The program integrated a suite of learning, personal development, team building and mentoring strategies to enhance the social and emotional well-being of participants. The model was founded on the belief that learning is most likely to occur in an environment where there is engagement between knowledgeable, respectful and respected educators and students in a safe, responsive, culturally appropriate and welcoming space. The recruitment of highly skilled and experienced project staff who were able to quickly develop relationships built on mutual respect was critical to the overall success of the project. All project staff identified as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander People or both and were well connected, well respected and well established within the region.
The program was designed for delivery over a six week period, with each weekly program running for two to three hours. By the end of the group program, participants would have had between 12 and 18 contact hours over the six week period. The first week focused on orientation: getting to know you and completing assessment measures, and the final week involved completing assessment measures, review, and a celebration of finishing the program.
As is culturally appropriate, male and female participants participated in the program separately. The groups were jointly facilitated by a male and a female project officer, with culturally sensitive material delivered by a same-sex facilitator.
Group topic areas included the following key features:
• Designed as a 30-minute block, with two sessions of content delivered each week over a four week period. Topic areas presented during the same week had thematic ties;
• Incorporated a number of interactive activities to assist participant engagement and retention of information;
• Interactive activities were crafted to tap into cultural learning styles and strengths;
• All activities involved a mixture of yarning, cultural DVD’s, individual and group activities;
• Group processes were designed to be flexible enough that sessions could be delivered in 30 minute blocks (one session per group) or 60 minute blocks (2 sessions per group). This would allow different delivery strategies for different attention spans;
• Activities developed for the groups were interchangeable;
• Each activity the group was engaged in was determined by the lead facilitator, based on participant commitment and interest levels. Where there was high participant enthusiasm, group SEWB content could go for longer than 60 minutes, and additional activities could be introduced;
• Transport was provided to participants to increase accessibility and safety, given the combined factors of afterhours programming, the geographic spread of residency, and independent access regardless of what other family members had planned; and
• A multi layered, reward system for participation and achieving milestones. Participants were provided with a $150 reward for successfully completing the program. This included, for example, gym membership, netball/football fees, sports uniforms/equipment; movie tickets, and pamper packs that promoted self-care.
High quality cultural governance ensured that the approach the project team took was consistent with Indigenous understanding of social and emotional wellbeing, help seeking, education and appropriate offers of support. Taking a cultural governance approach increased the commitment from the community for the project, and demonstrated the value that headspace Inala placed on the partnership, knowledge and wisdom of the Community, particularly of the Elders.
A Youth Advisory Group (YAG) was established that consisted of local Indigenous young people who were already associated with either headspace Inala, or were Future Leaders with the Inala Elders Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Program. This group participated in and provided feedback into the SEWB group program content, processes and approach to engaging with and supporting project participants.
Clinical governance of the project was provided by the headspace Inala Clinical Governance Advisory Group. Membership of this group includes team leaders from local tertiary mental health and alcohol and other drug services, clinical liaison officers and a local General Practitioner. This group oversaw the development of safeguards for participants, including risk assessment strategies and follow-up mechanisms for group participants identified as requiring extra support.
Service delivery model was based on a partnership approach.
The culture of the UHELP Program is respectful, non-judgemental and supportive. The mutually respectful relationship and positive regard reported between participants and facilitators was identified by both internal and external stakeholders as a critical success factor.
Facilitators demonstrate a special skill set which combines respectful management of the participants and the ability to develop relationships with them, many of whom had traditionally had experienced great difficulties engaging with authority and trusting outsiders.
Use of appropriate and effective instruments and tools.
The use of the Westerman Aboriginal Symptom Checklist (WASC) as a psycho-social tool of engagement is regarded by project facilitators as an effective instrument for engaging with Indigenous Youth and for developing relationships between participants and facilitators. Participants also appreciated having this questionnaire (particularly because of its face validity) and headspace staff reported that high subscale scores were meaningful indicators of participants in need of followup assistance.
Provision of culturally appropriate counselling and culturally safe places.
The program provides and promotes the accessibility and acceptability of individual, culturally appropriate counselling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at headspace Inala that is considered a culturally safe, appropriate, informed service. The significant increase in referral rates to headspace Inala since the UHELP commenced suggests the program has helped to generate the recognition that yarning at headspace Inala is a safe and culturally appropriate service, particularly as these increases have occurred in the context of client numbers at headspace Inala increasing overall.
Clinical and Cultural Governance.
Taking a Cultural governance approach increased the commitment from the community for the project, and demonstrated the value that headspace Inala placed on the knowledge and wisdom of the Community and in particular the Elders. It also demonstrated headspace Inala recognises that solutions to the challenges in headspace engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are best solved in partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community. Governance processes were designed to fit with existing community oversight structures, specifically, the Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Program (SPAMHP) community meetings and Inala Elders’ Steering Committee meetings, as well as involvement of appropriate partners such as the Inala Clinical Governance Advisory Group.
Involvement of multiple stakeholders.
UHELP project stakeholders had a shared vision and a similar mandate and worked together to the mutual benefit of Indigenous young people and the community. By sharing knowledge, resources and expertise, the capacity of all partners was strengthened and a new soft entry experience was established for vulnerable young people in the Inala region.
The SPAMHP and Youth Advisory Group informed, guided and provided feedback on all aspects of the program in the establishment, implementation and evaluation phases. These partnerships were built on a two-way flow of information and reported back and enabled UHELP to be quickly established as a credible, culturally effective program for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Inala region.