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Parenting Programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Families: An inclusive evaluation

By Ben Tomasiello

Objective: To determine the characteristics of parenting initiatives that most effectively facilitate raising strong and healthy children among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Methods: Online databases PubMed, Medline and the Australian Indigenous Health InfoNet Program Directory were searched to identify any parenting programs available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Further programs meeting the selection criteria were identified using grey literature. A Cultural assessment framework evaluated four aspects of program design: strength of Culture, accordance with the First 1000 Days Australia Rights of the Child Charter, the role of men and being family-led. A team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and frontline workers completed the Cultural assessment of programs.

Results: A total of 48 programs were identified in the search that met the selection criteria, 6 from the published literature and the remaining 42 from online directories. 30 programs did not report on evaluations of outcomes and therefore effectiveness of these programs was not able to be determined. Consequently, the Cultural characteristics that made up these programs were unable to be compared with change in parenting outcomes. Programs that were developed either by or with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were rated much higher in the Cultural framework than those developed elsewhere.

Conclusion: Understanding the characteristics of effective parenting Culture programs that facilitate raising strong and healthy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is of significance for future generations. Future programs need to include, report and publish the results of their evaluation outcomes. Many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs receiving high scores in the Cultural assessment did not report evaluation outcomes therefore their effectiveness is unknown.

Implications: The Cultural assessment framework created for this review could be used in future for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community initiatives creating a rating system which allows for the easy comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the Cultural integration within the program.

Key Words: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, parenting, Community initiative, Indigenous Australia, program evaluation