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Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future – Helping First Nations Australians to heal complex trauma as parents

Becoming a parent is a major change in life for anyone. It is filled with hope, joy, and fear — and this is the case if you have grown up in a stable and safe environment.

Things can be even harder if come from a family and society that has suffered for generations, where inter-generational conflict and abuse still plays out like many First Nations community in Australia.

To help with this, a major study led by researchers at La Trobe University have identified key themes that will be used to inform strategies to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander when they become parents and in the first years of their children’s lives.

The “Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future” project aims to break the cycle of intergenerational and complex trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people, by co-designing strategies for new parents.

The international research team reviewed more than 20,000 scholarly articles to build a comprehensive understanding of pregnancy and birth for parents who have experienced trauma in their own childhood.

The study identified seven themes that relate to parents’ experiences during pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks after birth.

The seven themes are:

1) New beginnings: Becoming a parent is an opportunity for ‘a fresh start’, to put the past behind them and move forward with hope for the future to create a new life for themselves and their child.

2) Changing roles and identities: Becoming a parent is a major life transition, influenced by perceptions of the parenting role.

3) Feeling connected: The quality of relationships with self, baby and others has major impacts on the experiences of becoming a parent.

4) Compassionate care: Kindness, empathy and sensitivity enables parents to build trust and feel valued and cared for.

5) Empowerment: Control, choice and ‘having a voice’ are critical to fostering safety.

6) Creating safety: Parents perceive the ‘world as unsafe’ and use conscious strategies to build safe places and relationships to protect themselves and their baby.

7) ‘Reweaving’ a future: Managing distress and healing while becoming a parent is a personal ongoing and complex process requiring strength, hope and support.

Lead Researcher, Associate Professor Catherine Chamberlain of La Trobe’s Judith Lumley Centre, said

“This gives us a thorough and deep understanding needed to help co-design support strategies with communities to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their babies,” Associate Professor Chamberlain said.

“We have shared these themes in discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and community members to see if any are relevant. Doing so also helps parents to understand these experiences are shared, even in other countries.

“The next stage of our Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project will use these themes to examine what support strategies have been evaluated in research.  We will look at whether this research reflects what support parents say they want and what they feel works.”

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