Amidst a sea of children’s toys in a room lined with family photographs, Geraldine Punch sits happily in her favourite chair.
Five young Aboriginal boys sit side by side on the couch next to her in their home in eastern Perth.
Geraldine is a Noongar woman who is a foster carer for Noongar children.
“Mum, I’m going to the skate park,” one of the boys calls out, making his way out the front door.
Ms Punch says all her foster children call her ‘mum’, except Sebastian and Warren. To Warren, she is ‘aunty’, and to Sebastian she is ‘nan’.
More than half the children in foster care in Western Australia are Aboriginal children.
The Department of Child Protection and Family Support General Manager Emma White says the department gives priority to providing Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander carers for such children.
“This gives recognition to an Aboriginal child’s right to be raised in their own culture and the importance and value of family, extended family, kinship networks and community in raising Aboriginal children,” Ms White says.
Ms Punch is the sister of wrestler Neil Coyne or NC Viper as he is known in the ring.
Mr Coyne knows the importance of culture and community to young Aboriginal people and has run programs with the department.
He also runs his own workshops encouraging the practice of culture.
“My greatest motivation at the moment is kids,” he says.
“I want them to embrace who they are and share their culture.
“It helps to know who you are and where you come from.
“They are always important factors.”
Mr Coyne praises his sister’s work as a carer.
“These young men, she is doing a wonderful job with all of them,” he says.
Ms Punch encourages the children in her care to take up an interest in their culture but does not force it on them.
“They’re at the age now when girls are more the topic,” she jokes.
One of the boys in her care, Arnold, is involved in traditional dancing.
Arnold has danced in school functions, at local football games and at NAIDOC week celebrations.
She proudly tells of her granddaughter who has pursued Aboriginal studies at university.
“Nevae, she is going to university now and she is going to learn Aboriginal language … the Noongar language around this area,” she says.
Ms White says maintaining a child’s connection to family, friends and culture is a priority when placing Aboriginal children with foster carers.
Currently, 66 per cent of Western Australian Aboriginal children in foster care are under the care of relatives, their Aboriginal community or other Aboriginal people.
“Relative care arrangements help maintain better contact with family and friends, preserve cultural identity and a sense of belonging and provide continuity and stability for children in care,” Ms White says.
“Maintaining cultural identity and sense of belonging supports healing from traumatic experiences.
“Generally children who come into care have experienced significant harm and traumatic experiences, abuse and neglect of various forms,” she says.
When she was 14, Ms Punch’s brothers and sisters were taken to Roelands mission.
“1977 … my other six siblings were all taken away …, ” she says.
Once separated from her brothers and sisters, she started hitchhiking and stayed out of the missions by finding odd jobs.
“I came up here [Perth], lived on the streets, slept in parks, lived with other kids in one room, all that kind of stuff.
“I did that for four years straight.”
She says her experience of living alone, without parents or family, influenced her decision to foster children.
“Separating from mum, living on the streets and making new friends there, made me realise the amount of kids that need a home,” she says.
Ms Punch says her mother inspired her into foster care.
“This here what I do is something of my mum,” she says.
“We lived on a reserve in a tin shed and I could always remember mum always having lots of kids all our cousins.”
Her mother fought to get her children back and when she finally did, she also started to foster other children in need.
“She got a few young boys … I have photos of mum when she turned 50 with the biggest mob of kids or [at] some little kid’s birthday and mums sitting with all the kids around her.”
Her mother still had a 19-year-old woman under her care when she died last year.
Ms Punch’s family has warned her to stop taking on so many children as she gets older.
“They keep saying to me ‘Don’t have any more kids now, look after yourself’… but I just feel I am here for that very purpose,” she says.
“I can’t give them very much but myself … If they can get a job and be strong people, honest working class people that is all I ask for.
“I think I’ve just got the need to see little people do something good in their life.”