The Evidence Portal

Aboriginal-led Early Support Programs Themes

In the evidence review conducted by Gamarada Universal Indigenous Resources Pty Ltd in 2023, the following eight common themes were identified among the highly-rated evidence about Aboriginal-led early support programs designed for Aboriginal children, young people, families and communities.  

Community designed or co-designed

Several studies highlight the importance of community leadership and direction, community ownership and community knowledge in programs for Aboriginal children and families. Co-designing programs means non-Indigenous people providing support without ‘taking over responsibility’ or ‘telling Aboriginal people what to do.’ It can include developing ways of working together to ensure programs resonate with the beliefs, values and frames of reference of specific communities and that indicators of success are adapted accordingly. Each Aboriginal community may need adaptations specific to their cultural frameworks, that also build on local protocols, priorities and strengths. 


The existence of Aboriginal governance and staff, and/or the involvement of respected community leaders or elders can lead to increased program participation, satisfaction and other positive intervention outcomes. 

Resources published by SNAICC routinely stress that community-controlled services are best for engaging and supporting Aboriginal children, families and communities. The ability to engage in strong relationships, understand and holistically respond to a community’s needs are more likely to be derived from local Aboriginal staff, voluntary workers and management.  

Program or service participants also tend to feel more at ease and experience less of a sense of prejudice, stereotyping or power imbalance with Aboriginal community-controlled services than with mainstream, universal services. 

Cultural safety

“Culturally safe” defines an environment which is safe for people, where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience, of learning together with dignity, and truly listening (Ekkerman et al., cited in Williams, 1999).

Prentice et al.’s (2017) participatory research study reveals multiple barriers to service access, including justice system deterrents, prejudice, social taboos, shame, and a lack of culturally appropriate services. It also highlights the importance of recognising and addressing the complex interplay of historic, social, and cultural factors influencing service access. The study advocates a whole community approach, cultural safety and the provision of more healing spaces. Research participants stated that they wanted accessible online resources that provide anonymity, promote connection to culture and facilitate a healing process through drawing on Indigenous knowledge and strengths.

There is evidence that increasing Aboriginal-organised gender-specific and youth-specific safe spaces, promotes social and emotional wellbeing among women, men, children and young people. Participants generally report enhanced feelings of emotional security in such spaces to explore challenges, address self-victimisation and lateral violence, and improve their life skills. 

Strengths-based, cultural-affirming approaches

Evidence from this review suggests that there may be a link between wellbeing outcomes (such as a strong sense of identity, resilience and confidence) and a sense of community, belonging, and strong connection to culture.  

The evidence focuses on programs and services that incorporate Aboriginal social structures such as wider kinship networks, elder mentors and role models, and ways of sharing knowledge and wisdoms such as “going out bush” (connecting to country), circular learning, yarning, relationships-strengthening activities, dadirri discussion methods, lore, traditional art, food, dance, songlines, music and storytelling, and even the use of native languages.  

Trauma-informed and healing-focused

The evidence highlights the importance of programs and services acknowledging the impacts of intergenerational trauma as well as ongoing experiences of racism and stigma. Studies reviewed recognise the significance of cultural restoration and revival in the healing process. They also focus on prevention practices with features that address the ontology of intergenerational trauma and cycles of disadvantage and harm that prevail across First People populations. 

Holistic, wrap-around components

The evidence includes programs that integrate multiple, wrap-around components to provide more holistic services for Aboriginal participants.

Munro’s (2012) study of early intervention strategies for Indigenous children and their families describes key ingredients as: culturally competent service provision, multi-component approaches such as group-parent education and home visits, equitable access to services, provision of transport, flexible service delivery, ensuring a long lead-in time to consult appropriate Indigenous people on implementing the program, the importance of engaging families when they first make contact and, where appropriate, the use of bilingual staff in program design and delivery. It also highlights the importance of including Aboriginal families in evaluation during and after the intervention.

Collaboration and coordination with mainstream services

Emerson et al.’s (2015) study of ‘Good Beginnings’ notes that education and early years interventions, implemented in collaboration with Aboriginal communities and properly adapted to their settings, hold the potential to produce significant long-term positive effects on health and wellbeing. However, implementation without collaboration is unlikely to realise these benefits. 

Collaboration could be in the form of bi-directional warm referrals between services or having partner services co-located for easier access and integration of case management. It could also be in the form of interdisciplinary teams including Aboriginal health workers and elders, such as the programs described by Emerson et al. (2015) where a team works with families over two years, targeting risk factors of particular concern to the community. Respected community leaders deliver education programs and sustained home visiting programs that complement universal maternal and child health services as well as specialist supports to address key determinants of child health, such as maternal smoking, alcohol and drug use. 

Flexible delivery

The evidence indicates that services and programs may be strengthened by being more flexible in delivery. This is particularly the case in remote communities. In practice, this may mean expanding the window for clinic scheduling, providing outreach as well as centre-based services and the use of diverse communication strategies including traditional storytelling, visual storyboarding and yarning. 

Last updated:

11 Dec 2023

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