Growing Our Children Up Strong and Deadly: Healing for children and young people

Growing Our Children Up Strong and Deadly: Healing for children and young people

13 August 2013

The latest approaches to healing intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people

Successfully overcoming intergenerational trauma1 is more likely if it is approached using a combination of evidence, knowledge and culture, according to a recent report from the Healing Foundation.

The report, Growing our children up strong and deadly, examines the latest approaches to healing intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.

The report acknowledges that Indigenous children are over-represented in the child protection youth justice systems in Australia, and whilst addressing these issues is important, positive results are unlikely if the welfare of those involved is not considered a priority.

Healing approaches

Effective approaches to healing require a focus on prevention and restoration; cultural identity and connection to country; trauma informed research; and community inclusion. The report discusses the following healing approaches:

  • Trauma-informed - There is increasing evidence that trauma-informed approaches – which incorporate knowledge about the effects of trauma, and draw on the wisdom of Indigenous culture - are most successful in facilitating healing.2 Trauma-informed programs consider the physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural requirements in their development of programs aimed at recovery.
  • Brain-based – Neurodevelopmental approaches focus on the effects of trauma on the developing brain. Brain-based healing programs are designed to repair the traumatised brain and restore typical neurological development.
  • Cultural - Evidence suggests a correlation between connection to one’s culture and a positive sense of identity, confidence and aspiration. Culture can be a protective factor that mitigates the impact of stressful life events and experiences.
  • Empowerment and Indigenous world-view – Essential for the success of healing programs is the empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander communities to identify their own problems and design and implement relevant solutions.

Intergenerational Trauma Initiative

A major focus of the Healing Foundation at present is the Intergenerational Trauma Initiative (ITI). The ITI was designed, using a combination of knowledge from the approaches above. The Initiative aims to address the impact of intergenerational trauma with holistic healing programs that increase cultural connectedness and identity.3 

Lessons learned

Observations from attempts at healing so far, suggest that overcoming trauma is more likely if:

  • Communities are supported and empowered to take control of their own healing;
  • Programs utilise both cultural and evidence-based knowledge;
  • Programs build cultural awareness and a sense of identity; and
  • Programs incorporate evaluation strategies and contribute shared knowledge for replication.

As healing programs are further researched and developed, more is learned about what is required and how such support can be successfully implemented. The Healing Foundation aims to overcome intergenerational trauma, providing the best opportunities for success by using a combination of evidence and long-held cultural wisdom in their program designs.  

Further resources

Atkinson, J. (2013). Trauma-informed services and trauma-specific care for Indigenous Australian children. Closing the Gap Clearinghouse.  

1. Intergenerational trauma is an issue affecting Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children, their families and communities. It can occur directly through abuse and neglect, or through secondary exposure as individuals bear witness to the trauma of others around them.

2. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Developmental trauma disorder: Towards a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals, 35(5), 401-408. van der Kolk, BA 2007, ‘The developmental impact of childhood trauma’ in L Kirmayer, R Lemelson, & M Barad (eds), Understanding trauma: Integrating biological, clinical and cultural perspectives, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 224–41.

3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation 2012a, Implementing healing for children and young people: Putting evidence into action, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, Canberra.


Carlie Dieber

External contributor

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