Emerging Minds

Using Aboriginal cultural knowledge systems to strengthen families’ resilience

About the course

This course provides a framework to help guide you in your work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, using the ‘Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge Systems to Strengthen Families’ Resilience’ yarning cards and tools.

Who is this course for?

This course is for practitioners who work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities. It has been developed with the support and guidance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to specifically address the knowledge and skills required in supporting families’ resilience.

Before commencing this course, we recommend that you complete the Working with First Nations families and children – A framework for understanding course. You will find this course in your learning journey. It provides essential background and considerations when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The preferred terminology used by Emerging Minds in our resources is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, as guided by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing National Consultancy Group.

Learning aims

This course will help you understand that:

  • keeping the generational history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in mind is crucial for non-Indigenous practitioners developing culturally responsive assessments
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families face ongoing social and political challenges, which can hinder their healing strategies
  • unconscious bias can have negative implications for assessment processes when working with different cultures
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have great knowledge and strengths to support the social and emotional wellbeing needs of their children and families
  • kinship structures are a great strength in healing practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families; and
  • connection to Land, spirituality, ancestry and cultural practices are important protective factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.
  • Please ensure you have a support structure in place before you start the course.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy.
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course.

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


For the purposes of this course, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child. 

Social and emotional wellbeing’ refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.1

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.2

‘Social and emotional wellbeing’ is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness.

Social and emotional development’ involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy; and
  • establish and maintain relationships.3

Resilience’ is a broad term that refers to the ability of the individual, family, or community to adjust, adapt, and recover following significant adversity and difficult life events.4


Before working with families, practitioners need to connect and build an understanding of the appropriate protocols of their own local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Each community is diverse and has different ways of living, knowing and doing.


This resource was developed from an identified gap in family functioning tools that specifically support the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Although there are existing tools available, the need to incorporate culturally valid understandings and knowledge of extended kinship systems was integral in the development of this resource.

Key considerations to be included were:

  • A co-design model that is accountable to the principle of self-determination in an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context.
  • Culturally integrated dimensions of the family’s ecology, including extended kinship systems.
  • A family assessment or screening model that can be based on observations, yarning, self-report measures and social history.
  • Measures of effectiveness and the impact programs have on families.
  • Connection points for families’ and children’s experiences.
  • The impact of complex trauma on parenting and extended kinship systems.
  • The need for a tool to assist in determining the range of services that may be needed to support the family’s ecology.


All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resources developed by Emerging Minds aim to ‘decentre’ the expert. With this fundamental value in mind, and with guidance from our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Consultancy Group, this course will not provide you with a certificate. You will however, gain access to the Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge Systems to Strengthen Families’ Resilience yarning tools and assessment on completion of this course.

The reasoning behind this is:

  • Cultural competency trainings should be provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations.
  • Emerging Minds does not endorse this resource being used to meet cultural training requirements.
  • Engaging with, and valuing, local knowledge and connections is the core principle for any work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and therefore takes precedence over a centralised training course.

Reflective activities

The reflective activities placed throughout this course are designed to help you consider the content presented and relate it to your own context.

Use these activities to think about what you are currently doing in your practice, or what you would like to do, and to respond to any video and other content presented in the course. You will be prompted to enter your thoughts in the Notes area, and your writings will accumulate as you progress through the course. Treat it like a learning journal.


The Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners and organisations have provided in the development of this framework. A special thanks goes to the reference group organisations.

CAAPS Aboriginal Corporation
Moorundi ACCHS
Lives lived Well
And Aboriginal Art Designs for the Artwork

The Centre would also like to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Consultancy Group Members, and the dedicated professionals who inform our work for the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a children’s headline indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. Distelberg, B. J., Martin, A. S., Borieux, M., & Oloo, W. A. (2015). Multidimensional Family Resilience Assessment: The individual, family, and community resilience (IFCR) profile. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 25(6)


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