Melissa and Scott

Connecting to culture — Melissa and Scott’s Story

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person’s choice to become a foster carer can make a difference to an Indigenous child’s life by connecting them with their culture.

For Melissa and Scott, having a large, blended family has always been the norm. And having started their foster care journey 16 years ago, the addition of even more kids around the house has become second nature to the couple and their biological children.

“We first started as kinship carers. After the child went back to live with family, within a day we had another child — and it just went on from there,” Melissa explains. “The minute I could have more children come in that we could help and provide a home to, the door was open.”

More than a decade and a half on, Melissa and Scott have provided short break, short-term, long-term and emergency care to countless children of varying cultural backgrounds and ages, with a particular passion for fostering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids.

As Indigenous people themselves, they know first-hand the importance of building and nurturing a connection to culture and remaining connected with family.

“We try to keep strong connections with the kids’ biological families and their background, for Indigenous children in particular,” Melissa explains.

“It’s important for them to be raised in culture, so it’s not taught to them from the outside coming in — it needs to be part of their everyday life.“

It’s well understood that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have a need for, and a right to know, their own families and culture. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle recognises the importance of connections to family, community, culture and country and guides all decisions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, including where they should live if they are placed in care.

This is a principle which is especially vital considering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented in the child protection system.

“Giving a child the opportunity to be involved in their culture and feel the importance of it is so important,” Melissa says. “The children who come into your care need to know who they are.”

Melissa’s family is from Palm Island and she proudly identifies with the Wulgurukaba people. It was only in the last decade that Scott found out he was of Aboriginal descent — a member of the Kalkadoon people in the Mount Isa region in north-west Queensland.

“I was overwhelmed when I found out,” Scott explains.

“I spoke to my mother and there had been a stigma when she was a child that you don’t recognise culture, so she always covered it up and never told us about it. Her mother was the same.

“Learning about my background made me hungry to learn more, and as I learnt more it was like a lightbulb turned on — so many things awakened inside me.

“The fostering has helped me learn more as I go along — it’s almost a shared journey with the children.”

Growing up with a mother who provided foster care, Melissa has a unique perspective on the joys and satisfaction associated with welcoming a child into her home.

“I love when a child first walks through your door,” she says.

“You give them a hug and they might be stand-offish, but as time goes on that relationship and trust grows with you and the child — they’re comfortable and you’ve created that home feeling.

“You’re sitting down watching TV and next thing you’ve got someone perched on your lap — it’s amazing,” she reflects.

Scott agrees, acknowledging the role of the entire family in welcoming foster children into their buzzing family environment. His motto: take it one step at a time and don’t look down.

“Our kids are very nurturing towards the other children,” he says.

“There’s been personality clashes at the beginning, but — as siblings do — they work it out pretty quickly, and I think it will make our children better adults.”

The couple also know the importance of reuniting the children in their care with their biological families.

“When we have a child come into our care, we know at the end of the day, re-unification is what they’re after,” Melissa says. “But while they’re with you, we give them everything we can give.”

“It’s hard to see the children leave your home, but what makes it a bit easier is that connection with their parents.”

Scott agrees.

“Re-unification doesn’t always mean ‘the end’,” he says. “It just means job done.”

Nothing can outweigh the contentment Melissa and Scott feel when connecting with a child, knowing they’re making an invaluable difference in their lives, even for just a short period of time.

“It makes you feel like your heart can’t give any more love, that you’ve just given everything,” Melissa says.

More than anything, Melissa and Scott are passionate about encouraging more people who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander to give foster caring a go, to provide a safe home for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that’s rich with culture.

“We need more Indigenous carers,” Scott urges.

“It’s important Indigenous kids go with Indigenous carers so they can explore their culture and know where they come from and be proud and confident adults in the future.”

Having grown up with foster siblings almost her whole life, one of Melissa and Scott’s daughters has become a third-generation carer, welcoming more vulnerable children into her own family and continuing her parents’ passion for helping Indigenous kids in need.

Melissa and Scott