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New research finds Indigenous-led early education key to preventing family violence

Rachael Knowles -

Content warning: This article contains reference to domestic and family violence. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

New research from the Australian National University (ANU) has found that Indigenous-led early education about healthy relationships mitigates the experience of family violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Commissioned by the Department of Social Services, the Family and Community Safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (FaCtS) study was Indigenous-led and analysed the responses from 1,600 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The results established a need for support services to be orientated around families and broader kinship systems, said study director Dr Jill Guthrie from ANU's Research School of Population Health.

"We found that culturally informed education programs work," she said.

"It is important to have Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander communities lead the change."

The study identified programs from across the country that were delivering results in the primary prevention space. Those included were The Strong Family Program in New South Wales, The ADRS Family Violence Project in northeast Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, and Young Luv in Victoria.

"Programs like Young Luv engage with Aboriginal teenagers at a stage when destructive patterns in relationships may have started to happen or become normalised," Dr Guthrie said.

Young Luv is administered in schools and community settings by Djirra and has been developed by Aboriginal women, for Aboriginal women.

"The success of this program highlights the extent to which the girls value the opportunity to come together in a culturally safe environment to discuss important issues for them with Aboriginal facilitators who understand and share their culture and community," said Djirra's Community Engagement Manager Kelly Faldon.

"Aboriginal girls and young women discuss the dynamics of healthy relationships, safety and how to recognise inappropriate or unsafe behaviour at a time in their lives when forming independent and positive relationships takes on a special urgency."

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The study also recommended acute services including the Family Wellbeing Program in Adelaide, Red Dust Healing and the Australian Nurse Family Partnership Program (ANFPP).

Red Dust Healing works with the primary focus of restoring families.

"Participants are often trained to become workshop facilitators themselves," said Red Dust Healing Founder Tom Powell.

"I believe if the problem lies in the community, so too does the answer. If you train up local people, who better than to be delivering this than those that come from there or are living there."

Dr Guthrie said the research identified that best practice examples were those which catered to young people.

"We researched best practice examples and found education programs for people at a young age that are working to prevent problems before they ever happen," she said.

"Their programs are Indigenous-led and talk about what constitutes healthy relationships and deliver reproductive and sexual health education."

The research also identified that the best approach to the reduction of violence was found in programs where intergenerational violence and trauma were addressed.

"Winding back the normalisation of violence in some families and communities, which has emerged from the damaging effects of colonisation, requires understanding of healthy relationships and strong culture," Dr Guthrie said.

The study was strongly supported by Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, who noted that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities experience a disproportionate rate of family violence.

"We are committed to finding solutions â€" solutions that not only treat the impacts of violence with frontline services but go to the heart of the problem with prevention and early intervention services that address the structural drivers of violence," he said.

Learn more about the study here.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence, please contact:

National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence counselling service â€" 1800 RESPECT

Domestic Violence Line NSW â€" ‍1800 656 463

Kids Helpline â€" 1800 551 800

Visit respect.gov.au for more information and to download free resources.

By Rachael Knowles

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