Not Just Kids Play: A Model of Playgroup in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

A feature of this model is the focus on consulting with families and the broader community about the playgroups. This whole-of-community focus enables culturally appropriate approaches that can be applied in the delivery of the playgroups and provides greater access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to provide greater learning and wellbeing opportunities for their children.

Delivered by

Playgroup Queensland: A not-for-profit children's charity.

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Manager, Strategic Projects at Playgroup Queensland.

Service type

Playgroup Queensland delivers a range of early years programs that are designed to promote early years development, build community capacity, and create pathways and opportunities for vulnerable Queensland families.

The "Not Just Kids Play" model underpins Playgroup Queensland's programs that are designed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities. These programs include the delivery of "Locational Supported Playgroups" and community capacity building services under the "Accessible Playgroups Initiative", where communities are assisted to establish their own playgroups.

Location(s)

Locational Supported Playgroups are delivered in the Indigenous communities of Woorabinda in Central Queensland and Lockhart River in northern Cape York.

Description

Playgroup Queensland is a leading early intervention provider and the state's peak body for playgroups. It has been providing and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playgroups in urban, rural and remote communities for more than 15 years.

The Locational Supported Playgroup (LSP) model is used to deliver playgroup services that engage vulnerable families with young children and provide those families with parenting and early childhood development support from a single fixed location. This involves bringing a group of parents and their pre-school aged children together for approximately two hours per week in a community venue or private home. These facilitated supported playgroups are conducted in a non-threatening environment and are designed to enhance relationships to help families develop valuable social and support networks. The aim is to build positive parent-child relationships, promote parenting skills and confidence, and to stimulate all areas of child development.

Activities and playgroup settings are designed to be creative, age-and developmentally-appropriate for the children attending the playgroups. Considerable planning goes into the playgroups, such as the Playgroup Plus Program where a dedicated baby area is provided to facilitate a mix of structured and unstructured activities. Activities include music and dance, indoor and outdoor play, storytelling, and a variety of activity areas for dramatic and creative play.

Playgroup Queensland also offer services to support and assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to establish their own community and supported playgroups. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playgroup Resource Unit works under the "Accessible Playgroups Initiative" to deliver training and on-site mentoring for workers, support for families, and the provision of resources and activities.

Indigenous Playgroups provide an opportunity for family-focused early intervention as a means of family support. Family support empowers families by assisting them to identify and develop their own strengths and resources. The children develop a positive sense of identity through knowledge and understanding of their family and culture, whilst parents and carers are provided with an environment where they can develop and maintain pride in their family and cultural identity.

Resourcing

Funding for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander supported playgroups is from several sources.

The Department of Social Services funds Playgroup Australia who distributes funding to Playgroup Queensland for the National Supported Playgroups Program for a period of four years.

The Department of Social Services also funds the Locational Supported Playgroups in Woorabinda and Lockhart River to operate four playgroup sessions per week in each community over a four year period.

The Accessible Playgroup Initiative has been funded for a second three year period by the Queensland Government Department of Education, Training and Employment, and the Office of Early Childhood Education and Care.

Practice

MOST promising aspect

Playgroup Queensland acknowledges that, in Indigenous culture, family includes extended family and all of those who are involved in the child's growth. This extends to the carers and facilitators of the playgroups that children and their families attend. In recognition of this, all people who are involved in the life of the child are welcome at the playgroup sessions, including mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, nans and pops, and other community members who are significant in the child's life. The culturally appropriate information and parenting education sessions are available to all of those involved with the child, and marks the difference between this program and other facilitated or supported playgroups that are attended only by the parent/caregiver and the child.

Other promising aspects

Playgroup Queensland's model of working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is well accepted by local communities and supported by local organisations. Both these groups share the view that their informal partnerships are genuine and respectful. This is partly attributed to the model's strengths-based approach that recognises the knowledge, skills and wisdom that is present in Aboriginal families and their communities.

This model is innovative as it encourages all significant persons involved with the child to attend playgroup sessions, rather than just the parent/caregiver. Also, the model advocates for the employment of local women to facilitate the playgroup sessions, and looks at what they know rather than employing well qualified, but often non-Indigenous staff who may lack a specific understanding of the local community.

The model also allows time for the community to consider how they would like the playgroup to operate. This includes providing families with the flexibility to decide for themselves what would be an appropriate venue, day and time to attend rather than being told when and where it will happen. If it is the wrong time of day for the community, or the venue is not where the family feel comfortable, they simply will not attend. Families are also given a voice and encouraged to share their concerns and ideas about how the playgroups could be improved.

Evidence base and opportunities

Play-based learning is known as an effective means to assist families with children that have additional needs, and playgroups act as a soft-entry gateway for families to access more intensive assistance and support where required. By recognising that extended family and community members are included in the care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, Playgroup Queensland are able to reach further into the community to provide more effective support and assistance to larger family groups. This is recognised among the community and the playgroups have benefited with greater support and trust to deliver its services in other communities. This trust is a key factor in the effectiveness of the playgroups, which is reinforced and built through Playgroup Queensland's emphasis on using strengths-based and culturally appropriate approaches in its service delivery.

