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Tari Mapfumo is the Multicultural Child and Family Program Manager for SSI in the Hunter Central Coast region. Photo provided

Lisa* didn’t expect her experience in foster care to turn out like this: whizzing around supermarket aisles, finding ingredients to make her first Samoan curry.

“It was kind of an adventure for both of us,” Lisa fondly recalls.

After welcoming 11-year-old Amaia* into the family, cooking was a way to help the young girl stay connected to her Pacific Island culture.

“English isn’t her first language so some of the ingredients she didn’t necessarily know and we were using Google Translate to find out what they were.

“We walked up and down the aisles until she spotted the right ingredients, then we came home and cooked together.”

With six of her own children, Lisa had often thought about fostering another in need, but found herself wondering if her family would be the best fit for a child like Amaia.

“I actually told SSI [Settlement Services International]I really don’t know if this is the right agency for me because I have no experience in welcoming children from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds,” says Lisa.

In the end, it wasn’t prior experience or a culturally appropriate caregiver that Amaia needed most. Most important was a safe home, a loving, open-minded family, and a carer who could support her cultural connections.

“We don’t have any cultural diversity in our home, but we are very open to other cultures. I’ve been very concerned about making sure my children grow up with a strong social conscience,” says Lisa.

“When I raised my concerns with SSI, they explained to me that as long as you are curious, understanding and want what is best for the child, it can definitely work.”

As the Multicultural Child and Family Program Manager for SSI in the Hunter Central Coast region, Tari Mapfumo knows that finding a home where a child’s identity is nurtured is crucial.

“In everything we do at SSI, culture is never overlooked because it’s not a jacket you can take off, it’s who you are,” Tari says.

When children like Amaia cannot be placed with a family from the same cultural background, finding a way to maintain that bond is crucial to building a sense of belonging and identity.

“We’re not asking a caregiver to change who they are; they just need to be open and culturally sensitive,” Tari says.

With a strong focus on the placement of children from CALD backgrounds, SSI has put in place countless supports to keep the culture front and center for caregiver and child.

“This whole concept of ‘it takes a village,’ we really apply it at SSI,” says Tari.

From the start, each child is given a cultural plan that outlines key family connection points on language, religion, and important holidays or festivals.

While implementing this plan looks different for everyone, it can include anything from arranging a monthly Afro braiding appointment to visiting caregivers at a local store where they can buy ingredients to prepare a traditional meal.

For Lisa, finding ways to help Amaia explore her culture has finally brought them closer together.

“You don’t have to know everything about their culture to be a good host family,” says Lisa. “The other day in the car I heard her say ‘When we get home’ for the first time. Just knowing she felt safe enough to refer to it because her home was quite special.”

To learn more, visit multiculturalfostercare.ssi.org.au or email [email protected]

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.