Most youth mental health service staff are ‘dedicated people with a strong sense of social justice. They want to meet the needs of young Aboriginal people,’ says Professor Michael Wright, Curtin School of Allied Health.
‘But they also know they don’t know how to do this.
‘For historical reasons, Aboriginal youth distrust mainstream organisations. For this reason, they often don’t seek help early for mental health issues.
‘Our Journey Our Story aims to build the capacity of mental health service staff. We want them to be flexible, confident, and competent in responding to the cultural needs of Aboriginal young people.’
Debakarn Koorliny Wangkiny (Steady Walking and Talking)
A Nyoongar man, Michael worked with Aboriginal Elders to develop the Debakarn Koorliny Wangkiny (Steady Walking and Talking) co-design framework (DKW).
DKW disrupts by questioning service providers’ ‘typical ways of working,’ Michael says. Participants are asked to commit to being motivated, present and teachable, respecting status, staying connected, and continually weaving.
DKW starts with going on Country
The DKW change process has 3 phases. It begins when mental health services staff go on Country with Aboriginal Elders and young people. They share experiences such as dance, art, preparing traditional foods, and walking through the bush. This activity deepens staff understanding of culture, kinship and spirit.
The second phase involves Storying. Participants build connections by sharing parts of their life stories. ‘This provides the foundation for meaningful relationships that can progress to trust and deeper connection,’ Michael says.
Aboriginal Elders and youth and mental health staff ‘usually have a deep self-realisation that change is possible!’ Michael says.
‘Our experience is that the changes they experience are profound.’
Co-design of youth mental health services
Relational work on Country creates an equitable framework where Aboriginal Elders and youth can co-design mental health services with mainstream providers. This is the third phase of DKW.
Prioritising cultural and community engagement ensures that mental health services are more appropriate for Aboriginal youth. It also enables culturally appropriate services to be sustained over time.
Proven Nyoongar research method
Our Journey Our Story is one of several projects that have used the DKW change framework.
In each project, Aboriginal Elders work ‘burdiya to burdiya’ (boss to boss) with partner mental health service providers to create positive organisational change. This impacts service partners’ governance and staff development and support. Aboriginal staff increase across most service partners. Services build capacity to embed innovative ways of working through their organisation.
Evaluation surveys show that Aboriginal clients benefit when
- ‘the worker understands that being Aboriginal means I sometimes have a different way of looking at the world’
- ‘the worker took responsibility to make me feel safe in the service.’
DKW for other Aboriginal groups
In Our Journey Our Story, for the first time Michael is trialling the DKW framework with another Aboriginal group, the Yawuru people in Broome.
‘We believe the principles that guide and underpin the DKW framework are universal principles. They are based on relational ways of working that fit with the Aboriginal world view,’ Michael explains.
But because DKW is a Nyoongar framework, Michael first asks Aboriginal people from other language groups if they are comfortable using the framework.
‘To date they have been fine with working with us,’ he says.
The measure of success
Michael evaluates the impact of each DKW co-design program. He surveys client experiences and service provider attitudes.
‘A critical measure for us is when a community asks us about a service, we can say with absolute confidence that it is safe for them to go there. In essence we are vouching for the service.’
Our Journey Our Story is funded by $2.5 million from the MRFF.