Family empowerment towards sustainable desert settlements: the Family Wellbeing Program in Alice Springs

McCalman, Janya (2009) Family empowerment towards sustainable desert settlements: the Family Wellbeing Program in Alice Springs. Working Paper. Desert Knowledge CRC, Alice Springs, NT, Australia.

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[Extract] Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced severe and systematic disempowerment with devastating health and social impacts. Despite Australia’s world-class health system, the life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is 11 years lower than that for Australian males (67 years compared to 78) and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women it is 10 years less (73 compared 83 years) (SCRGSP 2009).*Concerted action can make a difference (as demonstrated by the reduction in the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in North America and New Zealand to around seven years) (SCRGSP 2009). But in Australia, in some important respects, the circumstances of Aboriginal people appear to have either deteriorated or regressed or health inequity has increased (Gary Banks, quoted in Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision 2005). In the Northern Territory, for example, all-cause mortality rates for Aboriginal people declined overall and for all age groups over a long period (1967–2000). Declines in Aboriginal mortality however 'did not keep pace with the relative decline for the total Australian population' (Wilson et al. 2007).

There is now an evidence base which indicates that interventions that empower socially excluded populations across psychological, organisational and community levels have achieved improved health outcomes and quality of life of disadvantaged groups (Wallerstein 2006). Empowerment is a social action process that promotes participation of people, organisations and communities towards the goals of increased individual and community control, political efficacy, improved quality of community life, and social justice (Wallerstein 1992). Increased control and mastery means that people are better able to deal with the forces that affect their lives, (Syme 2003) and have greater capacity to deal with day-to-day challenges of life without being overwhelmed by them (Syme 1998). Aboriginal people have described empowerment as 'Healing – coming to terms with the past and present situation, dealing with the pain; gaining control; becoming strong; finding your voice; participating in change; and working together for a strong community' (Haswell-Elkins et al. forthcoming).

Since 2001, James Cook University and the University of Queensland have worked in partnership with a range of Aboriginal and mainstream organisations to explore the role and contribution that concepts of empowerment and control can make towards a better understanding of, and addressing, the social determinants of health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people. Fundamental to any initiative that aims to enhance empowerment and control is that it is relevant to the needs of its participants, that it starts where people are 'at' and that it engages different people who have differing life experiences and opportunities and who may be at different levels of motivation and ability (McCashen 2005). One of the practical programs or tools we have used for studying empowerment and control and their relationships to Aboriginal health is the Family Wellbeing Program, an 'inside-out solution' that builds on Aboriginal strengths.

The Family Well Being (FWB) program is a nationally recognised program, originally developed in Adelaide in 1993, which aims to empower participants and their families to assume greater control and responsibility over the conditions which influence their lives. It attempts to explicitly address the emotional effects of colonisation among Aboriginal Australians by helping people explore the important issues affecting their daily lives, recognise their own strengths and resources, develop knowledge and take action to improve their situation. The program is based on the belief that all humans have basic physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. If these needs aren’t met, people may suffer personal or relationship problems and have difficulty coping with the everyday challenges of life. The James Cook University and University of Queensland research team has also developed and piloted a quantitative tool to address the need for appropriate methodologies to evaluate the effectiveness of empowerment interventions as strategies for addressing health and wellbeing (Haswell-Elkins et al. forthcoming). The 'Growth and Empowerment Measure' (GEM) is a quantitative instrument that complements an existing qualitative approach which has been used to evaluate the Family Wellbeing Program, thereby consolidating and enhancing the emerging evidence base in the relatively unexplored area of empowerment research.

Item ID: 30315
Item Type: Report (Working Paper)
ISBN: 1-74158-132-X
ISSN: 1833-7309
Additional Information:

Desert Knowledge CRC Working Paper #68

Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2016 23:00
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169902 Studies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Society @ 50%
11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111701 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health @ 50%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9203 Indigenous Health > 920301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health - Determinants of Health @ 80%
92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920413 Social Structure and Health @ 20%
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