Improving outcomes for ATSI parents

Researchers from La Trobe University will improve the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents experiencing complex trauma, thanks to a $1.5m grant from the Medical Research Future Fund.

Associate Professor Catherine Chamberlain from La Trobe’s Judith Lumley Centre is leading this new project and is thrilled her research has been recognised by the Medical Research Future Fund’s Indigenous Health Research Fund.

“Becoming a parent is exciting but it can be hard, particularly for parents experiencing complex trauma, which can have long lasting effects on their physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Trauma-related responses may intensify for new parents, and it can affect their capacity to nurture their children,” Associate Professor Chamberlain said.

Following a legacy of historical trauma and ongoing discrimination, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are disproportionately affected by intergenerational cycles of trauma. This can result in increasing rates of children living in out of home care, high rates of adult chronic disease and reduced life expectancy.

Associate Professor Chamberlain said that transitioning to parenthood is an opportunity to break the cycle.

“Becoming a parent also offers a unique opportunity for ‘healing the past, by nurturing the future’. Often this is the first-time parents have regular contact with health services. Our project aims to use this window of opportunity to enhance future life trajectories for the parents and child.”

She said the research, built on four years of co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and implemented in partnership with Latrobe Regional Hospital and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency along with other key partners, would focus on rural healthcare, due to the greater need in regional areas.

“We aim to work with community partners to strengthen the safety and quality of rural primary care for parents experiencing complex trauma by developing, implementing and evaluating culturally-informed training and resources and a framework for trauma support.”

Associate Professor Chamberlain said an important feature of this project is that it is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, in partnership with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and communities, for communities. She said the project will demonstrate, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led solutions can and do work. This is consistent with the renewed ‘Closing the Gap’ commitments:

“underpinned by the belief that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a genuine say in the design and delivery of policies, programs and services that affect them, better life outcomes are achieved. It also recognises that structural change in the way governments work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is needed to close the gap.”

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds congratulated Associate Professor Chamberlain and her team on the successful funding application.

“This grant recognises La Trobe’s contribution to enhancing healthy communities in Australia,” Professor Dodds said.

“I am proud that La Trobe researchers continue to tackle important health and societal issues that have a profound and lasting impact on people’s lives. This research will identify strategies for health services to improve the care they offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, resulting in significant health, cultural and social benefits.”

Project Team

The project brings together an expert team of predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers with public health expertise, including:

  • Dr Caroline Atkinson, We Al-li Pty Ltd
  • Professor Helen Herrman, University of Melbourne
  • Associate Professor Sandra Campbell, Charles Darwin University
  • Associate Professor Raymond Lovett, Australian National University
  • Dr Justin Canuto, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Limited
  • Professor Jan Nicholson, La Trobe University
  • Professor Leonie Segal, University of South Australia
  • Dr Janine Mohamed, National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Limited
  • Dr Mishel McMahon, La Trobe University

Associate investigators and institutions include:

  • Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson, Southern Cross University
  • Dr Graham Gee, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute
  • Dr Yvonne Clark, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Limited
  • Professor Helen McLachlan, La Trobe University
  • Pamela McCalman, La Trobe University
  • Dr Michelle Bovill, The University of Newcastle
  • Professor Rhonda Marriott, Murdoch University
  • Miss Tanja Hirvonen, Flinders University
  • Professor Sue Kruske, Charles Darwin University
  • Professor Della Forster, La Trobe University

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