Aboriginal Mentoring and Child-Focused Play Therapy

Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

This program is aimed at healing intergenerational trauma through play therapy and counselling. The services are provided in a safe, comfortable and non-stigmatising environment (at schools) through the use of a purpose-built and fully equipped mobile counselling van. The program is led by an Aboriginal worker who mentors a non-Aboriginal worker and is informed by and provides feedback to parents, families and community Elders.

Delivered by

Anglicare - Shoalhaven Region: A non-Government community based organisation.


The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Regional Manager of Anglicare Shoalhaven.

Service type

The program provides mentoring and counselling services exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood and school-aged children from 3-12 years. Parental support services, intensive family therapy and community mediation are also delivered with a focus on responding to issues of domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse.


Remote and rural Aboriginal townships in the Shoalhaven region, NSW.


The program provides mentoring services and play therapy to Aboriginal children and their families by visiting schools and the local Aboriginal community using a purpose built counselling van.

The need for the program was identified by a Child and Adolescent Counsellor from Anglicare who noted the absence of Aboriginal clients in the mainstream setting at Nowra. She consulted with a Senior Aboriginal Advisor who shared her vision to help heal transgeneration grief in the local Shoalhaven Aboriginal communities. They identified that if Anglicare was to service local Aboriginal communities then they would need to be present at the school and community. In response, Anglicare's Regional Manager organised a mobile counselling room for explicit use to deliver the service in the local community. It was also important to the community that the program was to be managed and developed by the Counsellor and the Senior Aboriginal Advisor as they had demonstrated their personal interest and passion for the community during the consultation process. As a result, these two workers expanded their existing roles at Anglicare to incorporate a pilot program into their job specifications.

The pilot was first undertaken for Jerrinja Aboriginal Community at Orient Point and Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community at Jervis Bay. One day per week was spent visiting these communities, where program providers attended the feeder public school and set up on school grounds. Parents gave written permission for their children to be included in the program and appointments and consultations were administered. The mobile counselling room was then driven to the community to consult and provide feedback to the parents, Elders and families.


The progam is not currently funded as an independent intiative. Rather, the two workers delivering the service refined their Anglicare placements to include this particular service. In terms of expansion, funding would be required to train and employ a duplicate pair of workers so the service could operate five days per week for the other two Aboriginal communities in the Shoalhaven.


MOST promising aspect

The most promising aspect of the program is that, as a mobile service, workers can be present at all Aboriginal gatherings and local schools and can move around the community to provide effective responses based on specific family and community needs.

Other promising aspects

Currently the program has a long waiting list to see children into 2013. This can largely be attributed to the fact that the program is led by an Aboriginal worker that delivers culturally appropriate services.

The custom built mobile counselling room which drives to the community is an innovative method that is well received by Aboriginal communities.

Evidence base and opportunities

The program is led and informed by an Aboriginal counsellor to ensure cultural relevance and to facilitate access to the service for Aboriginal community members. Because the counselling van is mobile and uses local schools as a venue, families are able to access the service in a non-stigmatising and casual environment.

The service provides a good soft entry point because it is accessible and well accepted within the community. This enables referrals to and from other services and facilitates broader support for the family and parents as well as the individual child.

Committed and dedicated staff of the service have built trusting relationships with families and Elders in the local community. Such trust is critical for program effectiveness in responding to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

The mentoring approach used by the Aboriginal worker ensures the program is delivered in a culturally meaningful way and maintains connections to culture for the children and families who utilise the service. Further, it builds capacity and understanding with non-Aboriginal workers to engage and work with the community in a meaningful way.

Currently the program is entirely dependent on two employees and opportunities exist to further resource the program to attend to long waiting lists. Furthermore, while the program implementation has been carefully documented to facilitate replication in other sites, a formal evalualtion would provide an evidence base to build on progam strengths and to modify weaknesses.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Anglicare's Senior Aboriginal Advisor and a non-Aboriginal Child and Family Counsellor developed the practice in consultation with Aboriginal Elders and local Aboriginal community members. Relationships were developed on the reputation and goodwill of the Aboriginal Advisor who introduced the program to the community and supported the non-Aboriginal Counsellor in her vision to work with the community.

Engagement strategies involved attending local Aboriginal meetings and delivering powerpoint presentations to parents, community members and Elders. Presentations were also delivered at each school. The non-Aboriginal Counsellor undertook training at Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe and received direct mentoring from the Aboriginal Advisor. The Aboriginal Advisor is a highly respected, well informed community member experienced in providing cultural awareness and sensitivity training for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and individuals.

Cultural practices and materials

Initally the program was to provide therapy to children and their families. However, it became evident that the Aboriginal Advisor was the key to the program being accepted and used by families in the community. This then created an extended role for the Aboriginal Advisor to provide cultural mentorship and support to both the school and the community about the behavioural issues of young boys, especially those without fathers involved in their lives. This support role was found to be significant in the effective delivery of intensive psychotherapy services that provide culturally aligned play and art therapy.

This program is unique in that it is supported by a mobile counselling van that has been purpose designed with a sunken sand tray in the floor and work areas conducive to child focused play therapy. An annex on the side of the vehicle creates a separate space for the Aboriginal Advisor to mentor the children. It provides discretion and privacy as well as a casual meeting place for conversation and relationship building.


Evaluation status

An external/independent evaluation of the program is underway and a comprehensive report will be produced using an Aboriginal story-telling approach. The instruments used in the evaluation will include written evaluations following client participation in the program and the effects of the program on participants by pre-test and post-test comparison.

An application to conduct a formal evaluation was made through Anglicare. However, due to a lack of funding the request was declined.


Demonstrated outcomes

The fact that the service is being utilised and sought after by Aboriginal communities in the Shoalhaven region suggests the program is meeting the needs of those communities. Positive feedback from community members, school teachers and Elders report a positive change in the children's behaviour that includes reduced aggression, increased school attendance, improved self-esteem and greater cultural pride. Furthermore, some participating children have been reconciled with their parents and family. Thanks to these outcomes, community Elders continue to make contact with program workers to organise and set up meetings on behalf of families.

Other evidence

The program was presented at the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Childcare (SNAICC) conference in Cairns in 2013.


The program workers hope that the development and implementation approach can be adopted by other services. The approach has been carefully recorded so there is the capacity to implement the program in other locations where a need for the service might exist.

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