Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
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This online training module is an introduction to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Duration: Approximately 45 minutes (you can close the training and pick up where you left off at a later date).
Language used in this training module is based on the following national standards:
- National practice standards for the mental health workforce (2013)
- National framework for recovery-oriented mental health services (2013)
- A guide to using respectful and inclusive language and terminology, Narragunnawali.org.au
Last updated: September 2021
Content and links in this training were correct at the time of publication. We check these regularly; however, if you find broken links or errors please contact email@example.com
Lesson 1 of 8
Image of notepad and pen
This module is for people who want to learn more about working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
By the end of this module you will:
• Understand the ways in which concepts of disability and mental health can differ for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
• Explore some of the challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples when accessing disability services and the NDIS
• Understand the importance of being aware of cultural considerations and cultural safety when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
• Access resources and tools to help in your work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Image of bookshelves
This module is for people who want to learn more about working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We have other training modules that cover NDIS topics which may be relevant to the this module. They can be found on the training page of our website. There is no assumed knowledge for this module.
Disability among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Lesson 2 of 8
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples often view health in a holistic or broad sense that includes consideration of physical, cultural and spiritual components of wellbeing.
There is little evidence available about the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities; however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience worse health, social and economic outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians, and those with a disability face ‘double disadvantage’.
Image of cave painting
Disability among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in private households, 24% (125,000 people) were living with disability (defined as any limitation, restriction or impairment which restricts a person’s everyday activities, and has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months). 7.3% (38,100) had severe or profound disability (meaning they sometimes or always needed help with daily activities related to self-care, mobility or communication) (AIHW, 2015).
Disability rates are similar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (23%) and females (25%) (AIHW). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over had a higher rate of disability than younger people. More than half (58%) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and over were living with some form of disability (AIHW). Physical and psychosocial disability are the most commonly reported disabilities among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Compared with non-Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 1.8x as likely to have disability (AIHW). In 2015, 15% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability living in households reported experiencing discrimination due to their disability (AIHW).
In 2018, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability varied somewhat by location: 29.6% of those living in inner regional areas had disability, compared with almost a quarter of those living in major cities (23.8%), outer regional areas (22.0%), and remote areas (18.1%) (ABS).
Image of a wheelchair
Despite high rates of disability, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples access support services at lower rates than other Australians. The very concept of disability is foreign in many Aboriginal communities.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people rely on extended family for care and support, rather than using professional service providers. This occurs across remote, rural and urban Australia.
“There is no equivalent word for ‘disability’ in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages … Consequently, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities may not have a general concept of disability, resulting in underreporting of disability and underutilisation of disability services.”
– Australian Human Rights Commission’s Social Justice and Native Title Report 2015
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander understandings of disability and health can differ from those of non-Indigenous people.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities do not self-identify as having a disability. Culturally, disability may be seen as an integrated part of the human experience, or unique to the person living with disability. It is likely that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with a disability is significantly under-represented, and they are not receiving the support services they need.
Understanding the context of disability within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
- There are many diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and communities, each with its own customs and ceremonies. Central to these cultures is the importance of connection and obligation to family, which includes blood relatives and wider kinship groupings.
- Due to history of dispossession, removal of children, and other discriminatory government policies and non-inclusive practices, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may mistrust organisations and government. This can lead to self-exclusion from services. Active engagement and outreach with families, communities and organisations is needed to ensure information is accessible, and that trust can be built through respectful relationships over time.
- Disability within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is often compounded by the impacts of chronic disease and other health, social and economic challenges. These complex needs can amplify the impact of disability for individuals and families, and require holistic and integrated responses.
- Self-determination and self-directed approaches are about enabling individuals, families and communities to lead and participate actively in the key decisions that impact their lives. Western health and disability services use words like ‘person-centred practice’ and ‘self-direction’, while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is often centred around collective decision-making. Through engaging with Elders and extended families, person-centred planning and decision-making can occur within a community and collective context.
Strengths-based, culturally relevant concepts which can support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a disability to live a good life include:
• Being connected to the Lands and family
• Sharing experiences together
• Working together in collaboration
Mental health among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Lesson 3 of 8
National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce (2013)
This module is underpinned by the National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce. Standard 4 refers to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and outlines the requirements in order to ensure mental health practitioners work to actively and respectfully reduce barriers and provide culturally appropriate services.
Mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience poorer mental health outcomes than non-Indigenous people (AIHW). Ten per cent of the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people in 2003 has been linked to mental health conditions.
Thirty percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience some form of psychological distress, compared with 20% of all Australians (ANZMH). More than a quarter of Aboriginal people, and almost a fifth of all Torres Strait Islanders, reported having a mental condition in 2018-19 (Creative Spirits). Compared to non-Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to experience depression. The common types of psychosocial conditions that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychosis and personality disorders. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are up to twice as likely to be hospitalised for mental and behavioural disorders compared to other Australians (AIHW).
In 2017–18, 23% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients seeking specialist homelessness service assistance presented with a current mental health issue (AIHW).
Rates of intentional self harm among young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15-24 years are 5.2 times the rate of non-Indigenous young people (AIHW). Suicide is more prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared to other population groups (AIHW).
Image of indigenous Australian in body paint
Mental illness as a Western concept
Western culture takes a biomedical approach to the cultural concept of mental illness and associated healthcare. The concept of mental health is rooted in more of an illness or clinical perspective, focusing on the individual and their level of functioning in their environment.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples take a more holistic approach that includes the mind, body and spirit. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples typically view mental health as a broad concept covering connection to the land and way of living, inclusive of spiritual, social, emotional, cultural, physical and mental aspects of wellbeing.
It follows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views of mental health differ compared to non-Indigenous people. As a result, many of the assessment tools used by Western clinicians have little cross-cultural validity for use with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Expression of early warning signs and symptoms of recurrent mental illness for Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples remains largely unexplored.
Construction of self for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is complex, incorporating the family and extended clan group, alongside an elaborate set of relational bonds and reciprocal obligations. It may also incorporate a profound sense of continuity through Aboriginal Law and Dreaming. When working with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, understanding the narrative of their personal construction of self and their symptoms of mental illness is key.
An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lens on mental health
Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the concepts of 'social and emotional wellbeing' may be better understood than mental illness, so using these more familiar terms may be helpful in your practice. The social and emotional wellbeing concept is broad and recognises the importance of connection to land, culture, spirituality, ancestry, family and community, and how these affect the person. Social and emotional wellbeing covers a broad range of issues that can result from unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, family breakdown and violence, removal from family, substance misuse, cultural dislocation, racism and discrimination, and social disadvantage.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may not view mental illness as a condition requiring treatment. Where mental illness is recognised as a problem, its management generally falls to the person’s immediate family, extended family and, if necessary, community elders. By the time many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present to services, they may have already reached a crisis point.
Image of a tree with various categories at its roots (spiritual, mental and emotional, family and physical)
Headspace has resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing.
The following video on Youtube discusses Indigenous mental health.
Headspace has developed this image (left), likening mental health to a tree, and encompassing spiritual, mental and emotional, family and physical aspects.
“To stay strong and healthy it needs looking after. You need to take care of the roots of the tree for it to grow tall and stand strong.”
Stigma toward people with mental illness is evident within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This can be perpetuated by health care providers. It is important for employees to reflect upon their own thoughts and beliefs. Creative Spirits have created a webpage to challenge your own stigma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
There can also be stigma associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people seeking treatment, and for men there can be shame associated with accessing services.
Short quiz: Contributing factors to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's mental health and wellbeing
Protective factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' mental health:
Card 1: front
Card 1: back
This refers to the quality of social relationships and the existence of trust, mutual obligations and respect in communities or in wider society. Social cohesion protects people and their health.
Card 2: front
Connection to land, culture, spirituality and ancestry
Card 2: back
The importance of land and ‘country’ is central to most aspects of Aboriginal culture. Maintaining a spiritual, physical and emotional connection to the land is intrinsic to many people’s beliefs about social and emotional wellbeing.
Card 3: Front
Card 3: back
Cultural resilience is the strength of Indigenous peoples to deal with challenges and adversity in their lives. This strength is rooted in their beliefs, values and cultural practices. Cultural resilience is linked to an enhanced sense of wellbeing.
It is good practice to learn how mental illness is described in a person’s community - knowing the words and ideas used to talk about symptoms or behaviours. Being aware of what concepts, behaviours or language are taboo and knowing what might cause shame is also good practice.
