Families and Schools Together (Northern Territory)
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

Strengthening family functioning, school engagement, preventing substance abuse and parenting support

Delivered by

Families and Schools Together Northern Territory (FAST NT), works with local schools and Indigenous communities in urban (Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs) and remote Northern Territory locations to establish and deliver the FAST program.

The program is delivered through agreements between FAST NT, the local community and schools. Other organisations provide support in various ways, either by funding, program participation or through receiving client referrals from the program.


The FAST NT program is run in several urban and remote locations in the Northern Territory. FAST is suitable for the needs of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students. However, many of the schools where FAST NT is run have a high Indigenous population.

The current FAST NT program locations are:
-Karama School


  • Moulden Park School
  • Gray School
  • Driver Primary School

East Arnhem Land:

  • Galiwin'ku: Shepherdson College, Buthan Community (new housing estate in Galiwinku town)
  • Gapuwiyak: Yalauku and Raymagirr Homelands
  • Angurugu: Angurugu School (Groote Eylandt)
  • Ramingining school
  • Milingimbi School

Katherine Region:

  • Wugularr School (Beswick)
  • Barunga School

Barkley Region:

  • Tennant Creek Primary School

Alice Springs:

  • Yipirinya School
  • Sadadeen School
  • Larapinta School
  • Bradshaw School
  • Gillen School

This profile focuses on the implementation of FAST NT programs in remote, primarily Indigenous, communities and specifically incorporates information from an interview with Yolngu FAST facilitators from three different East Arnhem Land communities, information from a 2011 evaluation of a specific FAST program at Shepherdson College in the community of Galiwin'ku, and input from the FAST NT Coordinator and program evaluator.

Issue being addressed

The FAST program runs in urban and remote Australian communities and addresses the need, identified by Indigenous community leaders in the profiled locations, for giving children the best start in life. In particular, the program is intended to strengthen young families and improve children's engagement with school.

Other issues addressed include overcrowded housing and balancing Indigenous children's need to fit into mainstream education while fulfilling cultural and family obligations.

Service type

Parenting support and education, educational support for children, community strengthening and engagement

Target population

The target population for the FAST program are Indigenous families in communities where children are not succeeding at school and/or where parents are in need of support.

Aims and objectives

The program aims to increase the likelihood of children being successful at home, in school and in the community. To achieve this, FAST runs activities that strengthen the protective factor of family cohesion. Family cohesion is achieved through:

  • Supporting parents
  • Building supportive relationships
  • Improving school behaviour and attendance
  • Increasing parental involvement on multiple levels, including social networks
  • Reducing the risk factors of family conflict
  • Reducing the risk factors of substance abuse by the child and family
Program basis

FAST programs were first developed in First Nation communities in North America and targeted families with young children who were not succeeding at school. The programs were developed by Dr Lynn McDonald, a family therapist and academic at the University of Wisconsin. FAST has worked with urban Indigenous families in Australia since 1996. The FAST program has been implemented in Northern Territory communities from 2002.

FAST targets the whole family and asks them to attend 2.5 hour sessions for 8 weeks (one night a week). The meetings are usually held at a school, are run by a team of local Indigenous FAST facilitators, and include activities that are aimed at positive family interaction and parental/child education. The program also partners with local services (eg., police, health clinics) to provide information or support to the groups.

Some examples of the weekly activities include:

  • coaching for parents where FAST team members provide parenting information in a way that respects and empowers parents to manage their family.
  • activities that include the whole family. Examples from the FAST NT programs include: “family flag making”, “community singing”, “family drawing exercise”, “family feelings game” and a shared meal;
  • Parent support group and children's play activities;
  • Near the end of the session there is designated play time between parents and their child; and
  • End of session rituals to congratulate any family achievements

Cultural relevance

Local community context

There are several specific challenges in delivering education in these (and other) remote NT communities, including:

  • the remoteness of these communities
  • finding and retaining appropriate teachers
  • working in contexts where the main language spoken is not English
  • finding ways to lift attendance rates and academic performance
  • engaging with the community and understanding the Indigenous cultural context

At the same time, negative characterisations of these communities (as disadvantaged, dysfunctional, poor and disengaged from the economy) have also compounded the issues and often overlook community agency, cultural pride and strong connections to law and land. Accordingly, FAST NT works with community leaders, educators and schools to achieve the aspirations local families have for their children.

