Responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing

Content type
Event date

9 September 2020, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Craig Rigney, Rachel Abdulla, Tania Sansbury, Dana Shen




This webinar was held on Wednesday 9 September 2020. 

This webinar drew on the voices, experiences and knowledge of First Nations practitioners to explore how services can better listen to, engage with, and support First Nations communities. Specifically, it:

  • outlined the complexities faced by First Nations families experiencing family violence
  • identified principles for practice that are culturally responsive and child-centred in their approach
  • explored the importance of having community-controlled and locally relevant responses to family violence.

The presenters also shared perspectives on what these considerations might mean for mainstream services working with First Nations families, and for cross-cultural partnerships between services and practitioners.

Family violence is a major health and wellbeing concern affecting all Australians, including First Nations communities. Practitioners working in health, education and community services often report feeling ill-equipped to work with First Nations families in culturally responsive ways when family violence is a concern, particularly when tasked with supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of children.

Services that are welcoming, inclusive and non-threatening stand to gain a better understanding of families’ lived experiences and the impact of social disadvantage and intergenerational trauma on First Nations communities; and to then respond more sensitively.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working with First Nations families and children in health, education, social and community service settings, including family violence and related services. 

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds in a series focusing on children’s mental health. They are working together as part of the Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

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Audio transcript (edited)

MS SHEN: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's' webinar. Responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children's social and emotional wellbeing. Coproduced by CFCA and Emerging Minds. My name is Dana Shen and I'm a social services consultant and cultural consultant for Emerging Minds.

In today's presentation, we will be exploring family violence and child wellbeing in First Nations families drawing on expertise of First Nations practitioners. Let's have a look at the learning objectives. So we can be clear for you about what's ahead in the next hour we will be discussing some of the complexities faced by First Nations families experiencing family violence. Identifying principles for practice that are culturally responsive and child-centred in their approach. Exploring the importance of having community-controlled and locally relevant responses to family violence. And finally reflecting on what these considerations might mean for mainstream services working with First Nations families and for cross-cultural partnerships between services and practitioners.

But before we start I firstly wanted to say through Emerging Minds and CFC, CFCA wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands across Australia upon which our webinar presenters and participants are located. We wish to pay respects to elders past and present and future for the memories, the traditions, the hopes of indigenous Australia.

This is the first in a series of six webinars focussed on infant and child mental health that will be facilitated in partnership with CFCA and Emerging Minds in 2021. Upcoming webinars include Working with families experiencing gambling harm, Supporting children's social and emotional wellbeing, and Homelessness and child focussed practice. It's my pleasure as the facilitator today to present Tania Sansbury, Rachel Abdulla and Craig Rigney. Before we get into the detail of the discussion today and in particular their work. I just wanted to make a general introduction first. So first of all Craig, I wondered if you let us know who you are, your nation and your role. And something that you feel hopeful about in these times?

MR RIGNEY: Oh good afternoon everybody, thank you, Dana, yes my name's Craig Rigney I'm a proud Ngarrindjeri Ghana man. I'm the CEO at KWY and we work across I guess a number of sectors as we all do. And intersectionality of our programs that really aim to have better outcomes for our Aboriginal community. And I guess, for me personally, something very hopeful is that we all can move forward on this journey that we're having together. That we understand what it means to be Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander in Australia. And we acknowledge and respect our individual and collective journeys in the way that we work in community for those outcomes.

MS SHEN: Right thank you so much Craig it's so wonderful to have you here today.

MR RIGNEY: Thank you.

MS SHEN: Now Rachel Abdulla, program manager at Ninko. Would you introduce yourself, your nation and your role, something that you feel hopeful about?

MS ABDULLA: Thanks Dana hi everyone I'm Rachel Abdulla, proud Ngarrindjeri Mimini, born and raised in Ghana country. What makes me hopeful?


MS ABDULLA: Was that what you asked?

MS SHEN: Yes, yes.

MS ABDULLA: So I've been working in the DV sector, for now, seven years, working with Aboriginal women specifically and their children. I'm really hopeful that we're at a time now, there's a lot of change happening in society with governmental structures. And I really hope that community can get together and be the change that we need to, you know, help support our mob to begin thriving and not just surviving.

MS SHEN: And Rachel just very briefly your role as well?

MS ABDULLA: Sorry, Dana, I'm a program manager at Ninko.

MS SHEN: Thanks so much, Rachel. Tania, thanks for coming today, can you talk a bit about who you are, your nation, your role and something you feel hopeful about?

MS SANSBURY: Good afternoon everybody, thanks, Dana. My name's Tania Sansbury I'm a proud Narangga woman. I'm an Aboriginal family violence case manager. And something that I'm hopeful about, changes across sector that help my role to have better outcomes for women and children after experiencing domestic violence and family violence.

MS SHEN: Wonderful. And of course, we're going to get this amazing opportunity to chat with all of these speakers today about their work and also hopefully to provide some advice for all of you out there about how you might think about working in this sector as well. So on that, the first thing I'd like to do is to really give our speakers an opportunity to talk a bit about their services and what they do. So first of all Craig, I wondered if you could talk a bit about KWY. A bit about the program and what you do.

MR RIGNEY: Thank you, Dana. Yeah look KWY started in 2011 and we were predominantly working with men who use violence against women and children. Since then we identified some gaps in service delivery which we really wanted to build on a holistic approach not only for the men but really for Aboriginal Torres Strait Island families. So over the next few years, we were able to build upon our service offerings to Aboriginal communities and to those people living that part of the Aboriginal community as well. So it was really important for us to look at ways that we could build our little ACCO into a way that could really encompass a holistic wrap-around service model. And as you can see from the slide up there, we have managed to cover off on some of that.

