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Boomerangs Parenting Program

Project Added:
2 June 2009
Last updated:
8 October 2014

Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program

The program is supported by South West Sydney Local Health District and Gunawirra

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Innovation in Aboriginal health

The Boomerangs Parenting Program won the Innovation in Aboriginal Health category of the 2009 NSW Health Awards. It is the first time that such a program has been run in Australia with Indigenous communities and is based on research findings.

The program has been run in non Aboriginal communities as the Circle of Security™ program. We at South West Sydney wanted it to be given an Aboriginal name upfront so called it the Boomerangs Parenting Program. We changed the name to Boomerangs because Aboriginal people always carried two boomerangs, never one, and this represents the mother and the baby or the parent and the child.

Boomerang parenting program

Rationale for the program


The Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program is based on the Circle of Security™ and Marte Meo programs. It aims to provide culturally appropriate camps/workshops that improve positive parenting outcomes.

There are many Aboriginal families who, for many reasons, are now struggling with the demands parenting places on them. It is our belief that parents almost always want to be good parents; however, because of the many obstacles, they struggle with this.

Aboriginal parents struggling with the combined effects of 200 years of history will be invited to attend the Boomerangs Parenting Program. These programs will include group sessions both at Campbelltown Infant Child Adolescent Mental Health Service and in a camp setting over two individual 3 day / 2 night camps approximately six weeks apart.

Target group

The target group are families from Metro South West including Local Government Areas of: Bankstown, Liverpool, Fairfield, Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Wingecarribee with families antenatally, postnatally and children up to five years of age.

The project activities are conducted at: Casula, (Liverpool) but we can work with families within the above mentioned areas.

The project is a partnership between Gunawirra, Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and South West Sydney Local Health District and Tharawal Aboriginal Medical Service. The project provided a Circle of Security™ program modified to be culturally appropriate for Aboriginal families; and involving 6 to 8 families including mother, father and infants.

Importance to Aboriginal community

History plays a vital part in our "sense of ourselves", our identity. If our collective history is made up dispossession, massacre, lies, cheating, and theft of family and land, then naturally we may hold within us grief and sadness that manifests in the present as physical and mental health problems. There is a psychiatric term for this called "inherited grief and trauma" and it is believed that 71% of the total Aboriginal population suffers from this mental health disorder. (Biyani, SWSAHS, 1999, 2001).

Parenting practices are learnt through our experience of being parented; and as a general rule parents are supported in their parenting from their communities and past experiences however, in the Aboriginal communities these families have been robbed of many of the customs, traditions and way of life that would have held these families securely.

The Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program addresses these issues by bringing these families together in a more traditional way i.e. like a gathering.  The gathering occurred in the way of Aboriginal Parenting Camps with with families antenatally, postnatally and children up to five years of age.

This early emotional support and guidance can help parents foster their child's overall health. This would make possible a reduction in SIDS, otitis media, asthma, behavioural problems, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, type two diabetes, cardio vascular disease, high blood pressure, mental health disorders, drugs and alcohol misuse and many other diseases. Other benefits of this support would be a significant reduction in the incidences of domestic violence, sexual abuse and dysfunctional families and an improvement in biopsychsocial health.

Increasingly, research points to the wisdom of investing resources "upfront" in the areas of promotion, prevention, and early intervention for children's mental health. Meeting the mental health needs of all young children and families through careful planning, integration of services and supports, and the full participation of families, providers, and other community members, makes good economic sense and helps assure positive outcomes for our children, their families, and our communities.


The appropriately attached relationship between the mother and the infant serves as a safe platform from which the infant explores their environment (Bowlby 1969). The negative affects of poor parenting, abuse and neglect are far higher in the Aboriginal population.

One of the big objectives of the Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program was to provide parent education and psychotherapy based on attachment theory. The program involved videoing and interviewing parents, and a series of group sessions. The video based intervention is used to strengthen parents' ability to observe and improve their care giving capacity. Focus is on each individual parent / child to ensure an individualised parenting "road map".

Aims of the Boomerangs parenting program for parents

Teaching the basics of attachment theory via the Circle of Security™ and Marte Meo

  • Increasing parent skills in observing parent/child interactions
  • Increasing capacity of the caregiver to recognize and sensitively respond to children's needs
  • Supporting a process of reflective dialogue between clinician and parent to explore both strengths and under developed capacities (i.e. being Bigger Stronger Wiser and Kind, supporting exploration, and supporting attachment)
  • Introducing parent to a user-friendly way to explore defensive process and how best to work with it
  • To provide a structured and caring environment for Aboriginal families, to enable them to participate and extend their knowledge on parenting
  • To strengthen and enhance parenting skills and community recourses of Aboriginal parents and carers
  • To improve Aboriginal parents social and emotional wellbeing
  • To develop Aboriginal parents ability to act as a community resource for families in their area
  • To establish Aboriginal cultural and spiritual values
  • To strengthen Aboriginal networks across Sydney South West

Aims for children

That they will:

  • Become more securely attached to their parents
  • Enjoy more happiness with their parents
  • Feel less anger at their parents
  • Turn to their parents for help when in trouble
  • Solve problems on their own
  • Get along better with friends
  • Have lasting friendships
  • Solve problems with friends
  • Have better relationships with brothers and sisters
  • Have higher self-esteem
  • Know that most problems will have an answer
  • Trust that good things will come their way
  • Have happier marriages when they grow up
  • Trust the people they love and know how to be kind to those around them

Development of the program

Research evidence

Aboriginal Australians are distinguished by having, relatively, the worst health status (Runciman & Ring, 1994). The Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey 2004 found that nearly a quarter (24%) of all Aboriginal children are at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties.

