Palmerston and Tiwi Islands Community for Children Program
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

Improved delivery of child and family services for communities

Delivered by

The program is delivered by the Australian Red Cross in the Northern Territory. This practice profile was developed with the assistance of the program manager and the external evaluator of the program.

The Palmerston and Tiwi Islands Community for Children (C4C) program is part of the Communities for Children component of the Department of Social Services Families and Children Programme.


This C4C Program is delivered in two quite distinct locations in the Northern Territory - Palmerston and the Tiwi Islands. Palmerston is a urban satellite city 20kms outside of Darwin. The Tiwi Islands are remotely located approximately 80kms from Darwin in the Arafura Sea. The program was delivered in three communities in the Tiwi Islands - Wurrumiuyanga (the largest town on Bathurst Island) and Milikapiti and Pirlangimpi (smaller towns on Melville Island).

Issue being addressed

The program aimed to improve the coordination of support services for young families and children. It also aimed to empower the community to be involved in the development and delivery of services so that these services are implemented and evaluated in a culturally appropriate way.

Service type

Service delivery coordination; community development and engagement; culturally appropriate practice; participatory evaluation.

Target population

The target population is families with children aged 0-12 years living in Palmerston and on the Tiwi Islands. According to the 2011 Census, approximately 11% of the population in Palmerston and 99% of the population across the Tiwi Islands identified as being Indigenous.

Aims and objectives

The program aims to improve outcomes for families and children by funding a suite of early childhood and other family support services. Another key priority of the program is having a whole of community approach to service delivery. This approach aims to give the community a stronger 'voice' in the program, to strengthen support services and to coordinate delivery of culturally appropriate programs that were identified by the community.

Program basis

Commencing in 2006, the program has been delivered over two funding periods (2006-09 and 2009-14). During this time, the program operated as a brokerage service, which aimed to improve the coordination of support services for young families and deliver the community identified activities in a way that:

  • empowered the community through participation and decision-making; and
  • improved program quality through community involvement and feedback.

A thorough community consultation process was used to determine the communities’ needs. This information was then used to determine the program’s services (contracted through an expression of interest process). The funded services under the program include: family support information and advice, referral services, education and skills training, child-focused groups, playgroups, counselling services, advocacy, community capacity building and research and evaluation.

The program had a three-tiered governance structure that enabled a high level of community involvement in decision-making. This consisted of local committees at the Palmerston and Tiwi Islands locations and a joint committee to oversee the whole program. Each committee consisted of local community members, Elders and service providers. This structure created a strong sense of community ownership and control and enabled the programs to be flexible to changing local needs and preferences.

The Australian Red Cross worked as the 'facilitating partner' with the communities, Elders, service providers, government agencies and peak bodies to ensure the services were delivered as determined by program's committees (which have Indigenous members from both communities). The program has since received funding for the upcoming period of 2015-2019.

In addition, the program had a strong participatory evaluation component that aimed to develop community members' skills in program evaluation (more information below).

Cultural relevance

Local community context

Palmerston is a satellite city 20 kilometres south of Darwin with a population of approximately 35,000. The median age is 28 years and children aged 0-4 years make up 30% of the population. The Indigenous community is 11% of population and 20% of families have one parent. In addition, Palmerston has a high population turnover of 30% every 5 years, making it difficult to establish social cohesion in an area were a high level of family issues exist. The Palmerston C4C site covers the suburbs of Bakewell, Driver, Gray, Moulden, and Woodroffe.

The Tiwi Islands are located approximately 80 kilometres north of Darwin and are accessible by air or boat. The Tiwi Island site includes the Bathurst and Melville Island communities of Wurrumiyanga, Pirlangimpi and Milikapiti. Approximately 3,000 Indigenous people live across the Tiwi Islands.

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

In the development of the second iteration of the program (in 2009) a six-month consultation and program planning phase was conducted with both Indigenous communities. Combined with information from the evaluation of the 2006-2009 program, the communities recommended a redesign of the program's governance to the three committees system and decided on the program’s services.

The joint committee included Indigenous members and service users from both communities as well as program managers, service providers (including legal aid) and early childhood experts. The local committees were majority Indigenous members and different community members were able to present to the committee at each quarterly meeting.