One key aspect of the local context is that in all of the remote NT communities where FAST is implemented, community members commonly speak a variety of languages with English often not their first language. The communities include:

  • Galiwin'ku: population of about 2500 and located on Elcho Island.
  • Yirrkala: population of about 850 and located near Nhulunbuy. Yolngu Matha is the main language in Yirrkala.
  • Ramingining: population of about 800 and located 800km east of Darwin. The main language spoken is Djambarrpuyngu. (Dhuwala and Dhay’yi are two other main languages)
  • Angurugu: population of about 800 and located on Groote Eylandt. Anindilyakwa is the language of the communities of Groote Eylandt.
  • Gunbalanya: population of about 1000 and located about 300km east of Darwin, near Jabiru. The main language spoken is Kunwinjku.
  • Beswick: population of about 500 and located about 120km south east of Katherine. Rembarranga, Kriol and English are the main languages.
  • Gapuwiyak: population of about 900. Djambarrpuyngu (a dialect of Yolngu Matha) is the main language.
  • Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs are regional centres with predominantly English speaking populations, but with a mix of different Aboriginal groups and languages.
Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

In the case of Galiwin'ku, the FAST Team (which helped design and implement the program) consisted of a FAST Trainer (a non-local), three senior Indigenous community workers from the local health centre and two community women who joined the team as 'community partners'. These Indigenous people formed part of the team who helped design the programs' content and encouraged families to attend (which were initially a mixture of their own or extended family). The Indigenous FAST staff consulted senior community members when the program was first proposed and approved its implementation. Since the evaluation, the Galiwin'ku team has proposed another program in a new suburb of the community, which has recently completed its second cycle.

Another example of the Indigenous community involvement is in the Gapuwiyak community (which has been running FAST since 2010), where the FAST team have taken the initiative and run the program for outstation communities in an unused classroom at the local school. At the time of writing this outstation program is currently halfway through the 8 week program.

Cultural practices and materials

In most locations, the Yolngu FAST facilitators collaborated with families to develop educational and visual activities to facilitate and enhance the meaning of the weekly meetings. These were often locally designed stories that were used to improve engagement and communication. Some of these featured artwork, images and metaphors that were locally meaningful.

One example of a locally designed metaphor was 'the basket' (see below). A senior Yolgnu woman in East Arnhem developed the analogy of the basket as a visual metaphor for family and community life. The Yolgnu basket is a container and, as such, represents community strength; however the basket also has holes through which its contents (community members) might fall; these holes represent community problems that require a joint effort to repair. Yolngu staff successfully used the metaphor throughout the FAST process to communicate and facilitate discussion about community and family life.

Image of a hand-drawn basket


Evaluation status

A formal external evaluation has been completed for the FAST Galiwin'ku program. This profile will focus on the findings of the Galiwin'ku evaluation but will also summarise some of the anecdotal findings from FAST programs run in other remote communities.

Link to evaluation


Evaluation details

The Galiwin'ku evaluation recognised that the template evaluation tools that have been validated as part of the FAST program internationally would need to be adapted to remote Indigenous contexts (primarily because of cultural and language issues). Accordingly, the Galiwin'ku program evaluation developed new tools to evaluate FAST that were culturally appropriate, were adaptable to other Indigenous contexts and could be used by Indigenous FAST staff with minimal support from external or non Indigenous evaluators. These tools were developed by the FAST staff in consultation with, and advice from, community Elders, key funding stakeholders and with university and private evaluation experts with experience in designing culturally appropriate evaluation tools for Indigenous contexts. Adapted evaluation tools included using a narrative format for participants to provide qualitative feedback, simplifying the response categories for standard survey questions and using local language and Indigenous staff to conduct the research.