Playgroup Queensland also focus on consulting with families and the local community about how the playgroups can be refined and delivered to meet their specific needs. This serves to promote a sense of community ownership over the playgroups and also encourages active engagement in the programs. Involving the wider community in decision-making and promoting a sense of social inclusion provides a bedrock for building vital and ongoing friendships, social support and community connections. This facilitates increased community and family capacity to support and protect their children in the longer-term.

There is a limited evidence base for this work and a formal evaluation would help to further demonstrate the validity and effectiveness of Playgroup Queensland's approach. The adapted model of playgroup has great potential to contribute to the evidence base and could be applied in any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, provided the specific needs of families are considered within the context of the communities in which they live.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

On the advice of a reference group overseeing the original program, the playgroup worker at the time met with Departmental staff to ensure that all appropriate protocols were adhered to. Parents attending the playgroup sessions were encouraged to provide feedback and ideas about how the delivery of the program might be improved or changed. This feedback continues with all of the playgroups and each playgroup is developed to meet the specific needs of the community.

The community is supported to feel that the playgroup belongs to them and hence a sense of community ownership of the program is developed. This further encourages feedback from the families who attend the program. For the Locational Supported Playgroups, local Aboriginal women with knowledge and skills are employed to facilitate the playgroup sessions. In the urban playgroups, care is also taken to appoint a coordinator who is either a local Aboriginal woman or is known to the community. This assists with building trusting relationships and the families attending know that there is an understanding of culture and the particular issues faced in that community.

Cultural practices and materials

The following components of the model have been designed specifically for use in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contexts:

  • focusing on community and family strengths and recognising that the strong cultural resilience and social bonds within families act as protective factors;
  • recognising the primary concerns of communities and focusing on what resources are available and which of these can be mobilised to further support families in raising their children;
  • employing local staff who are often known to - and trusted by - families;
  • acknowledging the importance of family, home and community learning environments in early learning;
  • recognising that the notion of "family" also relates to identity and overall connectedness to kinship and culture;
  • practicing decision-making during playgroup sessions can lead to greater confidence in decision-making within the community;
  • understanding the importance of education and early learning in a child's life;
  • recognising that, for all parents, their views and approaches to child rearing are shaped by the culture in which they themselves were raised;
  • understanding that partnerships with other organisations offer families a soft entry into the services offered by the organisations;
  • providing community and families time to consider decisions which affect them and their community;
  • raising family awareness of the importance of children building the skills and confidence required to enter formal schooling;
  • equipping children to have better developed skills to begin formal schooling and encouraging families to be more engaged with schools;
  • understanding that employment, training and supervision of local community members as playgroup facilitators builds capacity in individuals and the community; and,
  • expecting that some parents may express an interest in employment or to undertake training.
Adaptability

Since the implementation of the programs, the model has been refined to facilitate success for the supported playgroups as an early intervention and prevention strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This was developed through years of practice wisdom in combination with the available literature and evidence to date.

The model is not a prescription for the development of these playgroups - each element of the model must be considered through the lens of the local community context and culture, and each playgroup will require considerably different approaches. The four elements of the model that can be adapted for use in other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contexts are: strengths; connection to kin, community and culture; ownership and trust; and, growth.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

The model has not been evaluated and an evaluation has not been planned due to existing funding arrangements.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

There has not been the scope for a formal evaluation of the playgroups. However, Playgroup Queensland considers the playgroup model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be effective. For example, the playgroups established in schools have resulted in increased engagement between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and schools, and children who have attended the playgroups are being enrolled into the Prep year and Year 1 at a higher rate.

Furthermore, numbers attending the playgroups remain high and more families and children are reporting that they are now engaged in formal schooling/education. Some parents who have attended the playgroups in the past have undertaken further study and are now working in their local communities. Playgroup coordinators are also undertaking further study to ensure they are able to continue in paid work. In particular, playgroup staff suggest that the Locational Supported Playgroups are seen by communities as an important service and as a consequence, those staff are enthusiastic to undertake further training after recognising the importance of early childhood education for children.

Playgroup Queensland also noted that other communities have contacted the organisation to express an interest in establishing a playgroup in their own community through the Accessible Playgroup Initiative.

Other evidence

Anecdotal evidence from playgroup staff, as well as participating parents and carers, indicates that by engaging families and communities in playgroups, the children are provided with greater opportunities for early learning by engaging in the playgroups' early childhood activities. At the same time, parents and carers are able to build and exercise their confidence in both their parenting role and in their community.

Replicability

Playgroup Queensland's adapted model of playgroup can be applied in any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. However, the model is not prescriptive and the needs of families and children must be considered within the context of each particular community.

 

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