Families as First Teachers: data synthesis informing program development

The Families as First Teachers program was developed by Indigenous community and education leaders in North Queensland in 2005. This was an acknowledgement that the early years of a child’s life are critical to learning and that families are children’s first teachers.

The program provides parenting and family support and helps families in the following ways:

  • build knowledge of child development and early learning
  • build awareness of health hygiene and nutrition.

In 2008 the Northern Territory (NT) Government introduced the program into 21 remote Indigenous communities to build partnerships with schools and families to improve developmental outcomes for children.

On the strength of Parenting Research Centre expertise in data synthesis, the NT Government engaged us in 2011 to review the evidence about the health, development and wellbeing of children where the Families as First Teachers program was being delivered.

Our analysis identified strengths and gaps in the health and development of young children in these remote communities. In general, children in these communities show poorer physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and school-based cognitive skills, communication skills and general knowledge than other Australian children.

However, despite a poverty of resources and services, many Indigenous children living in remote areas also experience conditions that promote development and resilience. For example:

  • over 85% of Indigenous babies in remote communities in NT are breastfed
  • many Indigenous children experience a strong connection to culture and family through their involvement with cultural events, languages and groups.

Our report has helped inform content development in the Northern Territory, not just for this program, but for other programs aimed at supporting the development of children in these communities.

Funded by the Northern Territory Government Department of Education and Training.