Communities and Justice

Aboriginal Family Strengthening

Aboriginal Family Strengthening provides targeted and intensive child, young people and family supports that are oriented towards addressing identified risks and preserving families, preventing the need for more intrusive responses. Aboriginal Family Strengthening spans low intensity family supports through to intensive family based services, with flexibility to respond to family needs. The focus on addressing identified risks, building the capacity of parents and families, and strengthening family functioning, means that Aboriginal Family Strengthening supports are also critical for the safe and timely restoration or preservation of Aboriginal children with families.

Aboriginal Family Strengthening approaches seek to build the capacity of key adults in children’s lives through active skills building, service provision, and the development of both formal and informal networks which enable families and communities to shape a safer, more successful developmental context for Aboriginal children and young people. Preservation and restoration services use community-led and evidence-informed approaches.

Aboriginal Family Strengthening encompasses a broad range of supports and interventions focused on strengthening families and ensuring child safety and wellbeing, including, but not limited to:

  • Brighter Futures and Youth Hope
  • Multi-Systemic Therapy - Child Abuse and Neglect (MST-CAN©)
  • Functional Family Therapy - Child Welfare (FFT-CW©)
  • Aboriginal Intensive Family Based Services
  • Intensive Family Services and Intensive Family Programs

Key roles and responsibilities

A caseworker is assigned by the service provider to:

  • engage collaboratively with Aboriginal families, taking a whole-of-family approach that understands family/kin and community relationships
  • provide comprehensive information and referral advice to families experiencing crisis, matching families to the right culturally responsive supports and services in a timely manner
  • assess family strengths, risks, and challenges in a holistic way
  • provide case coordination, actively supporting families to access required services
  • record relevant data about intake, assessment and actions and outcomes achieved, enabling oversight by DCJ and Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms.


DCJ refers families for Aboriginal Family Strengthening services after a safety assessment is completed by DCJ (see Safety and Risk Assessment). This occurs when a child is assessed as being at risk of significant harm (ROSH) and active supports are needed to strengthen families and address risks, with the safety decision recorded as either ‘safe’ or ‘safe with plan’. The case plan goal will be family preservation, with proactive efforts undertaken to strengthen families and address identified risks.

DCJ and a service provider will jointly determine service fit and where possible refer the family to an Aboriginal service provider. Services may also be engaged by:

  • a service provider seeking brokerage and step down supports
  • a service provider within the tier of Aboriginal Community Response seeking higher intensity family supports to complement other service delivery or
  • a family who has initiated a self-referral requiring higher intensity family supports.

Safety and Risk Assessment

DCJ is responsible for conducting a safety and risk assessment (SARA) to assess a child or young person’s immediate safety and the risk they may experience abuse or neglect in their household in the future. Proactive efforts are made to engage with Aboriginal families and communities and support their participation in these processes in order to make valid assessments of risk and safety with respect to the best interests of their children. Such efforts are to include Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes and are clearly evidenced by DCJ and other relevant service providers.

Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes continue to provide proactive supports, identifying and addressing safety concerns with the family. DCJ caseworkers:

  • engage with Aboriginal communities through established local mechanisms before carrying out the SARA. This includes:
    • the nature of the risk/concerns
    • discussion of possible actions and alternatives
    • identification of family networks for initial assessment of family placements (which may include Family Finding© as a practice approach)
  • make proactive efforts to ensure that consultation has occurred through Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms
  • document reasons for not consulting with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanism when consultation is unable to occur due to immediate safety issues; and ensures Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms are able to participate as early as possible
  • visit the child, their parents and family/kin to carry out the SARA; where possible with an Aboriginal caseworker or Aboriginal advocate
  • verify that the child’s cultural status has been accurately recorded
  • make diligent efforts in contacting family/kin and community members to inform decision making of the safety assessment as well as continue with family finding processes.

SARA is a set of Structured Decision Making tools that are used alongside the professional judgement of DCJ caseworkers.

Key steps

  • DCJ visits a child, their parents and family/kin to carry out a SARA.
  • A safety assessment is recorded in ChildStory within two days of the visit. Children are assessed as either being ‘safe’, ‘safe with plan’, or ‘unsafe’ (Note: if unsafe, see 3 – Aboriginal Child Safety).
  • A risk assessment is completed within 30 days after the safety assessment. A risk assessment helps DCJ to assess the risk that a child may experience abuse or neglect in future in the home where they live, with risk outcomes of ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’. When a child is assessed as at ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk, they are considered to be in need of care and protection.
  • A risk re-assessment occurs every 90 days (or sooner if there is new information that would affect assessment of risk) when the risk is assessed as high or very high. Risk re-assessment helps DCJ to re-assess the risk to a child following the parents and family/kin’s participation in case planning and work towards the child’s case plan goal.
  • DCJ ceases risk re-assessment when the re-assessed risk is low or medium and where there are no unresolved dangers.
  • DCJ may carry out a review of the initial safety assessment, if new (ROSH or non-ROSH) information is received that would change the initial safety decision.
  • DCJ completes a closing safety assessment if a safety plan is put in place, or when closing DCJ involvement with the child and their family.
  • When completing a SARA and making determinations about the safety and risk of Aboriginal children and young people, families and communities (through appropriate Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms) are proactively supported to participate in decision making.
    DCJ and service providers have a responsibility to work together in providing services to children and families, sharing relevant information to ensure valid assessments and support proactive efforts in addressing assessed safety and risk concerns.

