Critical factors identified as promising practice
There are a number of critical factors to this program that supports it as evidence of promising practice.
A permanent, locally-based qualified counsellor.
The provision of therapeutic services from a counsellor with tertiary qualifications is critical to the success of the project in fundamental client care processes, including the development of client care plans, identifying and implementing coping strategies, identifying and accessing sources of support, monitoring and managing risk, and exploring the deeper causes and triggers for the issues in a young person’s life. An important aspect has been the ability to appoint someone with significant time and relevant experience in the community as well as professional skill, and longevity of community relationships.
Employment of local youth WWK Youth Mentors.
These are Young Warlpiri people who have demonstrated particular strength, skill and capacity at caring for their at-risk peers. The WWK Youth Mentor position works very closely with and reports to the WWK Counsellor, who in turn supports the development of, and provides professional supervision to, the Youth Mentor. The WWK Youth Mentor is an active collaborator in the care of appropriate clients (with primary care responsibilities remaining with the WWK Counsellor). Youth mentors will often have genuine, direct, honest and insightful advice on preventative behaviours, coping strategies and positive pathways.
Peer mentoring system.
Peer status is particularly powerful and important in Warlpiri youth culture. Through kinship and ceremonial systems, Warlpiri youths have formal obligations and responsibilities of care and protection towards certain other youths. Each person is in a particular relationship with each other and there is an appropriate peer to provide validated and skilful support. The exact same kind of support may not be accepted from a different peer (or indeed older person, or other mental health professional) simply because they are not the trusted or appropriate person to deliver this support. The WWK mentoring system is thus an attempt to further support and employ traditional and functional care systems.
Employment of Trainee Mentors.
Trainee Mentors are a group of young people who are currently active in the Jaru Pirrjirdi youth development project, and who have demonstrated a clear interest and capacity for helping at-risk peers. They are casually employed, operate under the close supervision of the WWK Counsellor (and, where appropriate, the WWK Youth Mentor) and are ‘matched’ with suitable clients according to important local and cultural factors such as gender, family group and skin name. This not only ensures that Trainee Mentors are in very frequent contact with their at-risk peers, but importantly that they are well-placed and appropriate people to work with young people involved in WWK. There is a particular reliance and use of the Trainee Mentors as a unique ‘early warning’ or risk-identification system. At high risk times, such as late at night or when substance misuse is a factor in a situation, the only other people present are peers. In these situations, the Trainee Mentors represent the crucial link between a developing crisis, and professional assistance. Usually, Jaru Pirrjirdi Trainee Mentors have struggled with and successfully resolved issues in their own lives which are similar to those faced by youth in crisis; hence, their mentorship is particularly relevant, effective and appropriate.
24 hour on call service, seven days a week.
The Counsellor is expected to be available to community members at all times, day or night, weekends, and public holidays (with clear on-call protocols covered by other appropriate WYDAC staff members during periods of annual leave).
Addressing suicidal behaviour by working to address cannabis misuse.
This is a significant underlying factor in suicide risk for Warlpiri young people. This aspect of the program utilises the Mt Theo Outstation. The physical place Mt Theo (Puturlu) has enormous significance as a cultural site among Warlpiri people, containing powerful Jukurrpa (Dreaming) sites and stories. Any young person who is misusing cannabis can have the opportunity to undergo cultural rehabilitation and a period of detoxification supported by experienced Warlpiri carers at Mt Theo. This works to assist young Warlpiri people to deal with their cannabis misuse, through respite from the pressures, demands and temptations of community life. Mt Theo fosters a strong link with Warlpiri culture and with all the inherent benefits embedded in that culture for at-risk Warlpiri youth. It is a place where strong, positive, healthy Warlpiri identity is forged, promoted, practiced and imparted.
Appropriate Counselling and mentoring.
These services take place appropriate people, in an appropriate setting (in the bush and out of community) and during an appropriate activity (for example, whilst hunting or whilst sitting together for 1-2 hours and waiting for the kangaroo to cook). Weekly young men’s mentoring trips, for example, are a regular event that involves the WWK Youth Mentor, Jaru Pirrjirdi Trainee Mentors and a group of at-risk young men with whom the team are currently working and who go out bush and hunting.
Inclusion of Elders of the Warlpiri community.
Elders are involved as support persons and through the role of Senior Cultural Advisors who acts as a cultural supervisor and advisor, particularly for the non-Warlpiri staff of Warra-Warra Kanyi (and more broadly, other WYDAC and external agency staff). The WWK Senior Cultural Advisor also plays an important outreach and support role to the Mt Theo Outstation and to other Warlpiri communities requesting support. Finally, the WWK Senior Cultural Advisor plays an important supervisory role in the development of culturally relevant Warlpiri mentoring and counselling resources.
Deep understanding of the critical and heightened risk periods for the community.
Over many long years of experience and communication with the community at Yuendumu, the WWK team is able to identify critical periods or situations when a risk situation is likely to develop. This predictive knowledge is crucial in developing an understanding of a ‘local calendar’ which will enable the specific targeting and preparation for particularly high risk nights, weeks or times of year. This allows useful preparation of staff, of resources, and early preventive work with families and peers and external agencies such as the police.
The incorporation of both clinical and cultural components.
The WWK is both a clinical and cultural program that provides extensive and appropriate wrap-around services and rapid, consistent, accessible, local and informed crisis response to address suicide attempts, and preventing attempts from becoming completed suicides. The WWK is a culturally safe and accepted source of support for young people who have experienced suicidal thoughts, impulses, threats or attempts over a sustained period. It also deals with the issues underlying these problems and moves young people forward towards a positive and meaningful future pathway.
Comprehensive – encompasses diversion, development, leadership and rehabilitation
The program has grown significantly since its grass-roots inception into a comprehensive program of youth diversion, development, leadership and rehabilitation throughout the Warlpiri region. Most critically Warlpiri people themselves created the program, and its ownership, design and growth remain under the control of the governing committee of Warlpiri people.
Responsive, local and informed people available in the community on a permanent basis.
This program demonstrates that one of the critical factors in preventing and responding to suicidal behaviours is having responsive, local and informed people available in the community on a permanent basis. It is equally important that this team comprise people with local knowledge and people with qualified experience. The program also places emphasis on the ability of families and the community to recognise suicide risk and respond to it and communicate their concerns as early as possible.