The following is an article written by Leanne Budd, and was originally published by the Huon News on Wednesday, 12 September 2018. Republished here with permission.
Julie Dunlop, who is a proud Aboriginal woman of the South East, says that she is worried that, even today, Aboriginal children in care are missing out on the cultural experiences that are crucial to their identity.
“I just can’t express how important it is for Aboriginal children to maintain their culture and their community bond,” said Julie.
It was Julie’s role as an education support worker at the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) that was the catalyst in her decision to become a foster carer.
“It was through my job – I work with Aboriginal children at risk of leaving school and get them back into education or work – I realised that children in our community were being removed from their homes and placed in homes outside their community, with people who were strangers to them.
“We desperately need to care for our babies in their own Aboriginal community, and by Aboriginal carers.”
Julie and her husband Trevor then took the plunge to become emergency and respite carers for Aboriginal children in their own community, which they did for three years, before recently becoming full time carers for a primary school aged child.Julie said that she has been caring for children, in an informal capacity, almost all her life. “I have two daughters who – like their mum – have a good ear for people with problems,” said Julie.
“All through their teens, they were bringing their friends home with them. “Some children stayed a week, some a night, one stayed 14 years!”
Julie continued, “I’ve thought often about becoming a foster carer, but with my own time and family pressures, it was never the right time.
“Then I looked at my own grown up children and saw how well I’d done, and I thought, ‘I’m wasting time that I could be caring for other little kids that need a safe place to call home!’
“So I went off and did the training.”
Julie ensures children retain ties with their extended families while in care, and involves them in an array of cultural activities.
“I also live on five acres, so the children can get out and run and climb trees, and play with our animals,” said Julie.
Because of her experience with children, Julie has the ability to make children feel safe pretty quickly.
“I make a very inviting bedroom for children who come into my care and fill it with things they’d be interested in and will make them feel comfortable.
“I let them settle on their own terms, don’t ask too many questions and answer questions when they ask.”
Julie urges other Aboriginal people to consider becoming a foster carer, and has even inspired some of her co-workers to become foster carers.
“Let’s look after our Aboriginal babies ourselves and not send them off to strangers elsewhere.
“Get the training so we can do this!” she said.
“We, as adults, have a responsibility to see that our little people are loved and cared for in a safe and loving environment.
“Foster care is an amazing adventure to go on with a little human who needs to be cared for and loved, if only for a short time.”