Australia can break the impasse in combating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage by identifying and emulating elements of success, instead of constantly focusing on failures to deliver meaningful change.

This is the key finding of a landmark report into the social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous youth, released today at a UNSW research symposium.

UNSW's Muru Marri, which looks at Indigenous health and wellbeing, set out to learn from successful public health programs, systematically isolating and analysing the key factors in achieving real progress, to create a blueprint for policy makers, service providers and Indigenous communities.

The report – The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Indigenous Youth: Reviewing and Extending the Evidence and Examining its Implications for Policy and Practice – identifies the importance of tapping into knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to deliver effective and sustainable youth programs.

The work, commissioned by the former Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Communities and Indigenous Affairs, includes in-depth case studies, with six outstanding programs across Australia informing the report.

Researchers found the programs shared common processes such as addressing the cause of poverty and other determinants of health as well as current issues; building on the strengths of culture, community and family; using a 'bottom-up' approach; and recognising the importance of leadership from Elders.

The report's lead author, UNSW Associate Professor Melissa Haswell, says the study affirms that programs that authentically embed Aboriginal ways of being and doing could assist youth to achieve profound changes in their life trajectory.

“Based on the evidence in this report, guided by Aboriginal communities themselves, we have to ask ourselves as a society ‘What do we really want for our disadvantaged youth ... how committed are we to making appropriate resources available to close the gap in youth opportunity and potential?’” she said.

The Fifth Annual Research Symposium, hosted by the School of Public Health and Community Medicine brings together UNSW, local and international experts on Indigenous public health, including Patricia Anderson, Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute, Professor Michelle Chino, University of Nevada, UNSW’s Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver and other leading researchers from Muru Marri and the School, the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and the Kirby Institute at UNSW.

Other research topics to be discussed include:

  • Racism: a public health issue
  • The social determinants of Indigenous health
  • A campaign to cut cannabis use among Indigenous young people, the gunja brain story
  • Sexual health
  • Aboriginal health and ageing
  • The social and cultural resilience and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal mothers in prison
  • Identification of Aboriginality in general practice
  • The best way to devise and assess health programs for Indigenous populations

What: Fifth Annual Symposium: Dreaming up the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public healthWhere: The John Niland Scientia Building, UNSW Kensington campusWhen: 10.25am, Friday 11 October 2013

Media contact: Susi Hamilton, UNSW Media Office, 0422 934 024