There exists a persuasive body of evidence pointing to the cost benefits of investing in the early years. Early intervention services have been shown to produce a sustained improvement in children's health, education and welfare (McCain & Mustard 1999).

There is a growing recognition that the trajectory to success, both in school and in later life, begins in the early years. What happens during pregnancy and the first three years of life can lay the foundation for becoming a productive, contributing member of society, or it can lay the foundation for intergenerational cycles of abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), neglect, violence, dysfunction, and mental illness. Many of these problems can be prevented if social-emotional development during infancy and early childhood is understood and fostered, and if we have programs and services that support children and their families.

Factors which put children at risk for a mental disorder include; violence, intense family conflict, maternal psychiatric disorder, poverty, abuse, and neglect. If these at-risk children can be identified early, intervention and support can lead to better outcomes in terms of the emotional well being of the child. One way of changing the long-term trajectory from poor to good outcomes for Aboriginal parents would be to provide culturally appropriate parenting programs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are survivors, but at considerable cost. The social and heath indicators - morbidity, mortality, injury, suicide, violence, unemployment, adult and juvenile incarceration, school retention, substitute care, substance abuse and adolescent pregnancy - are uniformly dismal and may be seen as the psychosocial sequelae of traumatisation.

Research on brain development shows that a child's environment is crucial during the foetal, infant and toddler years. Contrary to popular belief, young children can suffer from clinical depression, traumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other mental health problems. Fortunately, there are approaches to preventing, assessing, and treating young children and their families. Support for these parents early offers the best chance to detect problems in their earliest stages, when treatment is most effective.

The Circle of Security™ uses a group treatment modality to provide parent education and psychotherapy that is based on attachment theory. This program was designed by Glen Cooper, Kent Hoffman, and Bert Powell from Marycliff Institute in Spokane, Washington and Robert Marvin from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.

During the camps parents will not only attend the Circle of Security™ Program but also experience other activities. Aboriginal families will come together to work with Chryne Griffiths (Charlie), and Patricia Glossop, who are qualified to conduct this program, they have collectively over 40 years experience working with parents and their infants. In addition staff will be engaged to provide childcare, photography, baby massage and other self-care treatments.

One of the main outcomes of the Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program is to promote healing in families. Most parents who attend the Parenting Camp are feeling at the end of their rope. They feel exhausted, hopeless, and tired of feeling blamed and misunderstood. They are scared for their children, and are often scared of their children. The Aboriginal Parenting Camps are designed to give parents the tools to work with their families and begin their journey to healing and a brighter future.

"If we value our children, we must cherish their parents."
John Bowlby, MD

The Circle of Security™ Project integrates over fifty years of attachment research into a video-based intervention to strengthen parents' ability to observe and improve their care-giving capacity. The use of a clear differential diagnosis for each parent/child dyad allows the clinician to focus on precise personal strengths and diagnostically significant ("linchpin") struggles, rather than relying on a more traditional "one-size-fits-all" approach to intervention. Attachment theory, taught in this way, gives each parent an individualized parenting "road map", a clear pathway to providing a secure relationship for her/his child.

The Marte Meo Program is a developmental support programme, which can be used in daily interaction moments. The central focus of Marte Meo, is to encourage people to use "their own strength" to advance and stimulate developmental processes on the part of children, parents, professional caregivers and supervisors, and thus learn to utilise their capacities to the optimum.  This program was designed by Maria Aarts, from the Netherlands.

Our project aims to use this model in a slightly altered format (approval has been obtained from the authors of the program). Our program will utilise all the strengths of this program while drawing on the ancient wisdom of Aboriginal culture.

The Boomerangs Coolamon Parenting Program project must specifically address the following outcomes.

Project outcomes

  1. Improve parents understanding of attachment theory
  2. Increase satisfaction of participating parents with their parenting skills
  3. Increase parents use of appropriate health and community services
  4. Develop supportive relationships with family, friends and social networks if appropriate
  5. Provide a range of learning experiences to stimulate children's intellectual growth. Families are encouraged to access age-appropriate resources and to read to their child/ren
  6. Provide information for parents about relevant topics including child development, health, hygiene and child safety


The project was coordinated by two staff members from SWSLHD. The program involved 20 sessions, including two camps. The camps provided a variety of supports including therapies, parent/ child/ infant interactional guidance, family games, fathering business and mothering business, self care, baby massage, books binding families, parent craft advice, children's games and playing as a family. At the camps, professionals involved are:

  • Aboriginal Perinatal Infant Mental Health Worker/therapist
  • Aboriginal Social & Emotional Wellbeing Worker
  • Parent Infant Therapist
  • Childcare Worker/s
  • Additional support for specific therapies and interventions e.g. relaxation, massage and baby massage.

The Aboriginal parenting programs were delivered in a variety of settings, but we find running the program in a private dwelling with adequate childminding facilities works best.

The camp works well as it is held at Fitzroy Falls Conference Centre which has natural bush surrounds and the facilities are suitable for the families.

The camp allows a 'holding' environment and allows the facilitators a space to observe parent to parent interaction and parent to infant interaction in a non threatening environment.

The camps provided a few days away where Aboriginal parents were given time to reconnect with themselves, each other and their infants/children in a nurturing, safe setting.


Aboriginal Perinatal and Infant Social and Emotional Wellbeing Consultant
South West Sydney Local Health District
Phone: 0407 277 904

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