Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

Parenting support; family relationships; family functioning; parenting skills education

Delivered by

The program was delivered by services from the South West Sydney Local Health District.

Location(s)

The program was delivered in the south-west of Sydney in Liverpool, Campbelltown, and the Southern Highlands. The name Coolamon means cradle and the program focused on Aboriginal families. The program staff were based at the Liverpool Hospital, but delivered the program in various locations. The program also linked with other services in other locations (eg. The Benevelont Society's Family Support, and Brighter Futures programs).

Issue being addressed

The program aimed to alleviate the stress families experience during the early years of raising children. It sought to address the long-term impacts of the following issues on Aboriginal families (particularly mothers and children):

  • Child abuse and neglect;
  • Mothers' sense of burden, including a lack of financial, emotional and social support which can lead to other problems;
  • Alcohol and drug abuse; and
  • A lack of parenting support
Service type

Parenting support; family relationships; family functioning; parenting skills education

Target population

The target population was Aboriginal families (particularly mothers and children) in need of parenting skills or support within south-west Sydney. The program particularly targeted Aboriginal parents with children from birth to age five (school age).

Aims and objectives

The program aimed to enhance the wellbeing of Aboriginal families by developing positive relationships between parents and their children using the Circle of Security (CoS) and Marte Meo interventions. It also aimed to strengthen and improve the caregiving capacity of Aboriginal parents by developing positive social and emotional skills. Specifically the program aimed to:

  • Teach the basics of attachment theory;
  • Improve parenting skills and understanding of their child's needs by observing parent/child interactions;
  • Support reflective communication between program staff and parents in order to explore parents' strengths and capacities; and
  • Help parents reflect on the traumatic effects of colonisation.
Program basis

The Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting program commenced in 2008 and more than 30 families have completed the program. The program is based on the internationally-recognised CoS and Marte Meo programs.

CoS is a relationship-based early intervention program designed to enhance attachment security between parents and children (http://circleofsecurity.net).

Marte Meo is a practical approach to supporting child development through everyday communication, showing how ordinary interactions can be used to support children’s development. This strengths-based approach aims to encourage people to develop their skills and existing capacities through reviewing video-taped interactions of themselves and their children.

Guided by a combination of these practices, the Boomerangs Coolamon program was a 12-week program (run with 6-8 families) that involved weekly, three-hour sessions (child care provided), as well as cultural camps (depending on funding) and culturally appropriate therapies and activities.

Following Marte Meo, the program involved recording the group's sessions and then used the video to discuss and improve parenting skills.

The camps provided families with an opportunity to relax and receive parenting advice. The camps were supported by other social service professionals, including Aboriginal family support workers.

The program also explored Aboriginal history and parenting practices. This included the presence of a traditional healer (who uses conventional narrative therapy and meditation), to help parents understand their experiences and emotions.

Cultural relevance

Local community context

The program started in 2008 and focused on Aboriginal families in south-west Sydney, with most participants being Aboriginal mothers or mothers with Aboriginal children. Most participating families had a history of loss and intergenerational trauma relating to the stolen generations.

When it began, the Boomerangs Coolamon program was based on the CoS parenting program, and incorporated Marte Meo activities when it was expanded in 2010.

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Aboriginal workers from the South West Sydney Local Health District were consulted in the development of the program, in particular the Aboriginal Health Workers and Aboriginal staff in other services working with Aboriginal families (eg. Family Support Workers). Other local Aboriginal organisations were included in the consultations including Tharawal Aboriginal Medical Services and the Local Aboriginal Land Council, Gandangara. The local Elders were also included in the consultation.

There was a high level of Aboriginal involvement in the implementation of the program including:

  • Aboriginal project managers and workers conducting the program day to day;
  • Aboriginal elders attending, teaching and offering advice on the camps;
  • A high level of partnership with Aboriginal workers and other Aboriginal organisations; and
  • Aboriginal role models and teachers including local Aboriginal rangers (teaching about the environment and bush tucker) and spiritual healers, were involved in the program.
Cultural practices and materials

The program incorporated various elements that enhanced its cultural appropriateness, including:

  • Cultural parenting practices: this included information and activities about the holistic and interconnected role of parents, relatives and community in traditional child-raising and discipline;
  • Appropriate locations: weekly activities and camps were run in locations that werecomfortable and safe for Aboriginal people and families;
  • Aboriginal history: this included information about cultural and parenting practices before colonisation and the impact of stolen generations and intergenerational trauma; and
  • Aboriginal cultural service providers: this included Aboriginal rangers and spiritual healers.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

An internal evaluation was completed for the Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting program in 2012.

Evaluation details

The evaluation assessed the effectiveness of the program in achieving it goals of developing positive long-term relationships between Aboriginal mothers and their children.

The evaluators used the case studies of seven families (who had or were completing the program) to analyse the effectiveness of the program and to identify the program's strengths. The seven families were each represented by that family's mother. The case-study approach was preferred given the small sample size and as it was considered a more personal approach it afforded a comprehensive understanding of each familly’s response to the program. The evaluation used the following methods of data collection:

  • Video footage of parents and children interacting while in the program;
  • Semi-structured interviews with mothers about their personal situation and parent-child relationships; and
  • Interviews with the program's childcare worker.

The evaluation report acknowledged limitations to the study including:

  • The study did not analyse the broader impacts of the program (e.g.the impact on community of families' financial situations);
  • The program is highly personal and therefore was difficult to objectively assess; and
  • The small sample size and limited time and resources made it difficult to determine longer-term outcomes of the program.

Despite these limitations the evaluation found the program had positive results overall.

Effectiveness

Most effective aspect

While the evaluation didn't identify the program's most effective aspect, the program manager believed the program's most effective elements included that it was 'strengths-based'; provided parents with practical parenting strategies that can be put into place; and was founded on strong relationships and networks formed between staff and families.

Demonstrated outcomes

The anecdotal evidence from the qualitative interviews demonstrated that several families had experienced some or all of the following positive outcomes as a result of participating in the program:

  • Improved parent and child relationships. Some mothers were able to pass on their new knowledge and skills to their partners and families, which in some cases resulted in less conflict with their partner and children;
  • Improved parenting skills (e.g. communication, conflict management) and confidence. Parents had an improved understanding of good communication and their children felt they were being listened to and respected;
  • Improved ability by some parents to identify and deal with their emotions;
  • Access to a supportive network of mothers and families experiencing similar issues; and
  • Improved skills of children including improved school readiness and engagement, emotional maturity and independence for some children.

The evaluation also identified some of the program's key strengths, including:

  • The use of video footage to analyse parent-child interactions which helped parents understand how they could improve;
  • The cultural camps which allowed families to spend quality time together and to build supportive networks with others;
  • The group structure for activities, which created supportive networks among families and staff; and
  • The program was able to be flexible and be adapted to accommodate particular family circumstances.
Resourcing

The program is funded by the South West Sydney Local Health District (NSW).

Evidence base and opportunities

More information about the Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting program can be found here:

General information about parenting programs for Aboriginal families can also be found here:
http://www.aihw.gov.au/uploadedFiles/ClosingTheGap/Content/Publications/2012/ctgc-rs16.pdf

 

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