Muriel Bamblett, Margarita Frederico, Jane Harrison, Annette Jackson, Peter Lewis

(Please note the authors in the study use the term ‘Aboriginal’ inclusively to apply to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, except when specific mention of Torres Strait Islanders is made)


This study is focused on the developmental assessments used to measure meaningful and beneficial outcomes for Aboriginal children and young people who have experienced trauma through abuse and neglect.

Historically assessment approaches have tended to ignore the role of culture, despite the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.

The research was a partnership between with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, Take Two, Berry Street and La Trobe University, and was focused on promoting Aboriginal ways of knowing

Key findings

Whilst one assessment tool was not recommended over another, the study found that any approach selected must be coherent with culturally informed outcomes framework for Aboriginal children.
Assessments for Aboriginal children need to draw upon the key aspects of what is important to the Aboriginal community, such as cultural identity and connection to land.
Aboriginal people, especially in urban areas, are expected to be bi-cultural and confirm with mainstream ways of communicating and behaving – in such an environment an Aboriginal child’s cultural difference may be overlooked during assessment.
the study developed a cultural connection conceptual map to help define cultural connection and the different aspects of cultural connection that could enhance wellbeing including – history, personal identity, extended family, clan and community, cultural expression and events.

  Messages for practice

  • Without a cultural framework sitting behind assessment tools providing a strong cultural context and interpretation of meaning, assessment tools and outcome measures risk being applied with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
  • The study outlined the key principles of a cultural framework, including the need to be informed by contemporary Aboriginal community attitudes to culture and be developed in partnership with the local Aboriginal community.
  • Cultural competence is critical to any assessment tool or outcome measure being used in a way that enhances Aboriginal children’s social and emotional wellbeing
  • Workers across the participating organisations brought different knowledge sets to their assessment approaches, with Aboriginal workers tending to more often talk about using intuitive approaches, such as being able to see or sense change in a child.
  • A sense of hope needs to be built into outcome measures and assessment approaches need to be strengths based
  • Engaging and forming sustained positive relationships were critical to assessing and supporting the wellbeing of Aboriginal children.

Arising from the study, a draft outcome measure known as the Behavioural Change Measure was drafted, based on input from the practitioners consulted. This draft tool features observable indicators to look for in determining whether the Aboriginal child’s social and emotional wellbeing has improved.