Stronger Communities for Children: Communities Driving Better Outcomes for Kids and Families in Remote Northern Territory

Written by Thamarrurr Regional Authority Aboriginal Council Incorporated (TRAAC), Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre, Australian Red Cross and Ninti One Limited.

Stronger Communities for Children (SCfC) is an Australian Government initiative supporting local Aboriginal people as drivers of change in their communities. The SCfC initiative recognises that Aboriginal people are the experts in what their community needs. They know what will work to achieve better outcomes for kids and families, and this program enables them to be the key decision-makers.

SCfC is now operating in ten remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. Work started almost two years ago in five locations - Ngukurr, Galiwin’ku, Wadeye, Ntaria and Santa Teresa. In 2015, another five programs commenced in Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Utopia Homelands, Atitjere and Lajamanu.

SCfC recognises children’s wellbeing does not exist in isolation to family and community environments. Funding is flexible which means that initiatives for parents, families or the whole of community can be supported under the initiative. Distinct ideas and approaches are emerging in each place, reflecting the diversity of needs and local innovations. For example, SCfC is supporting bush medicine healing to improve health and wellbeing, bush tucker nutrition workshops to increase usage of local bush foods in everyday meals, youth leadership training to support young adults to fill leadership roles, parenting programs around the importance of the early years and cyberbullying education in schools as a rising concern in many remote areas.

Community ownership through SCfC Boards

SCfC promotes Aboriginal community ownership by entrusting program planning and spending decisions to local SCfC Aboriginal Boards. In some cases, these boards existed prior to the SCfC initiative, while in other cases boards have come together especially for this program. All boards are voluntary and are made up of men and women from different families and clans. Many of the Stronger Communities for Children boards also advocate on behalf of children in their areas and have become a voice for change and action.

In each location, a locally based organisation, known as a ‘Facilitating Partner’, supports the SCfC Boards to translate priorities into action and works with them to ensure programs and services are confidently managed. Facilitating Partner organisations are local Aboriginal corporations with knowledge and experience in the community. In some communities, this facilitation work is carried out by local organisations in partnership with NGOs that have backgrounds in community work. However, it is the SCfC Board that set priorities and decides on actions.

Access to experts and evidence

SCfC Boards use available evidence and knowledge about ‘what works’ for children and families to inform their decisions. They collaborate with external specialists but also draw extensively on local knowledge, past experience and local data for planning and decision-making.

Decision-making is also informed by what is taking place in projects and services. Monitoring and evaluation systems are enabling board members to assess how things are going and whether funding is supporting the changes communities want to see.

Facilitating Partners and SCfC Board members also meet twice a year to share their knowledge and learn from experts like Menzies School of Health Research, or evidence based organisations such as the Healing Foundation.

After two years of implementation, SCfC Boards and staff have gained many insights into how local people can drive change in their remote communities. They are committed to ensure the program continues to build its strength and enable communities to drive positive change for kids and families into the future.

A paper on the Stronger Communities for Children NT program was presented at the 2015 SNAICC Conference. This article was published in collaboration with SNAICC as part of the Conference.

Further reading:

Stronger communities for children program summary, Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

Stronger communities for children program information and resources, Ninti One

The feature image is supplied by the authors.