Connecting at our Aboriginal playgroup

June 26, 2024

For CatholicCare’s Aboriginal Community Engagement Manager, Judith, it took 11 misdiagnosed ear infections before finding out that her son had otitis media, more commonly known as glue ear. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience some of the highest rates of otitis media in the world, and early diagnosis can affect speech and hearing later in life. “This is why connecting Aboriginal kids with cultural services and playgroups is so important. If we were connected to an Aboriginal playgroup, I’m sure someone would have picked up on his glue ear and it would have prevented his speech delays and pain,” says Judith. “He would’ve got grommets earlier, rather than having 11 unnecessary courses of antibiotics.”

Knowing personally how important it is to connect Aboriginal children with cultural services, Judith searched for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playgroups in North Sydney when she started her role at CatholicCare in August. “There was nothing,” Judith says. Less than a year later, CatholicCare has its own Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Supported Playgroup and it is thriving. 

“Not only are we connecting Aboriginal children and families with support services, but we also are giving kids a chance to meet and connect with other kids from their culture. That social connection is so important,” Judith says. 

Intake Worker, Simone who facilitates the playgroup says that mums and dads come to yarn and share stories. “The conversation topics they come up with are usually very random but so interesting. One week, one of the mums shared about how she could now afford childcare after some recent subsidy changes for Aboriginal children. The other women weren’t aware of the subsidy changes, which shows how connecting and sharing information like this is so important. Personally, I have learnt so much since starting the playgroup.”

Simone says that the playgroup attracts a diverse range of families. “One mum who attends with her children was brought up in typical white Australia and is married to an Aboriginal man. She is so invested in giving her children opportunities to connect with their culture. One of the other mums fosters an Aboriginal boy and she asks the most amazing questions, many of which stem from her background working in infant and perinatal health. There is also a single mum who comes every week because she says it’s the only playgroup where she feels comfortable.” 

Simone has loved watching the children grow in confidence and build connections with each other. “Each week the children jump out of their cars and run up the ramp to greet each other. They genuinely miss each other if someone doesn’t come. One of the girls proudly shares videos of her older sister doing Aboriginal dances. It is very special to see the way they have connected with each other and their culture over time.”

Judith, Simone, and the team have great hopes for the future of the playgroup. “Our hope is to build the service and connect with more families,” Judith says. “Our goal is to get information about the playgroup out further afield, and to form a Memorandum of Understanding with Northern Sydney Local Health District to grow the group.”

In the meantime, it is all about the yarning, the shared joy, and the little moments of connection. “These little kids rock my world,” says Simone. “It is very special being called ‘Aunty Simone’ by these guys.” 

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