Interview with a professional: A yarn with David Widders on family, caring for kids and seeking support

illustration of parent and young aboriginal person

This article was produced through a partnership with Cox Inall Ridgeway, an Aboriginal social change agency. This article has been written, illustrated and reviewed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

David Widders is a proud Anaiwan man from the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. He and his partner have been foster parents for over 15 years, as well as having children of their own. We sat down with David and talked with him about his experiences of working with families and in the community sector. He shared his thoughts with us on the challenges facing mob today, the things we can all do to seek support and get help, and how families and communities can support each other.

How can we empower kids to be connected to their culture?

Empowering kids to be connected to their culture is one of the most important things we can do as parents and carers. My experience has shown me that when kids are culturally connected, they feel more personal pride and have more self-confidence. They can then do whatever they dream of doing and become who they want to be.

Growing up, I saw this in how proud and deadly my cousins were. I watched my aunt and uncle instil confidence in them by teaching them about where their family came from and by encouraging them to have a connection to Country and culture. They had open discussions with their kids about identity and connection from when the kids were very young. I saw them grow as people, and it’s been inspiring for me on my own journey.

What can non-Indigenous carers with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids do to ensure their kids are connected to their culture?

I’ve been in the education and welfare fields for 24 years and I’m passionate about educating non-Indigenous families with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander kids. If you’re a non-Indigenous carer taking on an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander child, you’re now part of our kinship system.

The kinship system is an inclusive system: when you’re accepted into that family or mob, you’re now taking on the mob’s responsibilities. You’re not just part of the child’s life, but also part of the whole family system that includes their cousins, aunties and uncles.

It can be daunting for carers who aren’t from a big family, but it’s important to remember that you’re now a part of a bigger circle. We don’t call it a family tree; we call it a family forest. Go and introduce yourself to the mob, say hello, and tell them that this young fella is now living with you.

illustration of aboriginal young person surrounded by support system

As a non-Indigenous carer, it’s important to learn about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander culture and history so that you can fully understand your child and their needs. Kids who don’t know their mob and Country can become disconnected and feel like there’s a part of them that’s missing. If you’re feeling unsure of where to begin, get some resources here.

How can parents talk to young people about social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB)?

It can be hard to know when to seek help as a parent or carer, both for our children and for ourselves. Some people might not know how to approach a conversation about SEWB or may not even recognise that there’s a problem.

The best way to start is to just get talking about it, even if you’re not used to talking about these sorts of things. It’s important to create a safe space for your young person so they know they can come to you. You could take them out on to Country, where they feel comfortable, or ask them whether they want to have some one-on-one time with you. Here are some tips for talking to your teen about SEWB.

How can we combat shame in the community around talking about wellbeing?

One of the biggest ways to combat shame around mental health is to just talk about it. Start having conversations in your community and start educating people about what mental health is, what it looks like and that it’s okay to not be okay.

There’s a need to create a safe space to have a yarn about how you’re really feeling. This applies to a lot of families, too. Parents may be able to see that their kid is struggling with something but may not know how to start talking with them about it. Sometimes the first step is to create that safe space and start a conversation.

illustration of aboriginal young people in safe space

I found my mob’s Men’s Circle really helpful. We had meaningful conversations about mob, and could talk about what it was like being a dad or an uncle, and about any issues we were having at home. For me, it was a place where I could be open and honest and connect with the right people. If you’re unsure where to go, check with your local community centre, Aboriginal Medical Service or online to find your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support group.

Why can it be hard to seek help for ourselves?

There are challenges when seeking help around black and family politics. Sometimes when certain mobs won’t talk to each other and other mobs work in community or health, it means people don’t want to engage. It’s even harder if you’re coming from a smaller community. I know there is fear that secrets won’t be kept, and that mob will start sharing information they shouldn’t be sharing.

There are ways you can overcome these challenges.

  • Reach out to trusted people in your life, particularly those who aren’t affected by the politics, and get in touch with the movers and shakers in the community.

  • When you go to a service, ask for information about choices and options for mob. If you or your children are feeling uncomfortable when dealing with services, try asking for what you need, whether it’s while you’re somewhere away from everyone else or just sitting under a tree by the creek. Services are starting to understand the importance of this sense of cultural safety.

We also have to recognise that in the Kinship culture, we've been looking after each other for thousands of years so it can feel hard to take some time off for ourselves. If we prioritise taking care of ourselves, it flows into our communities. So, remember to reach out for help when you need it. The great thing about our Kinship culture is that there’s a lot of support out there if you look for it. We’re not alone in raising our kids and facing these challenges, and we’re stronger when we come together.

If you need urgent support, call 13YARN (13 92 76) to speak with an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis supporter.