Helping Australia’s diverse foster children stay connected to their cultures


Maintaining a connection to heritage and culture can be tricky for children in foster care, especially those from diverse ethnic backgrounds. But families are being supported with a new initiative to help build a sense of identity and belonging.

Adam Alsuhaili and Eman Rhajel have been foster parents for more than a decade.

The couple, originally from Iraq, have six children under age 10 in their care at their home in Sydney. 

It’s a busy life but there’s a simple reason why they became foster parents.

“Because I love the kids and I want to help the kids,” Eman told SBS News.

Adam Alsuhaili and Eman Rhajel
Sydney foster parents Adam Alsuhaili and Eman Rhajel.
Rashida Yosufzai

Their foster children are from diverse backgrounds – two are of Iraqi Mandaean heritage, two are from Lebanese Muslim background and two are of Anglo-Australian origin.

To keep the childrens’ cultural ties intact, Adam and Eman baptised the Iraqi Mandaean children, play them Iraqi songs, and often take them to church.

For their Lebanese Muslim children, they celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid and teach them Arabic-Islamic phrases like “Inshallah” - which means “God willing”- to communicate back to their biological parents.

Foster children
Four of the family's six foster children, who cannot be identified.

Eman says when they meet up with their birth parents she encourages the children to greet them with cultural phrases. 

“I say to the kids, 'say for Dad, happy Eid happy eid’.”

“Sometimes when he talk too with mum on the phone he say, 'Inshallah, inshallah'.”

Eman says it is important to maintain their cultural connections not only because sometimes they are taken back into the care of their birth parents, but also because it cultivates their sense of identity.

New resource launched

While Adam and Eman go out of their way to maintain their children's connections to their culture, there are concerns other children may lose out when removed from their birth parents.

That’s why a new series of books aimed at helping foster children maintain their sense of cultural identity have been launched this week. 

My Life and Me
The My Life and Me book was launched this week.

Launched by Settlement Services International (SSI) with the support of the Department of Communities and Justice, the books are a record of a child’s life story so far, who they are, and their cultural and religious traditions.

It is designed for biological parents and children to fill out and for foster parents to take heed of.

Child trauma expert Richard Rose says research shows children who become “invisible” to their past are disconnected with their roots of origin as adults.

“When you’re older and you see in your current situation without any roots to the past you start to be very insecure around your world, start to lose who you are,” he said. 

Without any roots to the past you start to be very insecure around your world, start to lose who you are. 

- Richard Rose, Child trauma expert

He says children who are removed from their birth parents tend to mirror the culture and traditions of their foster parents.

“It may not be their cultural idea; they may feel that they need a new belief a new system of survival.”

“Sometimes they come from situations where the culture they have come from is not celebrated it's often pushed away and that negativity can be very, very damaging for young people as they grow within society and to be proud of who you are is much more important for our children.”

Adam Alsuhaili (left) and Eman Rhajel (right)
Rashida Yosufzai

Kathy Karatasas, director of SSI’s Multicultural Child and Family Program says preserving a child’s cultural connection can help them as adolescents with identity development, personal growth and wellbeing, and belives the new books will help. 

“We know that over time, having that history of 'where I came from, why am I in care and why are my circumstances the way they are', having that information available about my family's background and their culture helps children understand their purpose and helps them form their sense of identity,” she said.

Foster children get new resource to help keep cultural connections
Foster children get new resource to help keep cultural connections

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