Families and Schools Together (Northern Territory)
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles
Strengthening family functioning, school engagement, preventing substance abuse and parenting support
Families and Schools Together Northern Territory (FAST NT), works with local schools and Indigenous communities in urban (Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs) and remote Northern Territory locations to establish and deliver the FAST program.
The program is delivered through agreements between FAST NT, the local community and schools. Other organisations provide support in various ways, either by funding, program participation or through receiving client referrals from the program.
The FAST NT program is run in several urban and remote locations in the Northern Territory. FAST is suitable for the needs of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students. However, many of the schools where FAST NT is run have a high Indigenous population.
The current FAST NT program locations are:
East Arnhem Land:
This profile focuses on the implementation of FAST NT programs in remote, primarily Indigenous, communities and specifically incorporates information from an interview with Yolngu FAST facilitators from three different East Arnhem Land communities, information from a 2011 evaluation of a specific FAST program at Shepherdson College in the community of Galiwin'ku, and input from the FAST NT Coordinator and program evaluator.
|Issue being addressed||
The FAST program runs in urban and remote Australian communities and addresses the need, identified by Indigenous community leaders in the profiled locations, for giving children the best start in life. In particular, the program is intended to strengthen young families and improve children's engagement with school.
Other issues addressed include overcrowded housing and balancing Indigenous children's need to fit into mainstream education while fulfilling cultural and family obligations.
Parenting support and education, educational support for children, community strengthening and engagement
The target population for the FAST program are Indigenous families in communities where children are not succeeding at school and/or where parents are in need of support.
|Aims and objectives||
The program aims to increase the likelihood of children being successful at home, in school and in the community. To achieve this, FAST runs activities that strengthen the protective factor of family cohesion. Family cohesion is achieved through:
FAST programs were first developed in First Nation communities in North America and targeted families with young children who were not succeeding at school. The programs were developed by Dr Lynn McDonald, a family therapist and academic at the University of Wisconsin. FAST has worked with urban Indigenous families in Australia since 1996. The FAST program has been implemented in Northern Territory communities from 2002.
FAST targets the whole family and asks them to attend 2.5 hour sessions for 8 weeks (one night a week). The meetings are usually held at a school, are run by a team of local Indigenous FAST facilitators, and include activities that are aimed at positive family interaction and parental/child education. The program also partners with local services (eg., police, health clinics) to provide information or support to the groups.
Some examples of the weekly activities include:
|Local community context||
There are several specific challenges in delivering education in these (and other) remote NT communities, including:
At the same time, negative characterisations of these communities (as disadvantaged, dysfunctional, poor and disengaged from the economy) have also compounded the issues and often overlook community agency, cultural pride and strong connections to law and land. Accordingly, FAST NT works with community leaders, educators and schools to achieve the aspirations local families have for their children.
One key aspect of the local context is that in all of the remote NT communities where FAST is implemented, community members commonly speak a variety of languages with English often not their first language. The communities include:
|Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders||
In the case of Galiwin'ku, the FAST Team (which helped design and implement the program) consisted of a FAST Trainer (a non-local), three senior Indigenous community workers from the local health centre and two community women who joined the team as 'community partners'. These Indigenous people formed part of the team who helped design the programs' content and encouraged families to attend (which were initially a mixture of their own or extended family). The Indigenous FAST staff consulted senior community members when the program was first proposed and approved its implementation. Since the evaluation, the Galiwin'ku team has proposed another program in a new suburb of the community, which has recently completed its second cycle.
Another example of the Indigenous community involvement is in the Gapuwiyak community (which has been running FAST since 2010), where the FAST team have taken the initiative and run the program for outstation communities in an unused classroom at the local school. At the time of writing this outstation program is currently halfway through the 8 week program.
|Cultural practices and materials||
In most locations, the Yolngu FAST facilitators collaborated with families to develop educational and visual activities to facilitate and enhance the meaning of the weekly meetings. These were often locally designed stories that were used to improve engagement and communication. Some of these featured artwork, images and metaphors that were locally meaningful.
One example of a locally designed metaphor was 'the basket' (see below). A senior Yolgnu woman in East Arnhem developed the analogy of the basket as a visual metaphor for family and community life. The Yolgnu basket is a container and, as such, represents community strength; however the basket also has holes through which its contents (community members) might fall; these holes represent community problems that require a joint effort to repair. Yolngu staff successfully used the metaphor throughout the FAST process to communicate and facilitate discussion about community and family life.
A formal external evaluation has been completed for the FAST Galiwin'ku program. This profile will focus on the findings of the Galiwin'ku evaluation but will also summarise some of the anecdotal findings from FAST programs run in other remote communities.
|Link to evaluation|
The Galiwin'ku evaluation recognised that the template evaluation tools that have been validated as part of the FAST program internationally would need to be adapted to remote Indigenous contexts (primarily because of cultural and language issues). Accordingly, the Galiwin'ku program evaluation developed new tools to evaluate FAST that were culturally appropriate, were adaptable to other Indigenous contexts and could be used by Indigenous FAST staff with minimal support from external or non Indigenous evaluators. These tools were developed by the FAST staff in consultation with, and advice from, community Elders, key funding stakeholders and with university and private evaluation experts with experience in designing culturally appropriate evaluation tools for Indigenous contexts. Adapted evaluation tools included using a narrative format for participants to provide qualitative feedback, simplifying the response categories for standard survey questions and using local language and Indigenous staff to conduct the research.
The Galiwin'ku evaluation also used participant and teacher surveys, school attendance data, FAST staff interviews and evaluator observations. The evaluation explored the following questions:
|Most effective aspect||
The evaluation found evidence of positive change in parental self efficacy, family environment, social relationships, child behaviour and parental involvement in education.
The evaluation suggested that the key areas underpinning FAST program success were community support, strong local Aboriginal coordination, a trusting relationship with the school, the program’s fit with the community's perceived needs, and the FAST team's cohesion.
A summary of the results for each of the instruments used to evaluate the FAST Galiwin'ku program are listed below:
School attendance data:
Interviews with FAST staff and community members:
Evaluator observations indicated that the critical success factors underpinning the program include:
The program has also adapted the template activities from the international FAST program to suit the Yolngu concepts of family to include that of the extended family. For example the usual activity of "table based coaching" (where FAST staff instruct one parent to instruct the whole family) was broadened to include the extended family (e.g., grandparents) so as to recognise their importance in raising children.
In addition to the formal evaluation data, there is anecdotal evidence from several communities that the FAST program:
It should be noted the outcomes of the program were percieved differently by different stakeholders. For example, while schools tended to focus on educational outcomes (e.g., behaviour change, attendance, parental engagement and student engagement), families were often more concerned with issues of empowerment, leadership, cultural maintenance and support.
The program receives support from various sponsors including: The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Social Security, the Department of Health and Families (NT) and the Department of Education and Training (NT), Anglicare and The Smith Family.
|Evidence base and opportunities||
As part of the Galiwin'ku evaluation a literature review was conducted to identify other family strengthening programs for Indigenous Australians and to describe the evidence base for the FAST program. Extensive international evidence is available on the FAST website (http://www.familiesandschools.org/research/) about the efficacy of the program.
Other sources of information about engaging Indigenous parents in their children's education can be viewed here: