As an Aboriginal child growing up with mostly non-indigenous families in out-of-home care, Isaiah Dawe really struggled with his identity at the mo
At just two months old, Isaiah was taken from his family and put into care for the first time where, for the most part, he remained as a ward of the state until he was 18 years old.
He was placed in 17 different homes, mostly in rural country towns, and as a young person growing up he struggled to feel a connection to his Butchulla and Gawara Aboriginal culture.
Power in positivity: Isaiah Dawe spent most of his childhood in our-of-home foster care. He is using his experiences to help other young people in the system through his charity ID. Know Yourself
‘I was caught in two worlds. I knew I was Aboriginal, but I didn’t feel Aboriginal because I was never taught or told anything about my culture,’ Isaiah says. ‘When you are put into care you are stripped of your identity. I didn’t know who I was, or where I was from and I didn’t know where I had to go.’
Grappling with his sense of self was tough, but what’s worse is that at times he found himself in abusive situations with those had been tasked with looking after him.
Isaiah (left) aged five with his sister
‘One carer would lock me and my sister out of the house all day without food and water. She’d come back with jewellery and clothes and that sort of thing, she didn’t care about us at all,’ Isaiah says.
‘I was told I was disgusting, I was told that I was nothing and that my parents didn’t want me and that I would end up in jail. I was told this from a really young age by carers,’ Isaiah says.
To cope with his situation Isaiah says he had to become mentally strong. ‘When you are in care everything is taken away from you, but the one thing that no one can take away from you is your mind.’
Isaiah says he vividly remembers one experience from his childhood when he was five years old and he threw a ball up into the air but it didn’t come back down.
‘I looked everywhere for that ball and I couldn’t find it so I created this narrative that I was super strong, like a super hero with super human strength, a bit like Clark Kent.’
This remarkable grit is apparent as I chat to Isaiah. Despite the trauma of his childhood, which could easily have dictated his life, Isaiah refuses to be a victim.
He’s optimistic and determined to focus on how he can positively effect change for those who find themselves in a similar situation that he was in growing up.
Holistic approach: ID. Know Yourself helps support Aboriginal children who are in, or are about to leave, foster care as well as supporting those who have contact with the Juvenile Justice System and young people with disabilities. The programme includes cooking classes
The 26-year-old launched his own grassroots initiative ID. Know Yourself two years ago and the charity helps support Aboriginal children who are in, or are about to leave, foster care as well as supporting those who have contact with the Juvenile Justice System and young people with disabilities.
‘We’re trying to instil hope in these kids with ID. Know Yourself so they can look to the future and have opportunities and be optimistic so they can do better in life.’
The mentoring programme is seeing great success with the older mentees gaining employment and housing and many of those who come from the Juvenile Justice system are changing the course of their lives for the better.
ID. Know Yourself works with children from the age of five through to 20 years old and the programme has a holistic approach, with the team providing a therapeutic and trauma-informed service for the young people.
Stronger together: ID. Know Yourself places a huge emphasis on inspiring the children and empowering them by giving them choice
How you can support ID. Know Yourself
Make a one-off or set up a regular donation here.
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‘Our purpose is to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and disadvantage by establish belonging, discovering purpose and empowering positive choices,’ Isaiah explains.
The mentoring focuses on six key elements including cultural identity, yarn time which is spiritual healing and empowerment through storytelling, life skills, education, health and giving back.
‘For yarn time special guests come in and tell their stories around adversity and how they’ve overcome it and that really, really motivates the kids.’
As well as providing practical help, like aiding young people with obtaining their driving licences, teaching budgeting skills or how to cook nutritious meals, ID. Know Yourself places a huge emphasis on inspiring the children and empowering them by giving them choice.
‘When you are in care it’s not your choice, you have no control over where or who you live with and so we want to empower the young people we work with by letting them choose what activities we do, what meals we cook,’ Isaiah explains.
There is also a focus on giving back to the community and the young people and staff cook monthly meals to provide for those who ‘are sleeping rough or doing it tough’.
The need for initiatives like ID. Know Yourself is apparent when you look at the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the care system. According to a Family Matters report, in 2019 there were 20,421 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care, making them 37.3% of the total out-of-home care population.
Success! One of the programme’s mentees celebrates after securing employment
According to the report, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are ten times more likely to be placed in foster care than any other children.
Isaiah is determined to change this and says: ‘This is the generation where it stops. We want to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma that exists in the lives of young people in care.’
Despite the successes the initiative is having with the children in the programme Isaiah says that the Covid pandemic will have a huge impact on vulnerable children in foster care.
Giving back: In response to the Covid pandemic ID. Know Yourself have been using sessions to make Aboriginal print face masks which are available for sale on the website
‘With the lockdowns and when schools close there are fewer safe places for these children to go and it’s particularly hard on them,’ Isaiah explains.
‘School was always my safe place, I hated being at home so for those kids who have to stay in their foster homes, it’s really tough.’
In response to the Covid pandemic ID. Know Yourself have been using sessions to make Aboriginal print face masks which are available for sale on the website.
‘We’ve been making these masks with the kids and they asked if we could donate some to the Elders in our community. They really do understand the importance of giving back, which is what we’re all about. ‘
Ultimately, Isaiah hopes that the work he does inspires the young people to become someone they have always wanted to be, but haven’t had anyone to believe in them, guide them or give them the opportunity.
‘We’re trying to give these kids power in the present so they can be optimistic about the future so they can thrive, have opportunities and be empowered by choice. It’s like the Zig Ziglar quote “If there is hope in the future there is power in the present.” We’re trying to give them power by giving them an identity and giving them hope.’
To learn more about ID. Know Yourself please visit the website here.