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Berry Street’s Take Two service has recently provided specialist child-focussed trauma training for people in some of the most remote Indigenous communities in Australia.

The Martu people are the native title owners of the Western Desert in Western Australia. Their Country spans about 13.6 million hectares, about twice the size of Tasmania. Many Martu were living entirely traditional lifestyles until the 1960s. Within the space of a generation or two, Martu people went from their long-held systems of child-rearing, justice and governance systems and lore to living in modern colonised Australia.

A map showing Martu Country in north-central Western Australia

Image courtesy of KJ

Martu now mainly live in the remote communities of Jigalong, Parnngurr, Punmu and Kunawarritji as well as the neighbouring towns of Newman, Port Hedland and Wiluna. Martu people speak or understand multiple languages, and English will usually be their second, third or fourth language.

Like Indigenous communities across the country, colonisation has caused huge damage to Martu people. Language barriers and the remote locations of communities mean it’s harder to access health, education and family services. Domestic violence, poor mental health, substance abuse and incarceration are commonly experienced in the region as a result of harmful colonisation processes.

A scattering of about 30 buildings and some dirt roads in a remote community on Martu Country.

Image courtesy of KJ

Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) is a Martu organisation which uses traditional knowledge and culture to work with Martu to build strong, sustainable communities.

Take Two was approached by KJ to provide specialist trauma training for their school and family services staff who work with families and children of all ages.

Clare Ryan from Take Two’s Clinical Practice Development Team and Adam Dunn from Take Two’s Aboriginal Team provided three training sessions to help them better understand how trauma impacts developing brains and how staff can support children and families in a trauma-informed way.

Three young children standing in the red dirt on Martu Country.

Image courtesy of KJ

Caitlin Price from KJ’s Families Program organised the training and says it was beneficial for KJ staff to learn how developmental trauma impacts a child’s developing brain and why a child can’t learn when they don’t feel safe.

‘While many people had some understanding of trauma, it’s easy to feel like you’re doing something wrong when kids are having extreme behaviours,’ she said.

‘It’s stressful when the kids are having meltdowns, and it’s easier to focus only on consequences, instead of also building connections and helping them feel safer. There was a light bulb moment when Clare talked about how important it is to take a relational approach, and how much relationships are part of learning, from infancy all the way through. That it’s not about removing boundaries and consequences, but instead using a tone of voice that isn’t punitive, but is relational, and doesn’t cut kids off, but remains connected.’

The training included ways staff can calm themselves and help kids feel calm and safe. These techniques included practical culturally appropriate ways they could use concepts from the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, particularly therapeutic dosing and ‘the 3Rs’ (regulate, relate and reason).

‘One of my Martu colleagues said “It’s amazing how in just a few hours, we can be taught this really crucial information. How come we aren’t all taught this?” She had all sorts of ideas about how to co-regulate her team, as often people are going out on Country during very stressful life events. One idea she had was having Elders record visualisations or stories in a rhythmic and regulating way that could be played in the car as they were driving.’

Four wheel drives loaded up and driving through the red dirt desert in convoy to take community members out on country.

Image courtesy of KJ

‘It was great to have Clare and Adam talk about how stressful this work can be, and how we can’t co-regulate the kids if we’re not regulated ourselves.’

Adam says he thinks we reinforced the benefits of some of the things they had been doing.

‘We used an example of how going out to kick the footy with a kid when they were really dysregulated and disruptive in class would help them refocus. Someone after the training apparently said this is exactly what they’d been doing, but they feared other teachers were thinking they were rewarding kids for bad behaviour. They said it felt like we were giving him permission to do what he intuitively knew the child needed.’

‘I also shared some of the ways my team and I work therapeutically with children, particularly looking beyond their immediate families and working within our traditional kinships networks and their Community. I think non-Aboriginal staff really need to understand that the right person to talk to about a young person may not be Mum or Dad, but an Uncle, Aunty or Elder. Culturally, that’s really important because it acknowledges the way we have raised our children for tens of thousands of years.’

red rocky ridgeline opening into dry srubby country under a blue sky

Image courtesy of KJ

Clare says the training is just the start of the work for KJ, but she’s hopeful it will continue.

‘I think they really valued and recognised that this was quite a unique opportunity for everyone to come together from across the various communities and roles. They started to think together about these kids and their families and started to think together how they could develop shared approaches. This is especially important because Martu children often move between the communities as they stay with family, so everyone across all the Martu schools and communities needs to be taking the same approach.

‘Together they’ve got a real opportunity to help children feel safe and help them learn both mainstream curriculum while keeping their Martu connection to Country really strong.’

Berry Street’s Take Two program is a therapeutic service helping to address the mental health impacts on children of the trauma they have experienced from abuse, neglect or adverse experiences. At Take Two we see who the child is, not just the behaviour.

We use clinical frameworks, neurobiological research and evidence-informed approaches to repair family relationships and develop networks of caring adults that focus on what the child needs.

Take Two can provide specialist clinical consultancy services, including training to other organisations. Contact us for more information.