In some communities, talking about mental illness can cause people to feel shame. It might be helpful to discuss behaviours and feelings, rather than focusing on labels like ‘depression’ or ‘psychosis’.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the NDIS
Lesson 4 of 8
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants in the NDIS
In 2018, the NDIA recorded 12,375 active participants of the scheme who identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander with approved plans in place. This represents 5.4 per cent of all NDIS participants.
Image “Our reconciliation vision”: “To work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, to build and manage a world leading NDIS that provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with culturally-responsible and equitable access to both the Scheme and employment opportunities and provisions within the Agency.
NDIA's Reconcilliation Vision
Our reconciliation journey
We are very proud of the work we have done so far but we recognise that we still have a long wat to go. The launch and implementation of this RAP will continue to support the work required to realise our vision.
There have been many achievements since we commenced our journey. We have also learned many lessons along the way. We will continue to reflect on our activities and ensure that we implement lessons as we continue to build and develop as an Agency.
NDIA's Reconcilliation Journey
The NDIS uses a range of terms and definitions including ‘disability’, ‘reasonable and necessary support needs’ and an ‘ordinary life’, which may have different meanings and interpretations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The participation rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the NDIS is under-representative when compared to the high rates of disability in Indigenous communities.
A gap in access
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are missing out on NDIS funding. The extent and nature of complex disability and issues surrounding culturally safe policy, and service design and engagement, must be addressed with and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including those who experience complex disabilities. The NDIS model needs to be adjusted to ensure equity of access and to be truly inclusive of all Australians.
“Our communities are disproportionately affected by disability and there is a great need for culturally appropriate disability support services close to where our people live.” - Donnella Mills, NACCHO.
Factors which impact this include the long-term effect of profound intergenerational disenfranchisement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultural perspectives around disability, the generally unrecognised and poorly understood nature of some disabilities, the use of methods that are not culturally safe, and the absence of culturally appropriate assessment tools to identify disability prevalence. An accurate evidence base that is informed by culturally safe research methods and assessment tools is needed to guide the government and the NDIA.
"[Community members] don't really know how to access the scheme. The essence of the scheme is about people applying online, or making a telephone call to send in a referral. But again, [in] our community there are issues around internet and having an accessible phone, and then they need somebody to support them through these processes. This is the first time a lot of our people have ever had to do [this] in their life." - June Riemer
State of disadvantage
The state of disadvantage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities presents a range of problems that exist outside of the NDIS’s scope and objectives. There are many communities where basic housing and utilities are either limited or absent. As such, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disability must focus their energies on addressing the basics of daily living.
Image of a person using a mobile phone.
A holistic approach
Disability services need to work in partnership with mainstream health, mental health and substance abuse, justice, housing, education, youth services, training and community organisations to ensure that planning and service provision is integrated and holistic. This requires innovative and creative approaches to sharing resources, information and skills.
Click on the flipcards below to identify various barriers to health and disability services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Click to flip
Card 1: Intergenerational trauma and a social context of disadvantage and marginalisation
Card 2: Barriers to access and assessment processes
Card 3: Nonidentification of disability
Card 4: Stigma around disability
Card 5: Shortage of skilled workforce
Card 6: High staff turnover / locum GPs
Card 7: Long waitlists, or services not available when needed
Card 8: No or not enough services in the area
Card 9: Lack of Local Area Co-ordinators in rural and remote locations
Card 10: Transport issues and distance
Card 11: Cost of services and/or inadequate funding
Card 12: Services not being culturally appropriate
Card 13: No or lack of trust in services
Card 14: Clients experiencing transient lifestyles and/or homelessness
Rural and remote barriers
The NDIA has acknowledged that culturally appropriate engagement and delivery is a necessary component of the support required by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with disabilities. However, there remain significant issues for on-the-ground implementation of the NDIS, particularly in remote locations.
In many communities, it is difficult to contact people directly (e.g. no mailing addresses and unreliable phone connections) and communication can only be managed via facilitation through third parties.
Geographical and logistical access to services is a significant issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disabilities in regional, remote and very remote areas. Limited or non-existent accessible transport options, inadequate housing and over-crowding may also serve as barriers to NDIS utilisation and support provision. Due to the remoteness and lack of public transport in some communities, many people are forced to use private resources or taxis for transport, which can become expensive. There are also lower levels of vehicle ownership among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In very remote areas, there may be inadequate or no public transport options (with taxi drivers sometimes reluctant to enter some communities). There are difficult weather conditions in some areas, coupled with lack of access to appropriate housing and urban infrastructure (including clean water and sanitation) and a lack of access to specialists.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities (as well as their carers and families) can become socially isolated and cut off from health and disability services and from important cultural and community activities. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in often harsh remote environments and housing, which is often not suited to assistive technology (AT) and equipment.
