children, and continues to grow.
The causes of over representation are complex, including the legacy of past policies of forced removal, intergenerational effects of separation from family and culture, poor socioeconomic status and perceptions arising from cultural differences in child‐rearing practices.
The national Family Matters campaign highlights these difficulties and the need for change so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up safe and cared for in family, community and culture.
“Our family structure is a bit different, but really we are not dissimilar to white families,’’ John says.
“The challenges and dynamics that impact non-aboriginal people impact us too; the need to work and live in dignity and contribute to society is equally as important to our culture.
“I think we need to look closely at how we can better support Aboriginal families to increase their capacity to foster children.
“That support should start with cultural training for Aboriginal people so that they re-engage with their culture because a lot of our people have lost it.’’
John says it just takes one person – black or white – to believe in a vulnerable child in order to make a difference.
“Western culture will talk about significant others and emotionally that children will be stable if someone believes in them.
“That’s replicated a hundred fold in the Aboriginal culture because everywhere they turn they have someone to share in the responsibility of raising them.
“If every child is loved, they have the chance to be good citizens.’’