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Formed in 2008 at the Grail Centre in North Sydney, Aboriginal representatives and elders pooled their ideas with professionals from psychiatry, psychology, social work, and psychoanalytic therapy on how to address inequality among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, their families and communities.
Identification of a need for early intervention and a multi-disciplinary approach focused on supporting child development in the first five years of life. Understanding and caring for the individual needs of the mother and the child is at the forefront of Gunawirra.
Gunawirra is Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people working side-by-side with culture at the heart and centre of everything they do. They’re programs have been evaluated by the University of Western Sydney and the University of Sydney for their effectiveness and have become the basis for further learning and exploration into the development of the organisation’s theories.
Working to heal trauma and developing a capacity to learn is at the core of Gunawirra’s work across their Young Aboriginal Mothers Group and the 26 preschool communities they support.
The Young Aboriginal Mother’s Group based in Gunawirra House, Rozelle NSW is an early intervention service for women with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children. The weekly program provides activities based on the mothers’ requests, interests and needs including individual therapy, social work support with access to health, housing, employment, education and financial services, art therapy, alternative therapies, practical support with grocery supplies, cultural facilities to promote health and wellbeing as well as a business program designed to reconnect or connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mothers to traditional cultural practices.
Further, Gunawirra provide support to preschool teachers at predominately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools to manage trauma within the classroom and teach in a culturally appropriate way. Gunawirra has partnered with ACU and Newcastle University in ongoing efforts towards designing and implementing small models of excellence that are fully evaluated, culturally competent and can be replicated in widening circles of effectiveness in this vein.
Rural preschools with predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disadvantaged on many levels. Access to professional resources is inhibited by 18 month waiting lists, long distance, affordability, and availability of experts. The need for speech pathology is compounded among Aboriginal children due to increased rates of early childhood trauma as well as high rates of middle ear disease.
Gunawirra also provide fly-in-fly-out therapists and social workers who have expertise in trans-generational trauma and Aboriginal culture to address issues in remote and rural preschool communities.
The first five years of life are critical in shaping a child’s cognitive, social, and physical growth.
- 40% of Aboriginal children are beginning school with communication impairments
- 18 months before an Aboriginal child in rural NSW can access speech and occupational therapy assessments
- 4x more likely to be developmentally vulnerable in language and cognitive skills than non-Aboriginal children.
We see an Australia that respects and understands Aboriginal culture, history and provides equality in opportunity. This comes from the beginning. Providing support systems in early childhood allows equal opportunity for aboriginal children to grow to their full and rightful place as resilient empowered adults.
We are respectful of our place. We do not pretend to fully understand the immense history of division we have in Australia. We are listening and learning. We can do one good thing though it never feels like it is enough so our one good thing in this space is divided. We will actively listen and seek out understanding regularly. We will give space to voices that need to be heard to provide others with an opportunity to listen. We will provide support financially to Gunawirra to help those who are having trouble with their voice, gain control and strength to speak.
An equal portion of our One Good Thing Fund will be donated annually to Gunawirra’s Clinic on Country program to help transport speech therapists and social workers to rural and remote preschool communities.