Picture a crammed circle of chairs in a conference room, with 50 dedicated family support workers and researchers from around the world discussing how we can enhance services in Indigenous communities. What an amazing opportunity to share experiences and insights, and to engage more of the professional community in this much-needed work. The recent Helping Families Change Conference in Banff in Canada provided just that.
We don’t get the chance to do this often enough. We had the rare privilege of hearing, first hand, about the journeys of Canadian, New Zealand and Australian First Nations peoples. It was a precious hour and a half that many participants said was a healing process in itself.
We are at a point in time when reconciliation and closing the gap in health, educational and social inequality are national priorities for governments around the world.
In a recent speech to Parliament to table the 2016 Closing the Gap statement, the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, called on the words of Chris Sarra, the chairman of the Stronger Smarter Institute, to explore what would truly make a difference to Australian Indigenous lives. Quoting Chris, the Prime Minister set out the following three priorities:
“Firstly, acknowledge, embrace and celebrate the humanity of Indigenous Australians. Secondly, bring us policy approaches that nurture hope and optimism rather than entrench despair. And lastly, do things with us, not to us. Do things with us, not to us.”
These were the exact sentiments expressed by participants in our discussion group, representing diverse First Nations peoples.
There are so many parallels in the experiences of Indigenous communities that have a history of colonisation. These experiences have included, but are not limited to, displacement from country, from family, from language, from ritual, from sacred laws, from spiritual connection, from cultural identity and pride.
As researchers and practitioners working with Indigenous or First Nations families, this gathering reminded us that we need to start at the beginning of each family’s story. This means learning about and acknowledging what generations before have experienced. What traumas did they suffer? What parenting strengths and wisdom have been passed down?
Then, if we are to truly engage with families, we need to make our services appealing and accessible. Trust is the crucial thing.
Each practitioner has their own standing and relationships in community, and can develop those relationships by deepening their understanding and respect for local culture. They can engage with and learn from Elders, partner with Aboriginal organisations, and work with local champions who see the value of bringing evidence-based programs out of universities and into reality in community to give every child the best possible chance in life.
Our own research has shown that a parenting group can be a first, safe step in accessing a service agency, and can lead to parents developing the confidence and trust to access other health, mental health and community services.
We’ve come a long way. I was first approached in 1996, when Triple P was brand new and dissemination was a fledging process, to look at somehow making Triple P more attractive, relevant and accessible for young Indigenous families in Brisbane.
These young parents were in trouble – with day-to-day problems coping with the law, with cultural identity, with racism, and with the struggle of living in two societies.
We consulted with community representatives locally, then state-wide, and then nationally and made steps towards making Triple P culturally sensitive and engaging.
It is truly humbling to see so many wonderful practitioners around the world take those small steps that we made in a little office in Brisbane 20 years ago and make them flourish.
It also heartens me to think that some of those first ‘Triple P babes’ have now grown up and are doing great work in their communities. A whole new generation of positive, motivated Indigenous parents.
Over the years, we have learned that success comes when communities choose when they are ready for change, and when researchers, developers and communities work together to decide how they want to incorporate existing programs to meet the community’s needs. As Chris Sarra said, doing it together.
It’s not so much that programs need to change, it’s that the way they are delivered that needs to have relevance and context.
Draw on traditions to connect with each family’s origins
Our discussion group impressed that, in the end, it is not up to program developers to somehow create myriad localised variations to incorporate every culture into their programs. It’s up to practitioners to incorporate programs into their own ways of being and understanding. The aim is to implement evidence-based programs flexibly, without losing the key ingredients. Practitioners should embrace local culture and draw on each tribe’s own traditions to connect to each family’s origins, and help them find their own cultural knowledge, aspirations and practices.
As one Indigenous practitioner said at HFCC in Banff:
“It’s about bringing Triple P to our culture, not the other way around.”
To be truly pan-Indigenous, a program needs to provide a structure to connect effective parenting principles and strategies to each family’s lived experience of family. Flexible tailoring is not only permitted, it is required … for each family, community and era.
The principles and practices of positive parenting are not new. As one of the group participants shared with us:
“Our great grandmothers were patient and firm. Triple P is helping our families come back to our cultural traditions. It’s bringing us full circle.”
Pride and gratitude
These words make me so proud of what we are achieving collectively. There are so many people to thank for sharing their knowledge, learnings and successes with Triple P over the years, and most recently at the HFCC. Such enthusiasm and openness feed our passion for making programs such as Triple P accessible to every family.
Imagine if more Indigenous communities around the world could help reconnect young parents with their cultural heritage using evidence-based programs such as Triple P as a catalyst. Building strength on strength.
As a program developer and researcher who has spent the last 20 years exploring the fit of Triple P in Indigenous communities, this feedback has been overwhelming. I really do believe we are coming full circle.