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Listen deeply

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have passed on stories through speech and song. Listening to the storyteller is vital to reproduce the story accurately for the next generation, so listening became an art and skill deeply interwoven into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island custom.

Deep listening (also called Dadirri) describes the processes of deep and respectful listening to build community — a way of encouraging people to explore and learn from the ancient heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, knowledge and understanding.


‘[Dadirri] is in everyone. It is not just an Aboriginal thing’.

Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, Aboriginal writer

DADIRRI (Official Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Video) :: 3 minute promo

Get to know the family and community experience to support a child’s safety

Connecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to mental health support services might require a ‘whole of family’ approach that acknowledges the importance of family and kinship. Make sure to see the mental health issues within the social and emotional context of the family’s life and their connections to the land. This will help to tailor interventions and services to meet the family and child’s needs. Consider exploring what extended family and kinship structures are important to a parent and child. Include extended family in meetings, case planning and in making important decisions that affect a child’s safety.

Listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak about their experiences, family, community and culture. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and communities are all different, so avoid taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Consider how to can tailor your practice to the individual need of the family. Refer to the practice kit Safe Care and Connection

Talk about mental health and support access to culturally appropriate programs and services

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are less likely than non-Aboriginal people to seek and receive help from mainstream health services. They can delay treatment because of the shame associated with mental health issues and fear of the mainstream mental health system. As a consequence they might only access mental health services when their mental health issue has become acute. This information is based on research collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Read the summary, titled Effective strategies to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Mental health and Aboriginal people for more information.

When talking about mental health issues and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, their family and communities to access resources and services, always make sure they are culturally appropriate. Consult with the cultural practice advisor before beginning conversations about mental health issues with any family members. Use evidence-based resources developed and endorsed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their community and organisations.

Consider these questions:

  • Have the family’s views about what cultural programs and services they believe will be most useful to support their healing and mental health issues been discussed?
  • Has the family been referred to generic mental health services without considering the family’s culture and what they believe will be most helpful? For example, is the recommendation for the parent to obtain a mental health assessment appropriate?
  • How can it be ensured the family receives culturally-appropriate counselling, therapy or mental health services?

Working with partner agencies

Practice considerations Practice ideas
Develop a shared understanding of confidentiality. Practice ideasUnderstand how partner agencies record information and how they discuss child protection concerns with family and community members.
Talk to community agencies and seek their local knowledge about mental health issues in the community. Practice ideas

Consider the following questions:

How do they respond when they hear about a parent’s mental health issues on the grapevine?

Are they aware of certain children or families where mental health issues are a concern?

Are they aware of certain geographical areas where mental health issues may be more prevalent?

How do they believe the community is responding to the concerns?

What are the barriers to reporting child protection concerns that need to be addressed in this community?

Work with partner agencies and interagency forums to increase their ability to respond to mental health issues. Practice ideas

Help partner agencies develop practices that reduce the barriers to reporting their worries about a child and build trust between the community and child protection practitioners.

Some suggestions include:

Be open about child protection concerns with the family where possible.

Explain the role of child protection to children, families and community members.

Encourage partner agencies to develop culturally safe and child-centred responses to emotional and social wellbeing.

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