Safe and supportive Indigenous families and communities for children: A synopsis and critique of Australian research
Shaun Lohoar

This paper reviews the research on building safe and supportive families and communities for Indigenous children in Australia. Based on assessments of 22 research and evaluation reports, it examines the evidence base in the areas of:

  • building safe and supportive Indigenous communities for children and families;
  • support for vulnerable and at-risk Indigenous families; and
  • prevention of child abuse and neglect in Indigenous families and communities.

The paper synthesises the findings and discusses the implications for future research. The reports were identified in the research audit, Protecting Australia's Children Research Audit 1995-2010 (McDonald, Higgins, valentine, & Lamont, 2011).

Full publication

Key messages

  • Longer time-frames than those currently provided are required for programs and services to:
    • build trusting relationships with Indigenous families and community partners;
    • identify client needs and to plan and implement appropriate responses;
    • devise and deliver effective engagement strategies;
    • foster Indigenous cultural understandings for service staff and for the broader community; and
    • develop evaluation strategies that identify longer-term outcomes for Indigenous families.
  • Indigenous participation in the planning, delivery and measurement of programs is critical in fostering greater trust and connectivity and enhancing community awareness.
  • Engagement strategies work best when Indigenous families are consulted about their needs, and services respond using holistic approaches that are delivered in a culturally sensitive manner.
  • A collaborative approach to service delivery has resulted in a reduction of service duplication, more efficient use of resources and the promotion of shared goals. It is unclear whether these benefits will result in positive outcomes for Indigenous families in the longer-term.
  • When Indigenous clients exit from programs there is little known about the impact that services have had on their families beyond their engagement with the program.
  • Short funding periods and limited resources for programs have restricted the capacity of some services to provide appropriate support to Indigenous families.
  • Indigenous perspectives about how child abuse prevention information is shared among the community can help to identify where, when and how child prevention interventions could be delivered.
  • Program evaluation data are rarely linked to population-wide data to establish the longer-term impact of programs on Indigenous families and communities. Improved data linkage may help to establish a solid evidence base to inform child protection strategies for Indigenous families and communities.


Shaun Lohoar is a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Emma Sydenham of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC). Appreciation is also extended to Jacqui Stewart, Rhys Price-Robertson and Elly Robinson of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Publishing details

CFCA Paper No. 7
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, August 2012, 23 pp. ISSN 2200-4106 ISBN978-1-922038-03-6

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