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Aboriginal Parent Program

Sydney Children's Community Health Centre
Project Added:
30 August 2012
Last updated:
14 May 2021

Aboriginal Parent Program, Ngala Nanga Mai

By Sydney Children's Community Health Centre


This program for young aboriginal parents provides health and education services, as well as art classes. Positive results have been achieved across health, education and social connectedness parameters. Results suggest that the program participants feel they are becoming more enabled on several levels.

"This program has helped me become a better mother and person. Before being part of the program I felt lost and without support. This group has shown me the way to improve life for myself, my partner and my children.


Delivered at the La Perouse Community Health Centre, this program aims to:

  • improve the health of young Aboriginal parents and their children
  • facilitate their return to educational opportunities
  • improve their social connectedness.


The program provides:

  • a twice weekly three hour art program for young parents
  • an Aboriginal Early Childhood Worker to deliver support and education to parents
  • an Early Childhood Nurse to undertake baby checks
  • a Paediatric doctor to deliver health promotion talks and provide a co-located clinic.

Childcare has been provided by the Deli, an accredited agency, on site such that parents can participate in the educational and cultural activities whilst also being available to their children if required. This also provides modelling of positive parent-child interactions as parents observe their children being read to and played with in an affirming manner.

Volunteer mentoring and tutoring services is provided at the health centre by Open Training and Education Network Aboriginal Education Training Unit (OTEN AETU) Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme. The partnership with TAFE OTENAETU is ongoing.

8 women from the art group, around a table working on paintings

Transport and food have also been provided to promote access.

In addition to the art groups, alternative activities to the art program have been increasingly provided. These include:

  • outings to provide participants with opportunities to spend time with their children and families in stimulating and socially supportive environments, such as visits to NAIDOC celebrations, White Ribbon Day celebrations, Holdsworth Community Centre
  • cultural outings to visit Indigenous art collections at the Australian Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art
  • specialist art workshops
  • five art exhibitions which have been income producing
  • group work on commissioned art works
  • poetry workshops

For more information on the art program download the presentation:
Using art to engage young Aboriginal parents to access health and education opportunities


A formal evaluation was performed by a medical student in March 2011 which has shown the impact that the program has had on the lives of the participants. This was supervised by the Muru Marri Indigenous Health Unit, UNSW , working with Dr Karen Zwi, Michelle Jersky (Project Officer) and Lola Callaghan (Aboriginal Health Education Officer) of Sydney Children's Hospital.

The aim was to document some baseline indicators in the parameters of health, education and social connectedness. Evaluation processes included:

  • analysis of routinely collected program data
  • survey data from three formal measures including
    • the Growth and Empowerment Measure (GEM)
    • a baseline measure of participant self-esteem and community connectedness
    • the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional
    • the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, to measure childhood social and emotional development. Both the Ages and Stages and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire were completed in a small number of children and show that many require further assessment and therapy.
10 women and four of their children holding finished paintings

As of early 2011, 31 women and 44 children were engaged with the program, with approximately 15-20 regularly attending each week.

There are on average six children at each group and the paediatric doctors have conducted health checks on 75% of the 51 children of the young parents attending the groups.

Unfortunately, the child health reviews demonstrate high health need, with one in three children having either a chronic condition, or developmental delay. Four children have been diagnosed with hearing impairment and three with significant developmental delay. Health problems remain considerable, reinforcing the need for easy access to health care in this group.

Allied health service providers such as the speech therapist and social worker state that use of their services has increased since the program's inception, mainly due to the familiarity and sense of trust the parents now have with them.

The age of first presentation for Aboriginal children has dropped over the last two years from four and a half or five years at first presentation to between three and three and a half years. With access to early intervention, we expect to optimise the outcomes in these children.

Since the group commenced, 13 young parents have enrolled in various TAFE courses including Community Services, IT , Year 10 Certificate as well as Horticulture, with one completing a qualification. There have been four new enrolments in 2011. Five parents have found employment with assistance from the program.

Qualitative evaluation processes included focus group, semi-structured interviews and testimonial data.

Results suggest that the program participants feel they are becoming more enabled on several levels: inner strength, a sense of community support and a desire to give back to community, culminating in a collaborative work donated to the 2011 Queensland floods appeal.

"This program has helped me become a better mother and person. Before being part of the program I felt lost and without support. This group has shown me the way to improve life for myself, my partner and my children."

They highly value the program for providing a social support network, cited as particularly important as all of the mothers felt a great sense of isolation before they joined. They also expressed an appreciation that keeping healthy and preventing illness promotes strong communities and see the program as a unique resource to foster their child's Aboriginality, the Group being one of few playgroups in southeast Sydney for Aboriginal children.

Other benefits mentioned include: physical activity; mothers caring for each others' children; fostering their child's social skills and creativity.

Next Steps

We will be repeating the same measures in the children and parents in 2012 to assess whether their involvement in the program has led to improvements in their sense of well being and their children's development over time. A medical student has been engaged to commence this work in 2012.

The program was chosen to be part of The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FAHCSIA) SEWB Youth Study (The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Indigenous Youth - Review of the Evidence and its Implications for Policy and Service) to address the gap in systematic information in the area of social and emotional wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth. Along with five other programs, it was selected from 41 programs to be part of this study to enhance understanding of "what works on the ground and how".

Artworks from the group hanging on a gallery wall as part of an exhibition

The key learning will be to document the challenges and solutions in sustaining well functioning community programs. The research team, led by Aboriginal research leaders, consists of the Muru Marri Indigenous Health Unit (MMIHU) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and the Collaborative Research on Empowerment and Wellbeing Team (CREW) at James Cook University in Cairns.

Our goal in the long term is the use this as a model in other vulnerable communities. We are currently exploring ways of rolling out this program across the Sydney Children's Health Network to test whether it can be successfully transferred to another site.

In addition to the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund, other funders of this program include an Aboriginal elder, Woman's Day, the Fouress Foundation (jointly sponsored the children's playground and now the new teenage parent program), Greater Eastern Southern Child Health Network (until 2010), the Sydney Kids Rainbow Ball (sponsored the bus), Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation, Randwick Council, The Deli, La Perouse Museum, FaHCSIA , and individual donors.


Project Officer, Ngala Nanga Mai pARenT group
Sydney Children's Community Health Centre
Cnr Avoca & Barker Streets
Randwick NSW 2031
Phone: 02 9382 8480 | Mobile 0408 516 950

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