Aboriginal Family-led assessments

Caseworkers work from the perspectives of families to identify a range of practical, educational, therapeutic and advocacy supports, assessing each family’s strengths and needs to formulate case plan goals and strategies. Prompt assessment is critical to engaging and working with Aboriginal families in ways that they view as relevant and helpful. Caseworkers use assessment models sensitively to ensure assessments are valid, and prioritise culturally valid models.

An assessment of family needs and strengths includes:

  • domains of parent and child functioning, from a culturally informed perspective
  • recognition of the impacts of past trauma, including family and intergenerational trauma
  • concept of family and connections to family, community, culture and Country
  • recognition of family structures and environments including Aboriginal child rearing practices
  • family member’s views about what they value, their worries, their strengths, their needs and future aspirations.

Outcomes of assessments are validated within Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes, engaging transparently with families about all elements of the assessment and supporting families to participate in this process with independent supports as needed.

Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making

Aboriginal Case Planning occurs through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes.

Caseworkers respect that families are experts in their own lives and partner with the whole family to enable meaningful participation in assessment, case planning and review, including identification of goals and priorities, existing and required supports, and action plans to achieve goals and address risks.

Aboriginal Case Planning - Family Strengthening

A case plan is developed through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes jointly with the child, their parent/s, family/kin and the service provider with case management:

  • within 15 days of a risk assessment with the risk outcome of ‘high’ or ‘very high’ risk or
  • within 45 days of the initial safety assessment.

Where there has been a community based referral (no SARA pending), a case plan is also developed through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making within 45 days of the initial Aboriginal family-led assessment for other community based referrals

In partnering with the family, caseworkers:

  • clearly communicate the worries and risk of significant harm concerns and supports the family to develop a case plan through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes that are culturally safe and promote the full participation of the whole family support the inclusion of Aboriginal Elders and/or community representatives who have a significant relationship with the child
  • identify additional goals as part of a holistic assessment, recognising that the family may have their own set of goals they want to achieve
  • identify practical steps required for the family to achieve the case plan goals, including any supports to put plans into action.

DCJ and service providers work together as a collaborative support team, engaging parent/s, family/kin and community members in the planning process to ensure a child’s safety, wellbeing, permanency and cultural continuity, focusing on family strength to prevent escalation. The key components of case planning within this segment focus on family-led and participatory practice.

Proactive Efforts

DCJ and service providers respond promptly when risks are identified, taking the opportunity to provide tailored supports to address risks and strengthen families, preventing further escalation. Families are provided with access to family supports, aligned to the identified need, at the first point of contact and may be offered these supports more than once.

DCJ and service providers take all possible steps to preserve families and prevent child removal through pro-actively engaging families and providing tailored, culturally embedded services and supports to strengthen families and address risks.

DCJ and service providers engage local communities to build on their protective and preventive practices, and utilise Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes to enable formal and informal support to strengthen families.

Permanency Support Services

DCJ determines which permanency support services a child, their parents and family/kin receive based on:

  • the outcome of the SARA, and any risk re-assessment
  • the case plan goal and action plan as identified by the family through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes.

Where the Safety Decision is ‘Safe’ or ‘Safe with Plan’, proactive efforts support and strengthen families towards the case plan goal of family preservation. Service providers coordinate the provision of Aboriginal Family Strengthening supports to address identified risks and enable children to remain safely at home. This includes building capacity and strengthening formal and informal supports. DCJ and the service provider closely monitor progress toward achieving the child’s case plan goal in partnership with families through Aboriginal Family-led Decision Making processes. Aboriginal Community Controlled Mechanisms provide community oversight of case plan actions and achievement.

Permanency Coordinators facilitate linkages to Aboriginal Family Strengthening supports and assist caseworkers to access culturally embedded services and specialist supports such as Aboriginal Intensive Family Based Services, Multi-Systemic Therapy - Child Abuse and Neglect (MST-CAN©), Functional Family Therapy - Child Welfare (FFT-CW©), specialist drug rehabilitation and community services that strengthen family functioning. Permanency Coordinators work collaboratively with service providers to coordinate and tailor packages and services to prevent the need for more intrusive responses.

Transfer of case management responsibility occurs through existing referral pathways during the DCJ transitional period. Refer to ‘other case management functions’ – case management transfer.

Information Exchange

Chapter 16A of the Care Act allows DCJ and service providers (who are prescribed bodies) to exchange information that relates to a child’s or young person’s safety, welfare or wellbeing whether or not:

  • the child or young person is known to DCJ or the service provider
  • the person to whom the information relates to gives consent to the information.

Chapter 16A of the Care Act also requires prescribed bodies to take reasonable steps to coordinate decision making and the delivery of services regarding children and young people.

To maximise Aboriginal Family Strengthening, informed consent is sought from families to enable more effective case coordination, participation, and family-led, strengths-based practices. In practice, this allows for the effective engagement of support programs to enable holistic responses that address family need.

Last updated:

24 Feb 2023