We really, in 2017, were able to work with PMC at that time to build our family violence safety hubs which are based in Berri in the Riverland and northern suburbs and the southern suburbs here in metro Adelaide. Where we're able to work holistically with the family unit, where the perpetrator, the person using violence against the women and children is still part of the family unit. So we're able to – what that would mean for us is that we're able to hold the man accountable for his use of violence against women and children. Because we had a – and we've got is a men's worker, a DV worker working with the man around his use of violence. We have a women's domestic violence worker and we have a children's trauma specialist. So those three practitioners are able to work in such a way that we can monitor the safety and the risk of the family in real-time.

MS SHEN: So that sounds like it’s a whole of family program where you have a case team working together, together with a family?

MR RIGNEY: Exactly.

MS SHEN: Yes I see.

MR RIGNEY: Exactly so that they'll go out and meet with the family and individuals within the family unit, come back and update everybody on that. So there's a real opportunity to hold the men to account whilst we're working with the rest of the family on the reduction and really, the removal of any violence within the family unit. And from that we were able to then, I guess look at the holes in service delivery, what we would consider would be really important. And as you can see up there, you know our social and emotional wellbeing hub. Our court assistance services where we're able to work with Aboriginal families in court, our KWY men's services across the state. Our child and family safety hub based in the western suburbs out of Port Adelaide.

MS SHEN: And that's got a greater focus around child protection issues?

MR RIGNEY: Yes, yeah absolutely. So that's a child protection focus hub but sadly the statistics coming out of DCP over the last couple of years and their data has been crucial in the development of you know, the co-design of that hub in the west. That around 95 per cent of Aboriginal families that are being notified to the Department of Child Protection, the number one issue in that family is family violence. So with our expertise and our holistic model we were able to work with the community in the west to build a model that would suit that. And really work with the community around you know, implementing that model. And that's what we're doing right now and that's only a few months old.

MS SHEN: That sounds great, so I think if I were to kind of reflect on what you're doing, as an organisation you're really trying to look at whole family support. You're trying to look at it in a whole system of support.


MS SHEN: And I know a really core partner for you is also organisations like WSSSA and also the program Ninko.

MR RIGNEY: Absolutely.

MS SHEN: And I think this might be a really great time now to move on to have a chat to both Rachel and Tania about their program. So I wondered first Rachel if you could give us a bit of a summary of the work that you do, your role and what you're providing at the moment.

MS ABDULLA: Thanks Dana, Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga is an Aboriginal specific program of Women's Safety Services SA. We support First Nations women and their children in the south of Adelaide and from rural and remote areas. We provide emergency accommodation for women and children who are having a hard time at home because of violence. Some of the things we provide is safe supported accommodation, yarning and support through difficult times, links with other service that can support them you know, lots of referrals. Support and referrals for financial and legal matters, looking at long term housing options. Helping you and your children through difficult times. Connecting adults with education and training where possible and where that can be focussed on. Working on groups for women and children because we know that works really well. We have the aim to support you know, First Nations women to reassert control over their lives, increasing social and cultural identity and self-esteem. Cultural knowledge skills and cultural connectedness.

MS SHEN: And so it sounds like, you know amongst doing the work of, working in basically crisis, working at points of crisis, you're really trying to do that in a way that brings a strong cultural lens. And obviously it sounds like a very core part of that is not only working with urban families, people based in the city but also with rural and remote families as well. That sounds like that's also a really core issue for you. So we will get into all of that a bit more but I thought I would just move to Tania first. And just to talk a bit about your role as a case manager at Ninko.

MS SANSBURY: My role as a case manager is, I support women with some DV counselling, some emotional and social and emotional wellbeing support. I'm also a, almost a housing manager as well so supporting women to find some safe housing. Also helping women through crisis. And you know, and that's about referring on to other services as different needs arise. And I suppose my role is actually about bringing the cultural lens and engaging women around or – so they feel secure that I understand where they come from around their Aboriginality. And so they don't have to explain everything to me.

MS SHEN: M'hmm and we'll get into a lot more about what all of you do around that. So thank you all for that quick introduction. Now we're going to go into a series of questions really to hear the expertise of our presenters today. Not only in what it means to bring that lens, what it means to do work with children in this space. But also some helpful things for non-Aboriginal practitioners and organisations to consider as well. So the first question we'll be exploring, from your experiences, how does family and domestic violence look different in Aboriginal communities compared to non-Aboriginal communities? Craig I'll hand over to you first just to start this conversation.

MR RIGNEY: Thank you Dana I think really what we notice is, the complexities within the Aboriginal community and if we look at our kinship structures and what that can mean. Particularly you know, for women that are experiencing family violence and want to leave the home. So that's when obviously, when you've got two fantastic organisations doing the work that they do, such as Ninko and KWY. But also Nunga Mi:Minar's who offer some housing as well. So for Aboriginal communities, you know the complexities start to overlap each other very quickly. So when we're working in this field across the multiple sectors all overlap family and domestic and sexual violence. It's really crucial that you have an understanding of what that is.

And you know, the two co-panel members here would understand the importance of the workforce to absolutely have an understanding of what that is. To also really be able to I guess, have an open dialogue with the Aboriginal community and to make sure that when we're having that dialogue we understand every person's got a different view. And for us, we've got to be really mindful of that. You know, confidentiality is huge and you know, us mob here in SA you know, we've got a lot of rellies out there that we work with. And for us, you know confidentiality and professionalism goes a long way into the work that we do to ensure that we don't have a conflict of interest. But at the end of the day you know, we are here for the outcomes of safety of women and children. And to be able to hold men to account in what they do.

So again it's what we have to do in the sector that's quite different from mainstream. And that you know, rolls down to our use of language, what language we can and can't use. You know, cultural protocols and the effect that they may have on program delivery. Or even as much as, you know, when we're doing on one-on-one support, you know what some of those cultural understandings you know will be taken into consideration. You know we also - - -

MS SHEN: And to me it also strikes me, you know as you're speaking that a really core part of this is also the layers of history that we're living with here.

