Queensland First Nations people plan a healthier future

Wednesday 08 May 2024

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare, research and management professionals from rural, regional and metropolitan Queensland met in Brisbane last week to co-design a study with Mater Research aimed at improving health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. 

More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from across the state have been collaborating with Mater Researchers over the past two years to identify key healthcare needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families during pregnancy and in the first few years of their baby’s life as part of the preliminary work for the Strong Families Study. 

Conducted in partnership with a number of Aboriginal community-controlled services, preliminary research has revealed access to child health, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing services are key priorities for growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. 

Project lead, Associate Professor Kym Rae, said First Nations people living in communities around the state had participated in the research, and the findings would inform the co-design of a longitudinal project with First Nations families called the Strong Families Study. 

“In the past year, our research team has travelled across Queensland and undertaken yarning sessions with communities to identify the most important issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and young families in these communities during the perinatal period, which spans from conception until the first year of a baby’s life,” A/Prof Rae said. 

“We have had strong collaborations with Aboriginal and Islander health services across the state and a key consistent finding is the need for parents to have greater access to social and emotional wellbeing services, and for better access to specialist care that can identify children at risk of poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, like cerebral palsy. Living in rural and remote parts of the state can make access to services challenging. 

“Some families reported having to waiting up to a year for a diagnosis, and that really delays the start of important intervention measures and treatment that ensure best outcomes for children.” 

The Strong Families Study, which is being codesigned by community and 30 Indigenous Steering Committee members, was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and would implement two key health interventions to help combat these key healthcare issues. 

“This group agreed that a study that will enable all parents to self-refer to social and mental wellbeing support and these would be delivered by a psychologist and would be culturally appropriate is a crucial step. Ensuring that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healthcare worker can be involved if the parent desires this is important for cultural safety for families,” she said. 

“The psychological support would be provided through telehealth, and this could be done at the parents’ local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community healthcare centre if preferred, or in their own home if they feel comfortable and have the technology.

“And we will identify any children at risk of poor neurodevelopmental outcomes, like cerebral palsy, through screening tests, physiotherapists and other health professionals that will form part of this project,” she said. 

“As part of this, the healthcare workers will teach parents how to deliver activities that can support improved outcomes for any children who are in need. These are all play-based.” 

First Nations families interested in participating in the Strong Families Study can email indigenoushealthresearch@mater.uq.edu.au