Family Relationships Quarterly No. 17

AFRC Newsletter No. 17 – September 2010

2nd National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family & Community Strengths Conference: Report

by Catherine Caruana

The Family Action Centre, in conjunction with the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), were once again hosts to a national conference at the University of Newcastle, which focused on positive initiatives and outcomes for Indigenous families and communities. Community workers, researchers and policy-makers gathered from 1-3 December 2009, to explore ways in which effective community engagement can build on existing strengths within the Indigenous community to improve family and community wellbeing.

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the effectiveness of Indigenous programs acting as a link or a "soft-entry" point to a wider range of services for families. Lesley Olsen from Playgroup Queensland spoke about the collaborative work done with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop community-specific playgroup services, and create an environment conducive to the sharing of information about early intervention and health services with attending parents. Similarly, the Yarrenyty Arltere Learning Centre for children in the Larapinta Valley Town Camp in Alice Springs, combines a school and playgroups for children with accredited health training, legal and employment services for adults, and a young men's group.

There were also a number of presentations looking at how mainstream services can engage effectively with Indigenous people. Rita Perkons and David Towney from UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families, NSW, provided an overview of the development of the 9 Aboriginal Service Delivery Principles, aimed at ensuring appropriate, effective and participatory service provision in Indigenous communities. Included in this is an audit tool for mainstream organisations to gauge their effectiveness in meeting the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

Fran Quigley from Relationships Australia Victoria (RAV), Ballarat, described how an initiative with the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC), improved access to RAV services by clients identifying as Indigenous, increasing from only two across the state in the previous year, to 50 in the Ballarat catchment area alone.

One of the more inspiring presentations was that outlining the success of the Indigenous-conceived, designed and run diversionary program at Mt Theo, near Yuendumu in Central Australia. Established in 1994 as a response to the high rates of petrol sniffing in that community, and with no external funding, the program aims to "look after young people proper way". It has grown into a community-wide strategy incorporating treatment, rehabilitation, prevention (by way of diversionary activities, leadership and community development), and a Warlpiri-specific youth counselling and mentoring service.

A number of keynote addresses provided personal accounts of discovery and healing, an indication both of the kinds of issues those working with Indigenous families are dealing with (involving a loss of way and identity) and the importance of self-care for Indigenous workers in this sector.

This showcasing of innovative and culturally appropriate services for Indigenous families, including examples of effective programs for Maori people in New Zealand, illustrates once again the power of taking a strengths and not a deficit approach to Indigenous family and community wellbeing.

Catherine Caruana is a Senior Research Officer with the Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse.