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Content type
Short article

July 2017


Will Douglas

The Stronger Safer Together practice resource has been designed to identify key areas of learning and reflection for workers providing targeted support services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Developed by SNAICC - National Voice for our Children, the resource provides a range of practice ideas and reflection activities that have been informed by professionals with high-levels of cultural knowledge and practical experience. The key elements are addressed within the following seven practice focus areas.

1. Working differently with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families

Practice must be tailored to the unique cultural, historical and personal contexts of the families involved. Services should aim to integrate the innate values and strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Building working relationships with community leaders will provide a wealth of cultural knowledge, and will ultimately lead to more effective service engagement.

2. Building trusting relationships and partnerships with families

In order to support and empower a family to achieve changes, a trusting relationship must be established with the family. Patience and persistence are required in the initial stages of engagement with families. An awareness of cultural commitments and protocols (e.g., how to interact with family members of different genders) is also important when planning and implementing intervention strategies.

3. Identifying the needs of children and their families

It is important that family support workers can identify both the strengths of a family and the areas that require change, and then describe how and why these factors need to be addressed. The cultural needs of children must also be factored into an assessment of how best to support children and their families. The workers need to then distinguish, within the cultural context and in spite of adversity, whether a family is able and willing to provide a nurturing environment for their children.

4. Providing an appropriate mix of practical, therapeutic, educational and advocacy supports

This involves adapting the type and extent of an approach to meet the specific needs of a family. The appropriate mix of services should aim to promote resilience and independent coping mechanisms in families. Effective referral practice requires matching the available services to the family’s needs, and maintaining inter-service correspondence. In-home services can be beneficial for providing support in the real-life context of the family, however the challenges and risks of this approach must also be considered.

5. Including families in case planning and decision making

Sustainable change requires family empowerment and motivation to create changes for themselves. A ‘structured helping alliance’ between the family and workers provides families with the power to identify changes they want to make, with support from the workers to help implement these changes.

6. Working effectively with statutory child protection agencies

The working relationship between intensive family support services and child protection services is critical in order to provide effective support to families. It is important that family support services work differently from, whilst still acknowledging the obligations of child protection services. Establishing partnership agreements and quality collaborative relationships and processes between agencies can be an effective way of promoting inter-service collaboration.

7. Ensuring worker safety, self-care, boundaries and supervision

Workers in intensive family support services often experience traumatic events, risks to their own safety, and breaches of personal/professional boundaries. Supervision and support for workers is critical in order to minimise the risks and emotional impacts of their work. The development of strategies for workers to take care of themselves and establish professional boundaries is an effective way of ensuring worker safety.

Access Stronger Safer Together: Reflective practice resource (PDF)

Further reading and resources

Artwork is by Mazart Design Studio. Used with permission.