Not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live rurally or remotely. People living in urban areas often experience other barriers to accessing the NDIS, including stigma and discrimination, shame around mental illness, and the compounding impact of other health conditions.
Image of mother and daughter on a road
Family caring obligations
In line with kinship obligations, caring for a person with a disability is often considered a family responsibility, rather than the responsibility of external support workers or providers.
Carer obligations can burden family members, particularly when the disability is complex and when other members also require support. Recognising and building family and community support into NDIS plans is a key challenge for participants as well as the NDIA.
Factors which may help to overcome barriers to NDIS service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
- Smaller community-based operations should consult with local communities and engage local staff, and be supported by larger experienced service providers.
- Local Indigenous staff should be employed.
- The cultural competency of non-Indigenous staff should be developed.
- Co-design is an important concept and means working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in a process where cultural perspectives and frameworks inform the development of a project and are not only recognised and acknowledged, but fully incorporated in design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
Image of many hands on a tree
Remote Community Connectors
NDIS Remote Community Connectors have been operating since June 2016 across remote Australia and work with communities to support the NDIS. Community Connectors are focused primarily on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and those living in remote and very remote communities.
Lesson 5 of 8
Working from a culturally appropriate approach
Cultural competence is having awareness, knowledge and the appropriate skills to provide services to specific cultures. Cultural competence requires individuals to not only to understand a particular cultural group, but also to be aware of their own biases, values and beliefs, and recognise these when working with individuals and groups. Working in this way will improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 'Effective strategies to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people' 2014
Working as a Culturally Competent Mental Health Practitioner, Roz Walker and Christopher Sonn
Important factors to recognise when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Step 1: Recognition of cultural diversity
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not all belong to the same group. There are various groups across Australia, each with their own language, beliefs and culture. This extends to understanding and perceptions of mental health and wellbeing.
Being aware of these differences is important for staff working in mental health programs. If you are familiar with the diversity and richness of the culture of the person you are working with, you are able to draw on cultural strengths to work with the person towards meaningful and lasting outcomes to improve their mental wellbeing.
Step 2: Recognition of family and kinship
When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it is important to integrate the person's family and significant others into their care. There is a strong link between connectedness to family and community and engagement in cultural activity and better mental health and wellbeing outcomes. This highlights the importance of ensuring that family and kinship connections are encouraged and accommodated throughout the person's participation in formal supports.
The way that you involve family, carers or the community will be different for each person, so it is important to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the person you are working with.
Step 3: Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strengths
It is important to recognise each person's individual and cultural strengths when working together. Using a strengths-based approach to build upon the person's own strengths and personal resilience will allow for meaningful and sustainable changes to be made to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Cultural resilience refers to the role that culture and identity play for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Cultural resilience is linked to strength during times of emotional distress including change, stress and adversity.
The importance of building rapport - having a yarn
When working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, taking time to build rapport and to help people to feel comfortable is key. Taking the time to sit with someone, have a cup of tea and listen to them, without asking lots of direct questions will help to establish a positive working relationship. Don't be surprised or offended if people are quiet or don't make general conversation in your first meeting.
Click on the flipcards below for suggestions for good-practice approaches:
Click to flip
Card 1: Information sharing and active listening
Card 2: Building respectful relationships over time
Card 3: Holistic (whole-of-person) approach
Card 4: Shared planning, inclusive of family and community
Card 5: Collaborative decision making
Card 6: Timely follow through
Practical cultural considerations
Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is a constant and evolving process. Some cultural considerations and factors to be aware of when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are listed below.
When visiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land for the first time, it is important to introduce yourself to community leaders, explain why you are there and enquire about any customs you need to know during your visit. This shows respect to the community and its leaders, and will equip you with valuable information you need while engaging with the community.
It is important to find out prior to the visit if there are areas which are off limits to you. There may be 'men's country' and 'women's country', and certain areas for certain groups of people (e.g. young, unmarried men). There may also be sacred areas that only certain people can enter. Ensure you don't wander around the community until you know the guidelines, and avoid taking photos of people or scenery without gaining appropriate local permissions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may not greet people each time they see them. A handshake may be customary to some but not to others. Once you establish rapport with a person, or meet groups in the community, you will be able to gauge what is appropriate.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may find constant, direct eye contact and staring uncomfortable, so it is best practice to be mindful of your eye contact during conversations.
