Southern VACCA Koorie Kids Playgroup
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles


Practice focus

Promising features of Southern VACCA's playgroups include the focus on collaborative partnerships with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies delivering the playgroups, using a whole-of-community focus that adopts a range of culturally appropriate materials in service delivery.

Delivered by

Southern VACCA (Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency): an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation.

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Director, Client Services at Southern VACCA.

Service type

Southern VACCA's supported playgroups are delivered exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with children aged 0-5 years and other community members who take an interest in the safety and wellbeing of children. The playgroups are part of an integrated early intervention program that is delivered alongside a range of other VACCA services as part of a holistic approach to service delivery. Some of the components of VACCA services that are utililised by the playgroups include:

  • community education & development;
  • parent education;
  • professional home visiting;
  • a volunteer Elder/mentoring program;
  • family outings & activities;
  • referrals to specialist services;
  • forming partnerships with key Aboriginal and mainstream services to enhance outcomes; and,
  • a commitment to ongoing training and development of skills and knowledge for workers.

Southern VACCA delivers four supported playgroups across the southern metropolitan region of Melbourne in Rosebud West, Frankston, Cranbourne and Pakenham.


VACCA's vision is to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people, families and communities to be thriving, culturally strong, empowered and safe. The aim is to strengthen the safety, wellbeing and cultural connectedness of Aboriginal children, individuals and families in their community. The principles are based on the right of Aboriginal people to self-determination, and the rights of the child. Southern VACCA's supported playgroup program was developed in recognition of the impact of Stolen Generation policies on parenting and the subsequent needs of Aboriginal families in overcoming their challenges. The playgroups are relevant to children in out-of-home care, families needing support in raising their children and other community members who are interested in participating in a cultural playgroup.

Southern VACCA's supported playgroups employ culturally aware facilitators who work with participants to build the capacity of families to provide early learning opportunities for their children while receiving parenting education. In doing so, Southern VACCA has been able to open doors for families to identify and discover their heritage, feel empowered to pursue knowledge and traditions of importance to them, and to connect and participate in their local Aboriginal community.

Southern VACCA's supported playgroups are underpinned by the following beliefs and values:

  • programs must seek to empower Aboriginal families to take responsibility for the care, nurturing, education and protection of their children;
  • programs should demonstrate an understanding of the interrelatedness of Aboriginal culture, education, health and wellbeing;
  • programs must encapsulate and promote Aboriginal child rearing practices, cultural identity and pride;
  • Aboriginal families and communities are best positioned to identify their own needs and should participate in shaping programs that will meet their particular kinship, family and cultural requirements;
  • collaboration and teamwork to manage challenging life tasks and stress is important to maximise families' capacity to make informed decisions;
  • Aboriginal Elders are critical to the structure of Aboriginal communities and should have an active and positive involvement in the lives of children and the community;
  • collaborative relationships with universal and targeted community sector organisations are necessary to provide integrated responses to the needs of families and to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes; and,
  • culturally sensitive approaches are required to respond to the specific needs of Aboriginal communities and program structures must be flexible in order to meet the changing needs of Aboriginal families and communities.

The Department of Social Services funds the VACCA supported playgroup program. The funding arrangement is to deliver four facilitated playgroups per school term. Some of the special event days are funded through the Communities for Children initiative.


MOST promising aspect

The committment to culturally appropriate practice is the core of Southern VACCA's success in delivering its playgroups. The playgroup program has facilitated close connections to the local community, including both Aboriginal and mainstream groups, by participating and collaborating with these groups to host local community events that enable culturally based experiences for the playgroups' participants. The opportunities for families to travel to these events and connect with other families, local services and community Elders helps to reinforce the language and cultural skills they learn in the playgroups. Parents/carers are able to share these experiences with their children and other family members while building upon their connection to important social support networks and their culture.

Other promising aspects

Southern VACCA playgroups are promising because they:

  • promote practical knowledge of early childhood development among parents/carers;
  • provide opportunities to build skills and confidence in parenting/caring;
  • facilitate engaging activities that are culturally appropriate;
  • link families to the local Aboriginal community by connecting them to other families, community members and local services;
  • enhance participants' pride and connection to culture that can be shared among the local Aboriginal community.
Evidence base and opportunities

Southern VACCA's playgroup program is innovative in that it enables tight connections to local Aboriginal communities and promotes a willingness to participate in mainstream events. This is achieved by adopting a whole-of-community focus in service delivery, where other local services and community agencies work collaboratively to provide opportunities for enhanced community engagement. Such an approach is recognised as being effective in building vital and ongoing friendships that can provide informal support to Aboriginal families, while simultaneously providing "soft entry" access to more formal services that can help families with multiple or complex needs.