The Galiwin'ku evaluation also used participant and teacher surveys, school attendance data, FAST staff interviews and evaluator observations. The evaluation explored the following questions:

  • What kinds of changes resulted from FAST? (e.g. for parents and carers, children, whole families, schools, team members, for the community)
  • To what extent did FAST achieve outcomes for families as they are anticipated in original FAST program logic?
  • What worked in the FAST program? (e.g., in terms of program factors, relationships, resourcing).


Most effective aspect

The evaluation found evidence of positive change in parental self efficacy, family environment, social relationships, child behaviour and parental involvement in education.

The evaluation suggested that the key areas underpinning FAST program success were community support, strong local Aboriginal coordination, a trusting relationship with the school, the program’s fit with the community's perceived needs, and the FAST team's cohesion.

Demonstrated outcomes

A summary of the results for each of the instruments used to evaluate the FAST Galiwin'ku program are listed below:

Participant surveys:

  • Approximately 55 per cent of responses indicated positive change across all the domains surveyed (including: parental self efficacy, family environment, social relationships, child behaviour, parental involvement in education). Only one response suggested a negative change (0.5 per cent).

Teacher Surveys:
Teachers indicated that were able to attribute positive changes in three children directly to their participation in FAST.

School attendance data:
There was a slight increase in mean attendance for FAST children identified at Term 4, 2010 and Term 1, 2011, although the change is not considered statistically significant. A total of 8 of the 15 children showed improved attendance.

Interviews with FAST staff and community members:
In summary, the interviews with approximately 20 adults indicated the following outcomes:

  • Two main outcomes were reported for parents including increased support (e.g. feeling more connected with other parents and encouraged in role as parents) and improved parental capacity (e.g., feeling empowered to take responsibility and feeling confidence to take on parenting role).
  • Four main positive outcomes were identified for children in the FAST program, including improved behaviour at school, becoming more helpful at home or school, improved school attendance, and improved respect for adults.
  • Improved collaboration and communications skills for FAST team members and transfer of these skills to work and home contexts.
  • Community member responses indicated that FAST had resulted in improved community development, community-based action and program ownership.

Evaluator observations indicated that the critical success factors underpinning the program include:

  • networking/coordination/skills of the coordinator;
  • the collaborative relationship with local stakeholders, particularly in terms of selecting participants and advocating for the program; and
  • fitting with Yolngu approaches to learning and the inclusion of the Yolngu coordinator in facilitating relationships, family connections and evaluation activities.

The program has also adapted the template activities from the international FAST program to suit the Yolngu concepts of family to include that of the extended family. For example the usual activity of "table based coaching" (where FAST staff instruct one parent to instruct the whole family) was broadened to include the extended family (e.g., grandparents) so as to recognise their importance in raising children.

Other evidence

In addition to the formal evaluation data, there is anecdotal evidence from several communities that the FAST program:

  • contributed to parents' sense of empowerment and self confidence in parenting and assisting their children in their education. For example, in the Tennant Creek program, some parents gained the confidence to become members of the local school committee;
  • assisted local community members to find work as FAST team members and to improve their work skills;
  • enabled a reciprocal transfer of knowledge between FAST trainers and local staff and community members;
  • empowered Yolngu FAST staff to take their existing skills and develop new programs. In one example, Yolngu FAST staff used the skills and confidence gained in working on the original program to design and plan a new FAST training program for other remote communities in 2015.

It should be noted the outcomes of the program were percieved differently by different stakeholders. For example, while schools tended to focus on educational outcomes (e.g., behaviour change, attendance, parental engagement and student engagement), families were often more concerned with issues of empowerment, leadership, cultural maintenance and support.


The program receives support from various sponsors including: The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Social Security, the Department of Health and Families (NT) and the Department of Education and Training (NT), Anglicare and The Smith Family.

Evidence base and opportunities

As part of the Galiwin'ku evaluation a literature review was conducted to identify other family strengthening programs for Indigenous Australians and to describe the evidence base for the FAST program. Extensive international evidence is available on the FAST website (http://www.familiesandschools.org/research/) about the efficacy of the program.

Other sources of information about engaging Indigenous parents in their children's education can be viewed here:



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