Balunu Healing Camps
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

The community consultations and use of key leaders and agencies within the local community to design, implement, deliver and refine the Balunu Healing Camps is a promising feature of this program. The holistic approach that was adopted is effective in responding to the needs of Aboriginal communities where children and young people are experiencing complex and multiple issues.

Delivered by

The program is delivered by Balunu Foundation Ltd: A private community-based organisation.

www.balunu.org.au

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Chief Executive Officer at Balunu Foundation Ltd.

Service type

Balunu Healing Camps deliver intensive family support, counselling, out-of-home care support and substance misuse services exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents and school children.

Location(s)

The camps are currently being held at Talc Head, which is located on Northern Territory Government Crown Land across from Darwin harbour.

Description

The aim of the Balunu Foundation is to support Indigenous youth by reconnecting them to culture and identity. The Healing Camps facilitate this by providing safe, culturally appropriate experiences for Indigenous youth between 12-17 years of age who present with a host of complex issues from suicide and self-harm to drug and alcohol abuse.

The high levels of Indigenous youth suicide and family disruption has led to Balunu's vision to break the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage and create strong families and positive pathways for future Indigenous generations. To achieve this vision, a grass-roots approach to service delivery is adopted by using a consultative process in responding to the needs of the local Aboriginal community. The Balunu Healing Camps program is owned and led by the community and therefore provides solutions that are culturally appropraite, effective and driven by the specific needs of the community.

Balunu receives referrals from all sectors of the community including Government and non-Government agencies, schools, community members and local families. A referral selection meeting is conducted prior to each camp to assess the eligibility and suitability of the referrals for the camps. In addition to assessing an individual young person's eligibility, factors such as client mix and compatibility are also considered. Health and well-being screenings are conducted using an appropriate screening tool and a risk management strategy is developed for the selected participant.

After participation in the camps, young people are mentored using outreach and case-management to facilitate their transition back into their family and community and are assisted in sustaining the gains made during their participation. The anticipated outcomes are a reduction in the number of youth suicides and anti-social behaviour with a view to providing stronger futures for the community in the longer-term.

Resourcing

The Healing Camps are currently being funded by the Northern Territory Government.

Practice

MOST promising aspect

By focusing on the intergenerational pain of Indigenous people, and by alleviating the trauma experienced by Indigenous youth the healing camps have been effective in preventing youth suicide.

Other promising aspects

The Healing camps program is wholly owned by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the healing approaches of the program were designed by local Elders in partnership with the founders of the Balunu Foundation. As a result, the program is culturally appropriate and meets the specific needs of at-risk Indigenous youth, their families and the local community.

Furthermore, all youth workers and Elders are Indigenous and the particpants feel that they can open up to the workers in a safe and culturally appropriate environment. Many of the particpants encourage their friends to attend because of what the program has done for them. This helps the healing camps to gain more traction in the broader community.

Evidence base and opportunities

The focus on providing a culturally sensitive service allows program providers to better understand the needs of participants and to provide more appropriate responses that can deliver improved outcomes for youth and their communities. This is achieved by consulting with community leaders, such as Aboriginal Elders and other community-based agencies, including Government and non-Government organisations, in the decisions surrounding program design, delivery and obtaining feedback. This approach is recognised as a good way to promote community support for programs and to provide a sense of community ownership over them, which in turn can help to facilitate trust among community partners and among participants. Such trust is known to be instrumental in the effectiveness of programs delivered for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities.

The use of mentors is also known to contribute to the success of the relationships between program providers and young Aboriginal paticipants and to deliver positive outcomes for those participants. The holistic approach of the Balunu Healing Camps not only reflects a culturally relevant approach that can facilitate responses to a wide range of mutiple and complex needs, it facilitates an intensive support regime for participants in the time spent at the camps. The follow-up of participants also supports them in transitioning the youths back into their families and communities , and reflects an effective mechanism through which to ensure the outcomes delivered from the camps are sustainable into the longer-term.

The Balunu Healing Camps appear to be able to be adpated and replicated for use in a variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contexts. An opportunity exists for other Aboriginal communities to adopt a similar approach in order to deliver good outcomes for young people, their families and their communities.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

The Balunu Healing Camps were wholly conceived by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board members through extensive consultation with community Elders and clients at the grass-roots level. The community was engaged through workshops and healing sessions using a whole-of-community and family-centered approach so that communities and families could make strategic decisions about providing safe and culturally appropriate healing strategies for at-risk youth in their community.

Also, 90% of Balunu staff are Indigenous and cultural awareness training is undertaken by non-Indigenous staff.

Cultural practices and materials

At the healing camps, the youths participate in a number of cultural activities, including; making their own spears and woomeras, painting their own yiddaki's (didgeridoos) and other materials, land management, storytelling and bush tucker preparation.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

The program has undergone an external/independent evaluation. However, the evaluation report is not publically available. The instruments used included written evaluations following client participation in the program and the effects of the program/practice on participants by pre-test and post-test comparison.

The evaluation was conducted by Flinders University via interviews with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and program participants. The Evaluation findings were made available exclusively to the NT Government. However, a leading peer reviewed journal of psychology is planning to publish an article based on the evaluation which will be made available to the public in the coming year.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

The Chief Executive Officer of Balunu Foundation reports that the Healing Camps are effective in providing safe and culturally appropriate healing to youth at-risk in the 12 to 17 age group. The Evaluation has endorsed the therapeutic holistic approach of the Foundation and reports that the intervention has achieved positive outcomes for Aboriginal youth and their families. For example, 80% of youth report a change in their own behaviour and have moved away from self-harm and suicide ideation.

The program was also found to be flexibile as indicated by the refinements that were made to the program in response to the recommendations of the evalution report. One refinement was increased staff to client ratios that resulted in improved program safety and greater effectiveness in achieving positive outcomes for participants.

Above all, the primary aim to prevent youth suicide in the local community is achieved as evidenced by the fact that the program has not lost a youth to suicide in the last six years. This is a particularly good outcome given the suicide rate for teenagers in the Northern Territory is reaching epidemic proportions.

Other evidence

The feedback received from particpants and families is a major source of evidence. The majority of youth who completed the program re-engage in society and education and have learnt to be more focused on achieving their goals in life.

The recommendations from the internal risk management audit have also been adopted and the visions and models of the founder are being captured in a book so that they might be passed on to a new generation of healers when the time comes. Applications to fund the publication and distribution of the book are currently underway.

Replicability

There is a growing demand for Balunu healing camps In the community. For example, some townships in central Australia have made repeated requests for the Balunu Foundation to deliver the healing camps in their communities. This indicates the effectiveness of the service in providing a positive impact for the local Darwin community.

 

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