Safe and supportive Indigenous families and communities for children: A synopsis and critique of Australian research

CFCA Paper No. 7 – August 2012


This paper provides a synopsis and critique of research relating to the theme of "Supporting Indigenous Families and Communities in Protecting their Children from Child Abuse and Neglect", as identified through the Protecting Australia's Children Research Audit 1995-2010 ("the Audit"; McDonald et al., 2011). This theme is reflected in "Supporting Outcome 5: Indigenous Children are Supported and Safe in Their Families and Communities", outlined in Protecting Australia's Children is Everyone's Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-20 ("the National Framework"; Council of Australian Governments [COAG], 2009).

The Audit sought to identify, describe and disseminate information about Australian research and program evaluations during the period 1995-2010 on topics relating to the protection of children.1 The scope of the topics reflected the six supporting outcomes outlined in the National Framework (see Appendix A).

The specific aims of the Audit were to identify:

  • research projects (published and unpublished) undertaken in Australia between 1995-2010 on topics relevant to the National Framework (COAG, 2009);
  • outcomes and progress since the Audit of Australian Out-of-Home Care Research (Cashmore & Ainsworth, 2004) and the National Audit of Australian Child Protection Research 1995-2004 (Higgins, Adams, Bromfield, Richardson, & Aldana, 2005);
  • gaps, duplication and areas for development in relation to the outcomes and national priorities identified in the National Framework; and
  • priorities for future research and data collection on the basis of the Audit results, outcomes of the Towards a National Agenda forum (October 2009) and priorities identified in the National Framework.

The Audit noted that only 1.3% of projects directly addressed topics relating to the protection of Indigenous children. For this reason, the scope of this review extends to programs that provide services to Indigenous people as part of a broader client base (such as homeless families).

This paper seeks to review all the available projects identified in the Audit that relate to preventative approaches to Indigenous child abuse and neglect in an effort to support the National Framework's focus on reducing the over-representation of Indigenous children in the Australian child protection system (see Box 1). Projects included in the Audit are analysed here in greater depth to identify key issues and research gaps that will help contribute to Indigenous children being supported and safe in their families and communities.

Box 1: Indigenous focus within the National Framework

One area of focus in the National Framework is to address Indigenous disadvantage and the factors that place Indigenous children at risk of abuse and neglect. In recognition of the intergenerational cycles of adversity and trauma that continue to afflict Indigenous communities, the National Framework proposed a collaborative approach that incorporates holistic and culturally sensitive responses that are informed by Indigenous-led and community-identified solutions. The goal is to build the capacity of families and communities to take part in reducing the over-representation of Indigenous children in Australian child protection systems. To achieve this, the National Framework proposes the following strategies:

  • Expand access to Indigenous and non-Indigenous ("mainstream") services for families and children.
  • Promote the development of safe and strong communities.
  • Ensure that Indigenous children receive culturally appropriate protection services and care.

For further information, see Supporting Outcome 5 in Protecting Children is Everyone's Business: National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 (COAG, 2009, p.28) <>.


1 For further information about the Audit's objectives, see <> and for the methodology, see <>.