As part of the consultation in the Tiwi communities, Indigenous community members (representing cultural skin/family groups) were employed to assist with engagement and information sharing. Called "Nimarra workers" (Tiwi word for communicator or gossip) these staff members facilitated cross cultural communication about the program. Their role included:
• running community meetings to determine the communities’ needs and preferences;
• advising community members about how the potential programs will address needs;
• working with contracted service providers to help deliver the program; and
• reporting to the local and joint committees about the programs implementation

The Red Cross and the joint committees also encouraged service providers to employ Indigenous people in delivering the programs in communities. From 2009-2014 the number of Indigenous people employed in the Palmerston/Tiwi Islands Communities for Children program expanded from nil in 2009 to more than 25 in 2013/2014.

Cultural practices and materials

Various culturally appropriate practices and materials were used in the services delivered as part of the program. For example, often metaphors and themes were developed by the community to assist with communication and understanding (eg. the counseling service adopted a ‘tree of life’ metaphor when communicating) and in the decision making of the local committees (eg. the image of the sea eagle was used to convey ‘big picture thinking’).

In the case of service delivery in the Tiwi Islands, traditional Tiwi songs were used when running activities with children. Many of the Tiwi local committees meetings were conducted in Tiwi language. In particular, when Tiwi local members attended the joint committee meeting in Darwin, they always had a pre-meeting with Tiwi members that was conducted in Tiwi language.


Evaluation status

Regular evaluations of the program were conducted between March 2010 and June 2014. Rather than a conclusive end-of-program evaluation report, quarterly evaluation reports were provided to the local and joint committees to enable them to regularly review and adjust the program.

Evaluation details

The Australian Red Cross contracted a locally based external evaluator to conduct a participatory evaluation for the program. The aim of a participatory evaluation was to involve the local committee and community members in all aspects of the evaluation (e.g. planning, design and implementation) and ensure the evaluation was culturally responsive and meaningful to community members.

The evaluator was also employed to work alongside community members and stakeholders to ensure they develop their own evaluation knowledge and skills. As a result, the community had a strong say in the direction of the evaluation and what they wanted it to report on. A priority for the evaluation was to produce quarterly evaluation reports that were in plain english and easy to understand for committee and community members.

The evaluation planning processes, research questions and data collection methods differed for the Palmerston and the Tiwi Island communities in response to the different projects and preferences. In general, the data collection methods used in the locations included a mixed methods approach including separate individual and group interviews with community members and service provider about their experience of the program, and an email survey for all participants.


Most effective aspect

The program managers defined success as how well the program was meeting its aims and objectives. They reported that there were various factors that contributed to the success of the program including:

  • The high level of Indigenous ownership and involvement in the program including in strong local governance, and program and evaluation planning and implementation;
  • The employment of Indigenous staff to work on the funded services;
  • The flexibility of the evaluator to follow community preferences and to build Indigenous capacity in conducting the evaluation; and
  • The flexibility of the funding agency to allow the program to trial new governance, community consultation and evaluation methods
Demonstrated outcomes

The program, through a high level of collaboration between service providers and the community, implemented a range of activities across both sites related to family support services, community engagement, cultural activities for families, counselling services, supported playgroups, school transition activities, community education (related to nutrition, parenting, community safety), advocacy services and improved community governance.

The evaluation found that across all of the program’s activities there was:

  • Increased community involvement and governance of projects. In both project implementation and evaluation there was a high level of consistent community involvement in the projects. In particular, the local committee and community were found to have a high level of ownership over decisions related to the projects;
  • Improved information sharing and two-way learning in program implementation. There were strong relationships and open communication between service providers, local committees and the community that provided a strong basis for the program’s implementation;
  • Improved community engagement through activities that had helped connect families and services and increased the use of public space, local leadership and increased families' knowledge of local services and activities; and
  • A high degree of cultural competency and appropriateness that incorporated Elders and local cultural materials and language. Anecdotal evidence indicated a high level of community support for the both the content of programs and the way they were delivered.

The evaluation lists various recommendations for improvement for each of the sites' projects; common to all recommendations was the need to extend the activities (either through targeting different groups, increasing sessions), refine the activities so that they suited clients needs, improve stakeholder engagement and provide better management support for staff.

In addition to the findings about each site, the evaluation process was in itself, considered to be successful in empowering the communities to be informed about their own programs that enabled them to make decisions about the program's directions.

Other evidence

The participatory evaluation received the Australian Evaluation Society's Community Development Award for Excellence in 2012.


The Palmerston and Tiwi Islands Community for Children (C4C) program was funded as part of the Communities for Children component of the Department of Social Services Families and Children Programme.

Evidence base and opportunities

Other evidence about what works in community engagement and early childhood and health programs in Indigenous communities can be found here:

Information about what works in service delivery coordination and governance in Indigenous communities can be found here:


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