Service integration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander early childhood development


Project Aim:

To resolve the gap in existing evidence around best practice service delivery approaches for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families experiencing vulnerability, with a specific focus on integrated models of early childhood service delivery that are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations.



The project builds on an existing body of knowledge surrounding best practice approaches to early childhood service delivery that position Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led integrated service delivery approaches as best placed to improve child and family outcomes through:

  1. Increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families access to a broad range of child and family support services through reducing the access barriers present in mainstream service systems, which commonly present as culturally unsafe, complex, fragmented and difficult to navigate.
  2. Responding to family needs early in the life cycle by integrating a range of supports within, or on referral, from universally available early childhood service contexts.


Project Team:

Project Leader: Professor Kerry Arabena, Director, Indigenous Health Equity Unit, University of Melbourne.
Project partners: SNAICC – National Voice for our Children
Administering organisation: University of Melbourne
Start date: 1 February 2018—31 May 2019



This in-depth exploration study employed Aboriginal research methods (qualitative semi-structured interviews, participatory workshops and informal ‘yarning’) as data collection tools to answer the research questions, resulting in a narrative description and analysis of behaviour, experience and perspectives.

Engaging an action research methodology, the project partnered with two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) organisations to develop a change process that was recorded for analysis, observations, reflections, strategies and outcomes.

The data collected during the in-depth interviews and focus group discussions were transcribed and analysed and coded using NVivo.


Project Findings

Reviews from the two partner Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander ECEC organisations showed that service integration enables organisations to meet the broader needs of Aboriginal children and families and provide holistic and coordinated care.

The broader range of inter-related domains included in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child wellbeing highlighted from the study are:

  1. Safety
  2. Health
  3. Culture and connections
  4. Mental health and emotional wellbeing
  5. Home and environment
  6. Learning and skills
  7. Empowerment and economic wellbeing.

The data collected during the research also showed that the process of moving towards an integrated service system are highly relational. Community inclusion, participation and empowerment were the most fundamental to a successful integrated service system.

Results from the two partners used as case studies suggests that reorienting service systems to respond to the needs of children and families can support community empowerment, leadership, and self-determination (control) provided:

  • the programs are well resourced (with resources going to the right places; that longer-term funding is aligned to an organisational strategy and where Aboriginal staff are engaged for longer-term contracts and are supported to transition into leadership), and where
  • leadership and governance structures allow/prioritise community accountabilities.


Project Outcomes

  • Increased knowledge of best practice at project sites through information shared and explored in project workshops.
  • Project outcomes and findings available to academic audiences (especially conference audiences) and broad child and families sector audience (SNAICC membership and sector stakeholders through online publication).
  • Skills development was primarily supported through the two-way learning interaction between the researchers, participating organisations and staff.
  • Specific skills explored and developed in project workshops included: strengths-based approaches to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, best practice in service integration, Aboriginal leadership and governance in developing integrated service responses, and best practice in developing genuine partnerships.
  • Self-reflection for project participants. Participants have provided feedback that the project reports have supported their understanding of their own practice in the development of integrated service responses and Aboriginal community governance.
  • Research report has particular strength in building awareness of the detailed aspects of service integration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families in early childhood, and highlighting the strengths of Aboriginal-led and community-based approaches for a abroad audience including government, policy makers, academics and service sectors.
  • Research partners report that they have undertaken processes of services planning and development with reflection on the research findings.
  • Expected that governments and service providers nationally will consider findings to inform how integration initiatives and Aboriginal community leadership are designed, resourced and supported.

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.