Holding Children Together - Arntwirrke-tyeke Ampemape Apurtele

Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

The focus of this promising practice is on the combination of using evidence informed therapeutic responses to trauma with a collaborative community-wide approach to building connections for families within their communities.

Delivered by

Relationships Australia Northern Territory: A non-government not-for-profit organisation.

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was submitted by the Director, Alice Springs at Relationships Australia Northern Territory.

Service type

The Holding Children Together program is a childrens therapeutic counselling service for Aboriginal children aged 5-12 years who have experienced interpersonal trauma, and to assist their families/carers in supporting the children to provide safety and relational stability in their recovery.

The service is delivered on the basis that interventions are shown to be most successful when carers, support networks and professionals enact collaborative and intersecting functions that can achieve protective, reparative and restorative objectives for children and young people.


Alice Springs, Northern Territory.


A mapping process of the Communities for Children (CfC) initiative identified a need for counselling services for vulnerable and disadvantaged children in Alice Springs. This need was prioritised by a local reference group in 2010 and, as a result, Relationships Australia Northern Territory (RANT) received funding through the CfC and auspiced by Anglicare to establish a quality therapeutic service for children, young people and their families in the Alice Springs region. RANT established a partnership with the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF) to utilise their expertise in trauma-based principles to deliver the Holding Children Together Service (HCTS).

The broad objective of the HCTS is to create a therapeutic environment for children and young people who have experienced abuse and trauma in their lives, and to facilitate their recovery from the bio-psycho-social-cultural effects of their experiences. The conceptual framework of the intervention is to provide children with holistic, dependable, predictable environments that can be used to challenge the negative, direct and secondary aspects of their abusive experience. Specifically, the aims of the HCTS are to:

  • promote the ability of children and young people to recover from the effects of abuse, trauma and toxic levels of stress;
  • resource carers and professionals to provide nurturing, therapeutic, reparative care for children and young people who present with complex needs and challenging behaviours using a trauma framework;
  • ensure that children and young people are provided with opportunities and assistance to participate in decisions that affect their lives;
  • ensure a multi-systemic, integrated, coordinated, consistent and holistic response to the needs of children and young people;
  • work with families of origin in a supportive, inclusive and respectful way; and,
  • ensure that meaningful planning occurs in regard to the cultural needs of Aboriginal children and young people from other culturally diverse backgrounds.

The outcomes of the HCTS intervention depend significantly on the confidence and competence of carers, networks and professionals to:

  • communicate effectively with children and young people about their experiences and the meaning they draw from them about their identity and relationships;
  • provide therapeutic contexts for children and young people that promote recovery from the effects of abuse related trauma;
  • consider the cultural background and/or special needs of children and young people in planning and executing programs aimed at supporting recovery;
  • embed in professional practice an appreciation of the current research findings about the psychobiological effects of trauma for children and young people; and,
  • use ethical decision making frameworks that promote the repair of abusive family relationships in order to focus on meeting the emerging needs of children and young people.

The program has been funded through Communities for Children initiative and is in its second year of funding. Funding is secure until June 2013.


MOST promising aspect

As a partner in the delivery of the Holding Children Together service, the ACF has added credibility and expertise in the area of trauma and toxic stress for children and families. This expertise is combined with the local community knowledge, experience and practice wisdom of Aboriginal staff and Aboriginal workers of other partner agencies to enhance the capacity of the program to deliver culturally appropriate responses to vulnerable and disadvantaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Other promising aspects

Schools in the local Alice Springs community are increasingly recognising how important it is to work from a neurobiological knowledge base and to “help kids make space for learning” in their lives. This understanding of the impacts of trauma on children has resulted in schools that are investing positively in this approach to assess and support children in their learning.

The interest from schools in supporting and working with the HCTS as partners is supplemented with additional support from local service agencies and other community organisations. This support has facilitated stronger connections for families to be engaged in the community's efforts to help support their children.

Connecting families with the community has been aided through the consistency of the work and ongoing commitment of high calibre HCTS staff and its partner organisations to identify and engage with high risk and vulnerable Aboriginal children and families. This has developed over time to engage children and families who are typically difficult to reach. This provides the program with the potential to be sustained in the longer term and is therefore more likely to deliver positive outcomes for children and families. These outcomes will then be translated into benefits for the whole Alice Springs community as the children grow to become more well-functioning members of the community.

Evidence base and opportunities

The focus on connecting families to their local communities to access less formal avenues of support is a promising approach for a number of reasons: it helps to promote socially inclusive realtionships that facilitate ongoing and vital friendships among the community; it provides a pathway for children and families to become more involved in community events and initiatives; and, it allows families to share information with each other about local services that might help those families to consider different ways of dealing with their family issues. These factors are important to enable families a soft entry gateway to accessing more formal services when, and if, they need them.

Enlisting the support of local schools and service agencies also helps to broaden the support base for children and families, particularly where their knowledge and experiences of the local community can help inform program delivery and engagement strategies. This helps the program to identify and respond more effectively to the needs of the community while also facilitating stronger collaborative arrangements between the program and community agencies.

The use of committed and skilled cultural advisors and Aboriginal workers to inform the program's design and delivery, coupled with the expert advice from an organisation that specialises in evidence-informed therapeutic practice, allows the Holding Children Together service to deliver both culturally appropriate and effective reponses to family and community needs. These workers have also, over time, developed trusting relationships with the families, which is a key component in delivering effective outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Opportunities exist for other agencies that deliver services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families to combine evidence-informed practice with a culturally appropriate service delivery approach. The Holding Children Together Service acknowledges that further work could be done to refine the approach to be even more culturally relevant, so that the program's trauma related responses can be delivered with greater effect.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The program is based on the Australian Childhood Foundation's model of children & neurobiology of complex trauma. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders worked with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to refine the program/practice for their target client base.

An Aboriginal Advisory group was established and staff were selected on the basis of their extensive experience in working with Indigenous organisations and families. RANT also utilised the services of a cultural advisor and negotiated with employees about employing other culturally aware advisors. As a consequence of those negotiations, two additional Indigenous workers were employed. Having a range of culturally aware staff helped to engage with appropriate Aboriginal workers and organisations in supporting the delivery of the program.

The ongoing refinement of the program is informed by the Australian Childhood Foundation's Model, an Aboriginal Advisory group, Indigenous staff and experienced practitioners who have worked with Aboriginal families and children over many years.


The HCTS was based on the Australian Childhood Foundation's model of children and neurobiology of complex trauma which has been adapted to be culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. The HCTS has received additional funding to modify the program's training approach in neurobiology of trauma to be more culturally appropriate.


Evaluation status

An external, independent evaluation has been completed although the results have not yet become available. The evaluation included interviews and assessments of staff and clients involved in the project.


Demonstrated outcomes

Final results from the evaluation are not yet available. However, anecdotal evidence from partner agencies and stakeholders, particularly schools, ha suggested a reduction in negative behaviours of children who attend the service, and increasing interest from parents/carers in helping their children to recover from trauma.

There has also been increased interest and desire for other therapists and practitioners to be involved in delivering HCTS therapeutic services. In this sense, a "community of practice" is developing and growing in Alice Springs.

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