Aboriginal mainstream service experience – where are we now? How data has shaped our response

Emerging Minds, Australia, 2019

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008) National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Health Survey indicated 31% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over reported high/very high levels of psychological distress during the four weeks prior to the health survey. Yet despite the significantly higher numbers of Aboriginal children, young people and adults in crisis or acute services such as homelessness, emergency departments and child protection services, they are much less likely to access prevention or early intervention services. The 2018 Family Matters Report (Family Matters & SNAICC, 2018) indicates that only 2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children commenced an intensive family support service across the five states and territories where data was available.


  • After reading this data, what thoughts do you have regarding First Nations families and service delivery?
  • How would this data inform how you may provide a service?
  • What factors do you think may be preventing First Nations families from accessing early intervention services?

The highly statutory or crisis-driven nature of Aboriginal mainstream service experience epitomises the lack of long-term genuine partnerships. Services that listen to First Nations communities and develop offerings that are welcoming, inclusive, and non-threatening will in return gain an understanding of the lived experiences of the families and communities they are designed to support.

There are many barriers that restrict access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to services, including:

  • intergenerational trauma and past experiences resulting from colonization
  • lack of genuine partnerships with Aboriginal communities
  • fear of judgement, child removal or negative previous experiences
  • poor linkages and service coordination across organisations
  • low accessibility of services in rural and remote areas; and
  • lack of knowledge and understanding from Aboriginal Community around what is available.


The history of policies and the associated implications these have had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives have left lasting scars and wariness in their contact with government and community services.

  • What are some of the policies that may have contributed to this distrust?
  • Have you heard First Nations people’s lived experiences about their contact with services?
  • How would you know that First Nations people’s experience is different from your own?
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