Driven by passion and a long held affinity for children and their wellbeing - Professor Brown has recently established Ngaoara to provide a much needed platform to deliver 'child-centric, trauma informed and whole of community responses to complex social issues.'
With many conversations and programs addressing trauma focusing solely on adults, Professor Brown saw the need for early intervention as the key to ensuring better current and future health outcomes in our communities.
"(Through our programs) we are finding that a lot of the children being sent to medical services with so called ‘behavioural issues’, 'emotional disregulation’ or physical disorders - once you get to know them and hear their story- are deeply affected by trauma, with backgrounds of abuse, neglect, or physical & or verbal violence. So of course, that is manifesting then in their behaviour and in their academic performance. They have the same potential, but we need to be able to support them in other ways. That got us thinking:How do we support schools, health services and parents to better understand their environments and what we can do about it?"
Whilst looking at the findings of the oft-cited landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) , Brown again had a lightbulb moment that further cemented her desire to establish appropriate intervention platform for children and youth affected by trauma. "The study demonstrated that very early exposures to violence, abuse and neglect can change the very wiring of the brain and the emotional and physical development of individuals. This puts them at increased risk of a range of different issues in their social and emotional well-being, including mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide, cardiovascular disease, cancer & diabetes."
"The study demonstrated that very early exposures to violence, abuse and neglect can change the very wiring of the brain and the emotional and physical development of individuals. This puts them at increased risk of a range of different issues in their social and emotional well-being"
In the last 6 months, Ngaoara has received funding from the Department of Health to establish their Trauma Assessment, Referral and Recovery Outreach Teams (TARROT) project, a 'lighthouse' or roadmap initiative that is providing culturally appropriate support to existing health-care structures that may not be currently able to provide the targeted and comprehensive level of care that is required to assist trauma victims.
"I love our Aboriginal Community Services. There is already access to comprehensive medical providers who can do the bread and butter, day to day stuff, who see the kids and are the first point of contact through providing dental exams, vaccinations etc. but can then flag any concerns about behavioural or developmental issues with us." It's at this point that Ngaoara will be able to step in to create even better outcomes. "We have an algorithm and pathway we can move through to help to case manage the kids that might need a bit more support at school, or specialist services, and over time we also might look at other things for parents and carers. There is no need to duplicate or replicate. We just need to be able to bring some of those threads together, connecting existing service providers that are on the ground and sometimes need that little bit of extra support."
"We have an algorithm and pathway we can move through to help to case manage the kids that might need a bit more support at school, or specialist services, and over time we also might look at other things for parents and carers"
Professor Browns organisation also recognises the need for a multi layered approach. "Of course, irrespective of how much work I do with a particular munchkin - if I then send them back in to the same environment I am making very little to no difference at all. We look at the intergenerational effects of exposure to trauma. Because of historical and contemporary practices and policies, so many of our community members, themselves, have all this unresolved trauma and grief that they may or may not recognised or dealt with. They may not be in a space where they are able to focus on their kids. "
With funding and additional support from psychology scholars from the University of Wollongong, a team of ATSI researchers from South Australia and Aboriginal paedeatricians helping with internal metrics and evaluations, Professor Brown is confident in their current team adding value to exisiting health structures.
Building support systems and emphasising cultural practices within communities is also vital to the continued wellbeing of our children, Professor Brown tells NITV. "There is a growing body of evidence, including some work that has been done in Australia, which demonstrates the direct connection between the protection and revitalisation of positive cultural practices such as language , performance, understanding your story, where you are from and where you are connected to as very much a protective factor in the growth and resilience of your children, adolescents and young adults. In communities where they have demonstrated specific cultural programs, the rates of anxiety/depression, self harm and suicide are dropped or near zero, compared to other communities where that is not in place."
A board member of Bangarra Dance Theatre, Professor Brown says that they are a great example of positively impacting communities through giving the sharing of culture. "I would say it’s one of my favourite boards to ever be involved in, because I look at what those people do and what they represent and how much talent they have. But also, what they are giving back to community. They have just come back from their regional tour where they do school based activities - they are teaching our kids and it’s really quite beautiful."
A return to healthy and supported communities is what will determine the best outcomes in the end. "Our children are like any other - what they need is a safe environment and they need to know they are loved unconditionally – and that is super important. It is easy to say but are we capable of that as individual families? Broadly speaking, I know that we are because culturally that was always our way- so how do we bring that back? How do we emphasise our positive cultural practices and incorporate that in to what we do day to day. Being able to reinvigorate our pride in who we are is essential."
For more information on Ngaoara visit www.ngaoara.org.au. You can also sign up to the Ngaoara newsletter.