It is important to be clear when asking questions and use language which explains why you are seeking the information. Avoid asking many direct questions, as this may be perceived as rude. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may also feel uncomfortable giving a direct "No" response to a question. They may respond "Yes" even though the details may not suit them. Where possible, ask indirect questions, and avoid answering with a direct "No" to questions asked of you.
Family structure is a very important aspect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and significantly different to that of non-Indigenous people. It is important to understand the nature of family in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as it can affect your interactions with the person. For example, the individual may have family responsibilities to nieces or nephews, or may prefer to have family present during meetings. In many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, there are rules around family relationships and in particular avoidance between certain relatives once married.
Taboos related to death
It is often taboo to use a deceased person's name or show of a photo of the deceased for a period of time following the death. Being aware of these cultural factors is important when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure you understand the context for certain situations, and can make alternative arrangements where necessary to accommodate people's cultural need to mourn appropriately.
Because of reduced life expectancy, loss of family and community members through early death is a constant reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Planning and service delivery needs to consider the impacts of grief and loss, and associated disruptions to caring and support systems.
Mourning the death of a loved one is often called 'sorry business'. This can take days or weeks and may mean that the person you are working with is not available to attend meetings or appointments during this time. Understanding their absence is important to ensure that the person's need to grieve is respected. Meetings or appointments can be re-scheduled.
Partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific services
Image of person looking down
Engaging with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled services and other Indigenous-specific programs can be useful. Programs such as Close the Gap can provide you with further information about particular groups or cultural considerations when working with an individual or community.
Evidence suggests that both mainstream and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services provide better outcomes when working from the Close the Gap service-delivery principles (outlined below).
You might like to think about how these strategies apply in your organisation and discuss areas of improvement with your team.
Expand the headings below to learn more about Close the Gap service-delivery principles:
Programs and services should contribute to Closing the Gap by meeting the targets endorsed by Council of Australian Governments (COAG) while being appropriate to local community needs.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement principle
Engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peop[es and communities should be central to the design and delivery of services.
Services should be directed and resourced over an adequate period of time to meet the COAG targets.
Services should be physically and culturally accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples recognising the diversity of urban, regional and remote needs.
There should be collaboration between and within governments at all levels and their agencies to effectively coordinate services.
Programs and services should have regular and transparent performance monitoring, review and evaluation.
Lesson 6 of 8
Cultural awareness education is considered to be the first building block towards cultural safety
Image of a foggy road
Yarning is ‘an Indigenous cultural form of conversation’ and represents a culturally safe method of engagement both in terms of building initial relationships with people and collecting information.
A culturally competent organisation:
• Commits to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination and respectful partnerships as reflected in policies and public service statements, protocols and formal agreements with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs).
• Embeds cultural respect within organisational and staff values and attitudes that promote the recognition of the strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and peoples.
This might include encouraging disability service management and staff to participate in Aboriginal community activities and events, while supporting the recruitment of culturally respectful staff, and the implementation of a code of conduct that highlights the importance of cultural safety and timely responses to racism, discrimination and cultural abuse.
• Reflects cultural responsiveness in the abilities and skills of staff as supported by policies and procedures for recruitment, induction and ongoing training and professional development facilitated in conjunction with local or other relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
• Promotes culturally safe environments and client experiences that include consideration of welcoming and culturally safe physical and social environments that are sensitive to the cultural norms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This may include working in community settings chosen by Aboriginal peoples and positive inclusion of family and community members.
• Ensures that cross-cultural practice and care applies to all aspects of disability services including:
- resources and public symbols that promote Aboriginal culture
- maintaining and strengthening Aboriginal family and connections
- assessments, planning and service delivery that consider parent-child, extended family and community relationships and dynamics
- collaboration with Aboriginal organisations in the development and delivery of culturally competent responses.
For more information
• Transition Support Project web portal
• Transition Support Project: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Planning Workbook
• NDIS: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy
• NDIS: Inclusion and Diversity Framework
• NDIS: Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–21
• Department of Health: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health
• AIHW: Effective strategies to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
• Telethon Kids: Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice
Lesson 7 of 8
Certificate of completion
Lesson 8 of 8
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