This paper explores some of the characteristics of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices that contribute to effective family functioning, and how these practices can have positive effects on children and communities. The approach is to gather the views of Aboriginal families and compare these perspectives with supporting evidence drawn from the literature. The findings suggest that, provided the necessary social conditions are in place, culture can be a protective force for children, families and communities.
- Aboriginal kinship relations reflect a complex and dynamic system that is not captured by existing non- Indigenous definitions of family.
- Emerging evidence supports some of the strengths of traditional Aboriginal culture in family functioning and raising children, yet conventional academic wisdom can be incompatible with traditional Aboriginal knowledge systems.
- The strengths of Aboriginal cultural traditions, as they apply to family life and raising children, revolve around four interrelated themes, including:
– Theme 1: A collective community focus on child rearing helps children—The values of interdependence, group cohesion and community loyalty are key features of Aboriginal family and community life, where raising children is considered to be a shared responsibility of all community members.
– Theme 2: Children need the freedom to explore and experience the world—Aboriginal communities offer their children every opportunity to explore the world around them, to help them develop the necessary skills to successfully negotiate their pathways to adulthood.
– Theme 3: Elderly family members are important to family functioning—The elderly are highly respected for their contributions to family life in Aboriginal communities, particularly in helping children to understand the practical aspects of life and society.
– Theme 4: Spirituality helps families cope with challenges—Families and communities who engage in spiritual practices benefit from a greater sense of identity, and individuals are more likely to connect with, support and help protect one another.