Growing up children in two worlds: Building Yolŋu skills, knowledge and priorities into early childhood assessment and support

This three-year (2016–2018) project expands and extends previous collaborative research that was developed in response to community concerns about lack of recognition of Aboriginal early childhood strengths, priorities and knowledge in North-East Arnhemland. Aboriginal early child development is attracting considerable government investment to implement programs, generally based on evidence from other populations that may have limited relevance. This project engages Aboriginal people themselves in a collaborative qualitative research process to identify and build on their strengths to address the challenges they face in bringing up their children in ‘two worlds’. It aims to:

  • privilege Yolŋu (Aboriginal) voices in generating child development and child rearing knowledge
  • identify skills and knowledge (from both Aboriginal and Western domains) that Yolŋu families want their children to develop and the strategies they use to foster this development
  • strengthen the evidence base for culturally responsive and relevant assessment processes and support that distinguishes ‘difference’ from ‘deficit’ to facilitate optimal child development.

This qualitative research project will draw on culturally responsive methods developed through previous studies of child development and learning as well as intercultural communication in this region. Data collection methods include:

  • videotaping of case study children engaged in a range of every-day activities and collaborative interpretation of primary video data through reviewing the videos with family members and Yolŋu researchers;
  • in-depth interviews using a narrative approach to further explore experiences and perspectives related to early childhood. All research activities are conducted in the preferred language of participants and a collaborative process, guided by senior community members, will be used throughout all stages of the project.

As a direct response to concerns expressed by senior community members the project provides the opportunity for Yolŋu to influence the ways in which the development of their children is assessed and supported. Key features of Yolŋu child development and child rearing that people working in the field need to understand to ensure culturally responsive policies and services will guide the development of a web-based educational resource for staff working with Yolŋu communities. The website will also function as a community-developed tool for strengthening and maintaining Yolŋu knowledge and practice related to child development and child rearing. Impact will be assessed through monitoring the traffic on the website and through information sharing and feedback forums.

The community-based research workforce will be further developed and extended through employment of both experienced and emerging Yolŋu researchers on the project team, strengthening skills and knowledge from both the Yolŋu and Western domains. In addition, through the nature of the research as a reflective and collaborative activity, participants will build on and further develop their shared understandings of Yolŋu early child development priorities, strengths and challenges. 

Researchers from the Research Centre for Health and Wellbeing (CDU) are continuing a long history of working in partnership with the Yalu Marŋgithinyaraw Indigenous Corporation, a community-based cultural education and research organisation.  The research team is also collaborating with the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) to enhance wider relevance and dissemination of research findings.

The expected outcomes of the project are:

1. A deeper understanding of early child development from Yolŋu community perspectives thus providing guidance for more culturally responsive and relevant action to facilitate optimal child development

2. Sustained access to research findings through research translation and educational mechanisms for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal users that can support families, inform early childhood programs/practices and contribute to cultural/language maintenance.

3. Enhanced Yolŋu researchers’ and others’ expertise in implementing collaborative, culturally responsive research.

Created: 29 July 2016 - Updated: 29 July 2016