MR RIGNEY: Yes oh absolutely.

MS SHEN: So you know, I think something that's very important to recognise, acknowledge is that colonisation and subsequent policies have had a profound impact on our communities.

MR RIGNEY: Yeah definitely.

MS SHEN: And these things are layer upon layer of trauma - - -


MS SHEN: - - - and then you do this work.

MR RIGNEY: Yeah and you know, we'll probably touch on it a little bit later but now that you've mentioned that magical word, 'trauma' and intergenerational trauma and what we understand and certainly my experience is, is everybody – well let me rephrase this. Being Aboriginal seems to be a risk in this country. When actually being Aboriginal and culture is a protective factor for us. All you need to do is listen to what the family are saying. And you will understand exactly what's going on. And when we talk about risk, you know it's not necessarily what you see right in front of you.

And when you listen to women and how they tell their stories and how they may alter what they're doing in their everyday lives, looks like a risk to other organisations and to non-Aboriginal people sometimes. When really read between the lines, listen to what she's saying around how she's using her positive parenting, her patterns to protect her children and you know, her other family members as well. So being Aboriginal isn't a risk at all.

MS SHEN: So it thinks a, I think a lovely sort of segue into now talking to Rachel and Tania. So Rachel first, you know, what are some of the differences in terms of family domestic violence, the experiences that are different between Aboriginal communities compared to non-Aboriginal communities?

MS ABDULLA: Well I think Dana, to follow on from Craig's comments, I think it's really important that we say that family violence does not derive from Aboriginal culture. It's not Aboriginal culture. Family violence is not part of our culture and however, the disadvantaged and dispossession of attempted destruction of Aboriginal culture since colonisation has meant that family violence has proliferated in Aboriginal communities. So it's really important to understand that to begin with you know. And then we speak about the trauma that's come through there. So you know we – and I think another important, while we're on that sort of stream of conversation, is that we routinely see Aboriginal women who experience family violence at the hands of men from a range of different backgrounds, okay and cultures. It's not just Aboriginal men that inflict violence on our Aboriginal women you know.

MS SHEN: M'hmm.

MS ABDULLA: They come from a range of – but still Aboriginal women are disproportionally at risk of – high risk of experiencing family violence.

MS SHEN: M'hmm right there's some really important points there. And Tania I just wanted to see if you wanted to add on anything about the differences between the experiences of family and domestic violence in our communities, compared to non-Aboriginal communities?

MS SANSBURY: The huge differences I think are, accessibility. And you know, if we look at, you know regional Adelaide, there's only two Aboriginal services that specifically support women. And they're relatively small compared to - for non-Aboriginal specific services. So that's prolifically different. I think delivery and the way that we work with women is significantly different. And you know, you find yourself having to think outside the box to meet the needs of the client to also get an outcome for her. But also kind of tweak that so it you know, it fits with you know our responsibilities around our KPIs and stuff like that.

MS SHEN: Right thank you, Tania, and look I imagine that one of the key things that all of your service have to face, as I mentioned earlier, was not only about having to work with families that are based in metropolitan areas but also rural and remote families. Tania, could you just touch on a little bit about some of the differences that you might see or the experiences that you might see that are different?

MS SANSBURY: Sure, I think some of the things that impact on our work with traditional women is the language barrier. And I don't speak the language so having a conversation with a woman and trying to unpack her experience is really hard. And just the fact that they're living in the city and expectations on how they're going to live is significantly different for them. And also I think also what impacts on a traditional woman in our service is, what are her kinship obligations? What are her cultural obligations? And you know we kind of tread a fine line of, you know, sometimes some of our non-negotiables have to be negotiable with traditional women. And how do you do that to support them without kind of upsetting other clients. And it's you know – and we do what's right for our clients ultimately.

MS SHEN: M'hmm, m'hmm, so you know, part of I think what's unique in what you have to do, is that, and I think this is a really important point for listeners, is that we are working with very different groups of Aboriginal people.



MS SHEN: Our history, our cultures our Nations are all different, therefore domestic and family violence can look very different. And our responses have to be flexible. So I think that that's really an important point that I think all of you have pointed out. And I just wanted emphasise. Okay we've got so much more to talk about and I'll ask another question now. So given what you have said, given the need for that flexibility and all the things that you've spoken about, what are the things you need to do to be able to respond in these contexts? To be flexible, to work with our people et cetera? Craig I wonder if can hand over to you first?

MR RIGNEY: This is such a huge question. So I might start at a very high level because what we experience as an organisation I'm sure it'll be no different from other organisations. Is, a silo effect. And trying to break down the silos that are out there between not just the NGOs but probably more the statutory and government agencies. I mean that is reflected across data and what we're trying to do in relation to data and having shared data and what that may mean for the outcomes of families.

But really I guess, for me for – because our programs are more family orientated, it is really having the ability to sit down with the family, as the lady said before, you know, we've got such a wide range of Aboriginal families coming from across Australia into South Australia. And the work that our Port Augusta team does, you know is fantastic and their relation to be able to you know, speak some of the language, know some of the community and who's who out there. So again in the context of family violence and being able to respond to it. You know, we're at a different part of the spectrum to Ninko and Nunga Mi:Minar's you know. We're I guess pre-crisis accommodation support.

So we're still in at a phase where the family is experiencing family violence and there's an opportunity to make positive change. To walk alongside the family, to enable them to make those family-led decision makings to work in a culturally safe way. And to really assist the family to get to where they want to be. And sometimes the best thing for the family, and it may be their decision, would be that the women and children leave that relationship. That's why it's really important that we have such good working professional, cultural relationships with other Aboriginal programs and ACCOs out there. That we can refer to and work holistically amongst ourselves as you know, Aboriginal programs and organisations you know, to really assist those women and children seeking assistance.

MS SHEN: Yeah, so I really think Craig, just to sort of summaries what you've said, you know, not only is it about what you do with the family. Not only is it about what you do with KWY. It is about how you partner as a sector to actually support our people in order to build a network of support around them.

MR RIGNEY: Yeah definitely.

MS SHEN: And I think – and what you do is complementary and is connected to what Ninko and Nunga Mi:Minar's do. So I think that's a really good segue to maybe hand to Rachel now. You know, what are the things you need to do, to be able to respond in these contexts?

MS ABDULLA: Well it's how you view the approach and what you need to do for service delivery. And that's around being client-driven you know an integrated approach. Place-based, flexible, holistic, you know, things that everyone's already talking about. Allow for the most appropriate responses for each individual client and avoid the imposition of externally devised approaches that fail to build on existing client and community strengths and capabilities.

MS SHEN: So community strength and capabilities is also really important. How we work with community, how we know community, how we're trusted by community. All of those things impact on the way you provide services.


MS SHEN: Tania, can you talk about what is required to respond in these types of contexts?

MS SANSBURY: I think, you know working with women, especially around their telling you information that you know, has deep effects on them. And so I think it's how you build a trusting relationship. How do you – how are you listening to them? How are you hearing what are their priorities? 'Cause too often you know, we've had experiences where the worker has made a decision that you need to leave and then they're acting on behalf of the woman and not allowing the woman to make the decision. 'Cause if the woman's not owning the choices, then there might not be follow through. And she may not be ready. You know, and it has to be when the woman is ready. Not because this is what – you know, you can see that it's unsafe. But she – and she knows it's unsafe, don't be – don't think that she doesn't know it. And her safety planning for what happens in her family is what's right for her. And that may be different for your - for what you would do but you're not, you know, if you're not Aboriginal you're not gonna understand what that means to her and how she's doing that.

MS SHEN: Yes so it sounds like – and we will get to this - that it's going to be very, very important that particularly non-Aboriginal practitioners and organisations in this field, really need to walk alongside Aboriginal practitioners and organisations. It will help you and it will help you in your practice. So there's a lot of things around context and a lot of things that you've already heard about what will be required for this work. Now of course a really important part of this, what does this mean for children? How are children in this context? How do we do this in a way where we support their social and emotional wellbeing as we're doing this work? Craig, I wondered if you could talk a bit more about the child specialist role that you mentioned earlier that is part of your hubs work?

MR RIGNEY: Thanks Dana, yeah look I mean, at the end of the day you know, our services are here, you know to increase the safety of women and children. And the children's voice really needs to be a big part of that. It's often overlooked, you know, they're a silent victim and they are definitely experiencing the trauma associated with family violence in an Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal context. What we do with our children's trauma specialists in our safety hubs across the state is quite unique. We use a number of mapping tools, culturally appropriate mapping tools, to work with the children, and certainly look at, you know, a strength-based approach, when we're discussing that with the parents. So we're able to see at what stage of development the children are if there are any learning difficulties, how their social and emotional wellbeing is, and really start to address that -

(1) with the child, but (2) as a part of a multidisciplinary team, to be able to address that with the parents, you know, all the carers within the family unit as well. So I think, you know, it's been such great debate, and sadly lacking, within this country, some very culturally and specific tools around working with children. We know the great work that Dr Tracy Westerman does in WA and certainly all of her cultural tools. There have also been some other cultural tools created across the country for Aboriginal people. But really it's what we're wanting to do with the children that is, you know, crucial here. So you need to be able to create a culturally safe space to have that conversation with the children. And depending on their age, what will that mean? You know, at what point is it safe to have those discussions with children? So again, we - you know, I mentioned workforce before, and you know the training and the experience of the workforce doing this work is crucial, because we don't want to set up, you know, a worker for failure, and we certainly don't want to increase the trauma within the family, either. And - - -

MS SHEN: And I think one of the important things that you said and brought up earlier, and just to remind the listeners, is that this child specialist role sits amongst a multidisciplinary team that is around family.


MS SHEN: It's a whole of family program. And I imagine a very key part of this, to have the kind of conversations that you want to have to keep children safe and for them to be able to lead a process, parts of this, part of that is having real trust with parents around that.

MR RIGNEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, we probably didn't touch on it, but really earlier on when you're doing this work, you need to build rapport. We often say it; we need to build rapport with our clients. And you need to do that and be allowed to have the time, as practitioners, to build that rapport with our clients. Because with that the trust will come. And we know that as we're working with Aboriginal families, they're not going to tell us everything upfront. You know, so as we get to know them more, we'll see a quick increase in risk, when we're looking at it, you know, from a higher level. But over time, and as they're discussing what's happening in their family, they're actually also telling us about what's safe in their family.

So we see the risk aspect come down, and the safety aspect, all those safety matrixes increase over time, and that can only happen when you're in a culturally safe place, that the family and the individuals in the family trust and have rapport with the workforce, and that they understand who you are as an agency or an ACCO. You know, we work closely with the DV sector and with the Child Protection sector. So we work hard on the community not assuming that we're part of DCP, which we're not. We're here to advocate to keep families together, at the end of the day. You know, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this work. And for us it's really ensuring that, you know, the child's voice comes through in what we're doing.

MS SHEN: And just for listeners out there that might be outside of South Australia, we've heard the term DCP a number of times, and what we're talking about here is around statutory child protection, in that, you know, these organisations do work in partnership with this agency, but are also separate from this agency. So, Tania, I wondered if you could touch on, now, you know, what is the kind of work that Ninko's been doing with children in relation to supporting social and emotional wellbeing.

MS SANSBURY: Sure. So we work collaboratively with Relationships Australia, and they have a program called Together4Kids, which is a trauma informed program, and they - you know, we do a referral, they come and see the mum, they come and see the kids, they have a great Aboriginal worker named Karina. She comes once a week, and she works with the families onsite, and she just run a little bit of a program after school and just helping Mum and kids just to reconnect. You know, because the domestic violence or the family violence often alienates Mum from the children, and so she supports them in reengaging with one another, in a healthy way. You know, around really good activities, where there's laughing and talking.

MS SHEN: So I think you also pick up a really important point. The nature of these, of working through this, dealing with the crisis, a woman being with the crisis of being in the situation, can actually lead to having not the kinds of relationships they might want with their children. So part of the work is also reconnecting within a relationship. Rachel, I also wondered if there was anything you wanted to add in relation to working with children to support their social and emotional wellbeing in this context.

MS ABDULLA: Yeah, I'd just like to add, to follow on from Tania, that it's really important working in partnerships with professionals in their field that support us, yeah. Support the work that we do. I also, I guess, want to touch on, you know, the point of freeing families of violence offers our children the best chance to thrive. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have successfully provided love and care for their children, growing them up strong and safe, in their cultural traditions, for thousands of years. The cultural strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children rearing practices contribute to and create safe, nurturing environments for children.

MS SHEN: So what we want to do is we want to support community and families to actually build that strength. Rebuild, sometimes, that strength, within their communities. Which is part of our nations, it's part of our family, and it's part of our history. So it's about rebuilding that. Great, thank you, everybody. We've got one final question before we will go onto some of the questions that have come through to the panel. So one of the things I think is really important, and I know listeners are going to be really caring about out there is, you know, what are the key aspects that non-Aboriginal practitioners need to be thinking about in their work when they do this? So Craig, your initial thoughts on this first?

MR RIGNEY: Thank you, Dana. I think, you know, as a practitioner and, you know, being able to build the organisation to what it is today, what we've experienced is, you know, some really basic tools and knowledge that we would love to see our non-Aboriginal colleagues and allies be able to utilise, and that is active listening. For one. You know, just - and, you know, Rachel and Tania spoke about it before. Just sit and listen in the moment. Don't come with a bag of assumptions and preconceived ideas, with a predetermined trajectory of what the women and the children and/or the man needs. I think what we've got to do is really sit down, have a discussion, allow for those difficult conversations to take place.

Now, as Aboriginal people, we take a bit of time to process some of this, but don't feel the need to deal with the silence, if you like. You know, learn from us. You know, learn from our clients. Learn from ACCOs. Learn from Aboriginal programs and Aboriginal practitioners. You know, I'm a big believer in that the more we can share our culture, and the more that we can share ways of working in a culturally safe manner are going to increase outcomes for our families. And I'm a big believer in, you know, in our teams we have a 50/50 mix of team members being Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Because we want to share our knowledge. You know, we are knowledge sharers, as a race. You know, we've used oral knowledge sharing throughout the eons. So we bring that to our practice. And I think for me it's just a very basic tool to really start to learn from and build foundations on. You know seek advice, don't assume, always ask. And be prepared so sit in silence and just listen for a moment.

MS SHEN: And if I can just of highlight couple of points that I think are so important from what you said. That importance of listening, and another term I'm often used and hear our people talk about is the concept of deep listening, that is the giving of space. Not having to solve problems all the time, not thinking you always have the answer. Actually just listening to our people. Another thing that's really important, I think, is just to seek knowledge and your own knowledge about what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are about in a respectful way. And of course I think a really important final thing that Craig spoke about was also around biases and assumptions. Be really careful about your unconscious bias and the assumptions that you bring to this work about our people, because the narrative out there is a poverty narrative about our people. It is a negative narrative. And actually there are 65,000 years of strength. So yeah, I think now, just highlighting that, I just wanted to now hand over to Rachel. Are there other things that you think Aboriginal practitioners need to be thinking about in this work?

MS ABDULLA: Yeah, look, thanks, Dana. Look, I agree with everything that's been said, and I can't stress that enough. I think every - keep in mind that every Aboriginal person that comes into your service has complex trauma. Okay, they have a lack of trust of the systems. You know, and it's going to take time. So don't shut your client down. Listen to them, and unpack what it is that's happening to them, you know. So that's all I want to add to that at the moment. So - - -

MS SHEN: Yeah, and can I sort of add to that, do know that it - I would say the majority of our people have some level of that trauma Rachel is describing. Whether some of us have somehow gone through it and come out the other end, we all know what that layer of - layers and layers of trauma looks like. Actually I will - I might just go to Tania for a second; when we talk about complex trauma, Tania, can you just help describe to listeners what we're talking about?

MS SANSBURY: So complex trauma, I think, looks different for each person, and they prioritise what's important for them, and I think complex trauma looks like many different things. It can be dealt with as in self-medication, or in drugs and alcohol. It can also look like mental health issues. You know, I think there are families who - there are people who have grown up in families, you know, where their family of origin, where there hasn't been a lot of learning. But also I think it's things that they've learnt growing up. You know, how their family lives together. You know, how - I think sometimes it's the grief that's handed down, as well. And the hopelessness. But, you know, we're not a hopeless people. We've survived this long, you know, and we are resilient. And, you know, I think that's an important thing to take into consideration as well. Yeah.

MS SHEN: So I think an important point that Tania's really making here is that, you know, not only is there complexity, not only is there layers of trauma that is occurring, but actually there's a lot of hope. So it's really important for practitioners that they can hold both at the same time. That there is sadness, that there is trauma, but also that there is healing and that there is hope as well. I also wanted to touch on, and go back to you, Craig, like one of the things around the work of non-Aboriginal practitioners, we've talked a lot about today, and used the term cultural safety a lot today. Now, that term gets thrown around a lot now. Cultural competence, cultural safety, all sorts of things, but as Aboriginal people and panellists today, I wondered if you could just give a little bit of an explanation of what we mean when we talk about cultural safety. So, Craig, please, if you could start.

MR RIGNEY: I'm going to keep it very simple. Cultural safety, or culturally safe space, or mode of operating, is really understanding and identifying the person that you're working for. The family, the individual, that client, and what their cultural needs are. Now, we've heard how we've really touched on, you know, bits and pieces of, you know, cultural protocols, you know, cultural business, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. My first question would be, as a practitioner, 'What feels culturally safe for you, Rachel?' 'I'm here to have a conversation with you, what feels culturally safe for you?' That individual will tell you what cultural safety means for them. Again, if we go back to those old adages that we throw around as practitioners and Aboriginal people all the time. Always ask, never assume and hat that'll keep you out of a lot of trouble.

So simply as what is culturally safe meaning for your client. Because culturally safe space or working in a culturally safe manner for them is going - like Tania said - it is going to vary for every individual person. So don't assume that, you know, as a race of people that just 'cause you've got one piece of information that you can put that as a blanket across all Aboriginal people. You wouldn't do it with people with a disability, you wouldn't do it with women, you wouldn't do it with men, so don't do it with Aboriginal people. Always ask. And just sit and listen. And we will tell you what cultural safety means for us.

MS SHEN: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much, everyone. We've been exploring some of the questions that we think are important to be thinking about in this work. But now we're going to be answering some of your questions. Can I say, panellists, some of them are pretty tricky questions that I'm about to ask, so I'm just warning you that I'm about to give you some challenging things that people are asking, which is fantastic. Thank you for all those that are volunteering questions. So first of all, let's start off a bit more easily, with one of the questions. Craig, you were talking just then about cultural safety; do you apply any types of mapping tools or specific approaches when you're thinking about doing cultural safety and managing that with individuals?

MR RIGNEY: Absolutely. We, as an organisation, and I'm sure other Aboriginal aid organisations do this, we always aim to use culturally safe tools and culturally built tools to map our clients. Now, what I mean by mapping is we need a baseline to work from. So we're always asking questions in a narrative perspective. We don't sit there and ask 80 questions; we have a yarn. And when you're sitting and listening to what people are saying, you can pick up so much more information than sitting there with a checklist and running through 80‑odd questions. So for us it is around being able to use those culturally safe tools to map, to give us a baseline, and really what we're looking for is we're looking strengths, for those strengths in those families. You know, as I said before, being Aboriginal isn't a deficit. Being Aboriginal is something absolutely positive, and our culture, you know, is a protective factor.

So as we're talking to women, we're looking for those strengths that she may exhibit without even knowing it. For instance, you know, the partner gets home on Tuesday, it's payday, he might get on the drink. She knows this is going to happen, so she'll grab the kids and take them over to Auntie's around the corner. Now, that is a positive parenting manoeuvre. So we would look at that as a strength-based approach. But you need the right tools, you need the right guidance, and you certainly need the right training and support within organisations and from each other to ask those types of questions. So yes, we use a number of culturally safe tools to give us what we call a family wellbeing footprint. And they range, you know, from our outreach to outreach reflection, so as workers, what are we doing, and we look for feedback from our clients every single day. Of course you've got the ecomaps, the genograms, our men's behaviour analysis tool, our women's safety analysis tool. We use Growth and Empowerment Measure, the GEM. Which is around social and emotional wellbeing.

And then we use a lot of, like I said earlier on, the strengths and difficulty questionnaires for three to 16 year olds, developmental profiling. But again, you could have all the best tools on the planet, you need to know how to translate those clinical tools into a culturally safe conversation with our clients. And I think that's what really important, is understanding how to almost be a translator in the work that we do, from a clinician to a practitioner. And making sure that we do allow time for those conversations to take place. And I'm harping on it because it is so important and it is such a basic need, you know, that we see out there.

MS SHEN: All right. Thank you, Craig. And, Tania, one of the questions that's come through is about what are the commonalities, if any, in family domestic violence across Aboriginal families.

MS SANSBURY: Commonalities would be the violence, and that's, I suppose, in context to what's actually happening for the woman, but I think that's - you know, that's sometimes maybe the mistake that happens is to think that there are commonalities. You know, I think you've got to be careful in thinking like that. And whatever the woman's telling you about the violence that she's experienced, that's true for her. And that's what you need to go with. So let's go back to that deep listening. Is that she's telling you what's happening for her. So that's her lived experience.

MS SHEN: Thanks so much, Tania. Now, a really great question here, Rachel, that I'd like to - you know, if you could start off on this; what sorts of things can practitioners notice or ask about to make sure being Aboriginal as a protective factor is actually - helps to support children's wellbeing? So I wonder whether, Rachel, if you had a view about that, and then I'll hand to Craig.

MS ABDULLA: Sorry, could you repeat the question?

MS SHEN: Yeah. What sorts of things can practitioners be noticing or asking about to make sure being Aboriginal as a protective factor becomes clear here in the work and to protect children and keep them safe?

MS ABDULLA: I feel like I kind of need a minute to unpack the question.

MS SHEN: Yeah. No worries. Well, you reflect for a moment. Craig, did you have a view about that?

MR RIGNEY: Yes, I guess you know, in short, it is really seeking - geez, without trying to use too many metaphors here, you know, the light within the darkness. So particularly when we're talking about family violence, and, you know, I gave a little example before of what a protective factor is, and for us, it's when we're working across an entire sector, you know, around housing, child protection, education, and of course family violence, financial, we need to be able to really understand what is happening within that family unit to give ourselves a good picture of what is going on, and, you know, be strength-based in our approach. A lot of people talk about practitioners talk about a strength-based approach, and I think that's where we need to start. You know, sadly, for Aboriginal people, we're always on the back foot, and we're, you know, coming from a place of deficit, and a place of defence. So look for those shining moments. And they are everywhere. You've just got to train yourself to look for them.

MS SHEN: Rach, did you have anything to add onto that?

MS ABDULLA: Yeah, I thought of an example. Okay, so very often in Aboriginal community, very big families, kinship systems, so what might happen is, you know, remote, rural, urban environments, people, families live over a range of different environments, so what might happen is, for whatever reason, a parent might not be coping, there might be, you know, other environmental issues that we're not aware of, that another family may pick up caring for some of the children. Do you know what I mean? So we - I'll give a personal example. I've had a lot of family. Most of my family growing up lived in the Riverland. So we were the only family that lived in Adelaide. So for opportunities and, you know, to provide more opportunities that were in the urban environment, compared, so we might have had family, cousins come and live with us. And they might come to school in Adelaide and do things like that. There might be a family member not coping with a high needs child. You know, so they might come and live with us. So there's a lot of shared responsibility, you know, around a child's wellbeing.

Now, these happen - these are classed as informal setups. They happen outside of statutory structures. So - but it doesn't make them non-functional, and not supportive, do you know what I mean? So there's a whole range of systems that families have and can put in place around what a family member needs. You know, with regards to supporting their children. I think there needs to be more ability for this to happen. I think that, you know, Department of Children's Services - Child Protection, sorry, you know, need to be able to listen a bit more about what people are saying about who are safe for their children to be around, you know? And we know this. We grew up in our families. You know, we know - and our idea of love and discipline and support, you know, may be perceived a particular way. You know, we have a lot of ways of rearing our children where we - there's a lot of independence. You know, we - there's - they support the younger children. There's a whole lot of little systems that are in place that come from a lot of the - well, adapting to colonisation. You know, fear of the welfare, fear of this, fear of that, you know, so there's a - from a very young age, we're taught to be survivors. Taught to be independent. Taught not to be reliant, taught not to trust. You know, so - - -

MS SHEN: And I think what's really important here is that as practitioners you're not just thinking about an individual, you're not just even thinking about a family, you're thinking about a community. You're thinking about the broader context, broader systems, as Rachel mentioned, of support, that can be there for children. Thanks very much, Rachel. We are going to be coming to a close very, very soon, and I'm trying to race through these questions. One thing I think is really, really important, a question came up around Torres Strait Islanders. I just wanted to note that whilst of course we recognise Torres Strait Islander people and we've got communities here, we are also speaking in a specific context in South Australia. So was there any of the panellists that have done work with Torres Strait Islanders? I just thought I'd very quickly ask. And if not, that's okay, I just wanted to recognise that, and we recognise our sisters and brothers, Torres Strait Islanders, but just that we are in a South Australia context, and it's a little bit different here.

Okay, so just a final couple of questions if I can do it. Maybe one more question. This is a great one. We, non‑Aboriginal practitioners, are often told to consult with Aboriginal communities when making decisions about specific children in Child Protection. How do we go about this, while keeping a family's privacy? So they're asking about kind of making decisions, but also about privacy. I just wondered if any of the panellists had a view about that. Craig, if there's something that you had a bit of a comment about that, initially?

MR RIGNEY: Hi, and thanks for that question. It's a nice, curly one for all of us. Look, I think at the end of the day, if you can access some ACCOs or Aboriginal people within other services, they may be able to seek out some of those responses for you. And, you know, confidentiality is a huge thing, as we mentioned before, but you know, at the same time, so is the safety of women and children. So information sharing guidelines is, you know, our backbone here in South Australia, around, you know, what information we can share between services, and the relevancy of that.

So when seeking that type of information from the Aboriginal community, you do have to be careful. You know, we don't want to leak certain information, we don't know what, you know, the politics may be out in the community. So tread carefully, is my advice. Seek information from multiple sources. And I think, you know, that's probably something that often overlooked. When we're looking at information gathering, we need to grab it from multiple sources, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to curate, you know, an unbiased response to your questions.

MS SHEN: And, look, I don't want to add this as a pat answer to this at all, to what was also said by Craig, but of course, as practitioners - and where there is safety, and you're able to do it, you want to try to do this in a way where you can do it in partnership with the family as well. So I think having said every - but, you know, I know how difficult that is, and of course safety and the concern for children and people involved is of the utmost importance. But when you can get consent around these things, of course you would want to try to do that when you can. Yeah, Rach, was there any other final things you wanted to add?

MS ABDULLA: I just, I guess, wanted to add to that, Dana, that we do have the information sharing guidelines. So that is something for us to fall back on, with regards to consent and risk. So yeah, I just wanted to add that.

MS SHEN: Absolutely. And whilst I don't understand how that looks in every other jurisdiction, it's a very important baseline for us. So we have a couple of minutes left, so what I wanted to do is just to pose a question to Craig, particularly, because this is specifically around men's caseworker roles. So, Craig, one of the questioners has asked about the theories and models that you use in relation to working with men and the caseworker role. If you could touch on a bit about, you know, the kind of practice guidance framework approach that you use.

MR RIGNEY: Yeah, certainly. At the end of the day, this is all about the safety of women and children, so we need to make sure that we hold the perpetrators of violence, the men we work with, you know, in a gendered violence context, to account, and that we absolutely avoid collusion at all costs. So we absolutely - you know, we use a narrative approach, but we have designed our - again, our mapping tools, our men's behaviour analysis tool, around how to have those conversations with men through our programs. And certainly, at the end of the day, you know, it is about partnering, working with other services, working within a family unit where possible. And for us, it is around making sure that we do get the information that we need to increase the safety of women and children.

MS SHEN: Thank you so much, everybody, for everything that you've done and presented today, and thank you so much for participants out there. I want to thank Tania and Rachel and Craig for their contributions, and everyone online. Thanks also to CFCA for being the behind the scenes support. See you next time.



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Slide outline

1. Responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing

Craig Rigney, Rachel Abdulla, Tania Sansbury and Dana Shen

CFCA Emerging Minds Webinar 9 September 2020

2. Responding to family violence in First Nations families to support children’s social and emotional wellbeing

Craig Rigney, Rachel Abdulla, Tania Sansbury and Dana Shen

3. Learning outcomes

This webinar will explore how services can better listen to, engage with, and support First Nations communities. Specifically, it will: 

  • Outline the complexities faced by First Nations families experiencing family violence
  • Identify principles for practice that are culturally responsive and child-centred in their approach
  • Explore the importance of having community-controlled and locally relevant responses to family violence
  • Consider what this might mean for mainstream services working with First Nations families, and for cross-cultural partnerships between services and practitioners

4. Acknowledgements

Emerging Minds and CFCA wish to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands across Australia upon which our webinar presenters and participants are located.

We wish to pay respect to the Elders past, present and future for the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Indigenous Australia

5. Webinar series

2020/21 Emerging Minds series: Focus on infant and child mental health

Upcoming webinars include:

  • Working with families experiencing gambling harm – supporting children’s social and emotional wellbeing
  • Homelessness and child-focused practice
  • Working with children and families in rural and remote settings
  • Practice approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of children living with a disability

6. Housekeeping

Send through your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.

Let us know if you don’t want your question published on the online forum following the presentation.

All our webinars are recorded.

The slides are available in the handout section of Gotowebinar.

The audio and transcript will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

7. Presenters

  • Craig Rigney, CEO and Co-founder, Kornar Winmil Yunti (KWY)
  • Rachel Abdulla, Program Manager, Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga, Women’s Safety Services SA
  • Tania Sansbury, Senior Aboriginal Family Violence Case Manager, Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga, Women’s Safety Services SA.
  • Dana Shen (Facilitator) Social Services Consultant 

8. KWY (Komar Winmil Yunti) Family Services

The safety of women and children is at the heart of everything we do

Our mission:

  • Empower and strengthen families
  • Holistic family focus
  • Culturally safe
  • Woman's voice
  • Therapeutic
  • Child's voice
  • Holistic
  • Trauma informed
  • Assertive outreach
  • Family led decision making
  • Complex case management.


Our services:

  • KWY consultancy
  • Family violence safety hubs
  • KWY court assistance services
  • Aboriginal mental health hub
  • KWY men's services
  • Child and family safety hub
  • Intensive family support
  • Kinship carers support service

9. Presenters - Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga, Women’s Safety Services SA

Ninko Kurtangga Patpangga, Women’s Safety Services SA

10. 1) From your experiences how does FDV look different in Aboriginal communities compared to non-Aboriginal communities?

11. 2) What are the things you need to do to be able to respond in these contexts?

12. 3) How you do work with children in your contexts to support their social and emotional wellbeing?

13. 4) What are the key aspects that non-Aboriginal practitioners need to be thinking about?

14. Q & A Discussion

15. Continue the conversation

Do you have any further questions? 

Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar:

Related resources

Related resources


Craig is the CEO and co-founder of Kornar Winmil Yunti (KWY) and has been in this role for the past nine years. KWY is an Aboriginal not-for-profit organisation, based in Adelaide, that works closely with the specialist homelessness-domestic violence and child protection services across South Australia.

Craig is an active member of the South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS), the Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services known as Embolden, and the peak body for the South Australia Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation Network for Closing the Gap known as SAACON. Craig is also a member of the SA Department for Correctional Services, Aboriginal Reference Group (ARG), and the Specialist Homelessness Services Sector Reference Group (SRG), representing key homelessness areas including Aboriginal, youth and domestic and family violence. He is on the board of Child and Family Focus SA (CAFFSA) and is a White Ribbon Ambassador. Craig is a proud Aboriginal man and is dedicated to eliminating all forms of violence against women and children and stemming the flow of Aboriginal children and families into the child protection systems.

Rachel was born to an English-descent Australian woman and an Aboriginal man from Boroloola NT in 1971. Her mother was adopted and her father was Stolen Generation. Rachel's parents were living in Darwin during the pregnancy and there was still a lot of fear in that community that ‘half caste’ children would be removed. Out of fear, Rachel's mother left her father in Darwin and moved to Adelaide, where she was born. When Rachel was two years old, her mother married a Ngarrindjeri man from a very large family and they claimed her as one of their own, giving her an identity. Rachel grew up living in Kaurna country and has strong connections to the Riverland and Coorong also.

Tania is Narungga woman, her country is the York Peninsula, and the Narungga community reside in the small Aboriginal mission of Point Pearce. Tania’s mum Charmaine spent her earlier years with her mum Daphne and siblings growing up in the city. Tania’s nanna Daphne wanted to leave the Point Pearce mission and had to get an exemption certificate. This certificate allowed Daphne to live in the city but it also disconnected Daphne from her family and support systems at Point Pearce. Charmaine resided with her mother and siblings until she was 12, at this point Charmaine was removed by government policies through the welfare system to Allambi Girls Home in Norwood, her siblings were fostered into white families. This is only the tip of the iceberg of a family history that goes back five generations, through the maternal bloodline that starts its story in a traditional setting before they were removed from their country for farmland.


Dana Shen | Aboriginal/Chinese and a descendant of the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia and has a passion for working with Aboriginal people and communities.

Dana is Aboriginal/Chinese and a descendant of the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia and has a passion for working with Aboriginal people and communities. Dana has 20 years’ experience working across the public and not-for-profit sectors in the areas of health, families and child protection and is currently a social services consultant.