By expanding the playgroups to include events that occur out in the local community, playgroup participants are more likely to engage in the program. The use of safe, comfortable and non-stigmatising venues is an effective way to enhance program outcomes. In combining this approach with the use of culturally appropriate materials and practices in delivering the program, participants are also more likely to be engaged. This helps to foster stronger relationships between participants and program facilitators and greater trust is likely to be generated. Such trust acts as the foundation to deliver effective programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Southern VACCA's partnerships with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organsiations strengthens opportunities to share resources and provide support to the local Aboriginal community. This will enable Southern VACCA's playgroups to be sustainable in the longer-term, and will further facilitate the local community's capacity to protect their Aboriginal children and contribute to their educational and wellbeing needs.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

VACCA is an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation and as such, the playgroups were developed exclusively by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders including Southern VACCA staff, Aboriginal community members and local Aboriginal Elders.

All VACCA staff undergo cultural awareness training and up to 80% of Southern VACCA staff are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Through Southern VACCA's connections with the local Aboriginal community, Aboriginal Elders and artists are invited to attend and participate in local Aboriginal community events. This helps to build the capacity of families to connect to the local community and be strengthened in their knowledge and identity as Aboriginal.

Many Aboriginal parents would have had little, if any, experience of attending playgroups or any other preschool activities as children. To maximise the likelihood that a playgroup will survive and thrive in the Aboriginal community it is important for staff to support and facilitate the group in promoting the role of playgroups as a way to enhance the development and wellbeing of children. Because Southern VACCA playgroups are supported, workers can actively encourage families who require additional support or crisis intervention to access other VACCA programs. Volunteer Aboriginal Elders play a major role in facilitating this aspect of Southern VACCA's program delivery. The involvement of Elders is crucial in assisting families to attend their maternal and child health appointments and to facilitate support for those families to ensure their children are successful in their transition to kindergarten and preschool.

Cultural practices and materials

Southern VACCA playgroups deliver a range of culturally appropriate activities to participants such as Aboriginal art colouring-in sheets, learning Indigenous games and adapting contemporary songs to meet cultural needs. Local Elders also teach Aboriginal language to participants and provide permission for the language to be used in honour of the traditional custodians of the land where the playgroups occur. Other Elders and artists visit the playgroups to teach their history and share their artefacts with the participants.

Special excursions are also included in the programs. On one particular excursion to the Healesville Sanctuary, 120 adults and children were taken to enjoy the zoo and meet with a Wurundjeri Elder. It was the first excursion where the participants wore their Koorie Kids Playgroup t-shirts and felt themselves to be a real tribe. The children were gifted with clapping sticks and made a beautiful noise while singing with the Elder.

The "Little Fellas Family Fun Day" is an example of a collaborative Southern VACCA event aimed at promoting early childhood development to Aboriginal families through fun activities in a safe and non-threatening environment. Sixteen Aboriginal and mainstream organisations collaborated to deliver the event and the non-Aboriginal organisations had to create culturally appropriate acitivities, which were highly appreciated by the participants. Most playgroup families attended and had a wonderful day while learning about early childhood development.


Evaluation status

The program has not been evaluated and an evaluation is not planned. However, Southern VACCA undertook a number of research tasks prior to identifying the best approach to support Aboriginal children and their families. These included:

  • an exploration of existing evidence-based early intervention programs and services in Australia and overseas;
  • consultation and site visits to Aboriginal and mainstream organisations from each state and territory in Australia with an existing early intervention framework or objective; and,
  • feedback from an Advisory group established by Southern VACCA in conjunction with Swinburne University of Technology, Child & Family Studies.

Six monthly performance reports are also provided to Department of Social Services and ongoing feedback about Southern VACCA's programs are collected as per the reporting requirements.


Demonstrated outcomes

The effectiveness of Southern VACCA's playgroups are best demonstrated from the actions of families. For instance, over time some families started to encourage other families to attend the playgroups. Others families have become more active in participating in Aboriginal and mainstream community events, and a number of parents/carers have taken the cultural knowledge they've learnt in playgroup into their engagements with kindergartens and schools.

Furthermore, there is close to 100% take up of referrals to maternal and child health appointments at both Aboriginal and mainstream health services.

Other evidence

Southern VACCA's intention to strengthen the wellbeing and cultural connectedness of Aboriginal children, individuals and families in their community has been shown in a number of ways. These inlcude:

  • carers, community members and participating families have worked together to decide how the playgroups are run, and in the process improved their decision making and teamwork capacities;
  • in many cases, participants have displayed leadership skills by taking over some of the roles of staff and becoming active particpiants in the playgroup's planning days ;
  • many families are proud of the language they have learnt which equips them with greater confidence to engage other families and community members. This has resulted in expanded support networks for the playgroups' participating families; and,
  • the family events and excursions have facilitated stronger connections with other participants and almost all participants have felt a sense of pride in their cultural heritage.

By honouring the traditional owners of the land where the programs are delivered and teaching families to do the same, the children now know how to behave when attending a smoking ceremony and how to greet one another in Aboriginal language. This has given the children a sense of pride in being Koorie Kids, and in many respects, Southern VACCA's playgroups have re-created tribe and family for many of the participants, with more than one parent declaring, "Playgroup is our tribe!"


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