Vol. One / Issue Three:
Nepean Community and Neighbourhood Services
Nepean Community and Neighbourhood Services (NCNS) is a local organisation that focuses on servicing the needs of Indigenous people in the Nepean area. It comes as a response to the vast level of disadvantage identified in the area and the need to target efforts with specific goals, to have the greatest impact for local community. NCNS’s approach to doing this is through their evidence-based programs targeting 3 main areas – getting kids ready for school, enabling access to Aboriginal health, and building and preserving connection to community and culture. Although NCNS is not Aboriginal-controlled, around half of the staff across the whole organisation are Aboriginal. This enables the voices, needs and ideas of Aboriginal people to be represented through on-the-ground staff, all the way up to management and governance levels. NCNS staff understand the importance of guiding Aboriginal clients through different services and programs to gain the best outcomes for their lives. But further than this, the staff understand the pressure that is placed on Aboriginal workers to support clients in a culturally safe way; for this reason, NCNS work from a “no wrong door” approach, and all workers are trained to be able to support Aboriginal clients, to ensure that the responsibility is distributed evenly where it is appropriate to do so.
“ A standardised approach to client intake screening and assessment in the sector would enhance service system coordination and referral, enabling families to be more easily directed to the right type and amount of service in a timely manner at the specific transition point when they require support.” – Toumbourou, Hartman, Field, Jeffery, Brady, Heaton, Ghayour-Minaie, & Heerde (2017)
The services and programs that NCNS delivers demonstrate the effectiveness of an early intervention approach. As part of getting children ready for school, NCNS delivers developmental outreach days where any child under eight years old is able to get assessed by a team of dentists, optometrists, audiologists and other professionals. Further services are offered to address any issues identified during the assessment, such as arranging for glasses, speech pathology sessions, and so on. This better prepares the child for school and minimises the disruption that these issues would otherwise cause if they are not addressed.
In addition to supporting children in developmental and academic ways, NCNS is committed to keeping families together and connected to culture by working within a child and family systems approach. Its education sessions, supported playgroups and other programs enable Indigenous families to stay connected and gain the best outcomes. For example, the Breakfast Club in Cranebrook was a partnership between NCNS and schools, where children with the poorest school attendance would be picked up and taken to eat breakfast before taking them to school. NCNS saw a vast improvement in attendance simply by addressing this practical need. All of this demonstrates the type of child and family systems approach that addresses the child’s needs early on and “in the context of the family, the family in the context of the community, and the community in the context of society at large” (Wise, de Silva, Webster & Sanson, 2005).
NCNS delivers other programs and events, many of which are guided by significant days. The 12th year of the organisation’s NAIDOC Cup is a sports gala day for Aboriginal children from the Penrith and St Marys areas. Activities include a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, netball and oz-tag, as well as a range of traditional and cultural games, dance, workshops, and other activities. The children attending also work with Aboriginal facilitators during these activities. NCNS has more programs and services that it offers for Indigenous clients and families, which can be found on the NCNS website.
Evidence in practice
Early intervention approaches and programs, especially those targeted at the early childhood stage, have been proven to be successful in assisting children experiencing disadvantage to enter school on a more equal footing with more advantaged children (Brooks-Gunn 2003; as cited in Wise, de Silva, Webster & Sanson, 2005).
Organisations working within child and family systems focus on addressing issues impacting the whole family, and keeping Indigenous children at home, in community or connected to community; this approach strengthens families and maintains ties to culture (AbSec, 2018).
Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec). (2018). Delivering Better Outcomes for Aboriginal Children and Families in NSW. Available from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sOE9kfWZKM0YDc3FBcj8DjMpSumePPPi/view
Toumbourou, J., Hartman, D., Field, K., Jeffery, R., Brady, J., Heaton, A., Ghayour-Minaie, M., & Heerde, J. (2017). Strengthening prevention and early intervention services for families into the future. Deakin University and FRSA. Available from https://web.archive.org/web/20180310211454/https://frsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/FRSA-Research-Report-Printable.pdf
Wise, S., da Silva, L., Webster, E., and Sanson, A. (2005). The efficacy of early childhood interventions, Australian Institute of Family Studies Research Report No. 14. Available from https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/publication-documents/aifsreport14_0.pdf