Department working side by side with services to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s learning development

2022 has been a year of growth and collaboration for the Aboriginal Families as Teachers (AFaT) program, with two new providers delivering services in the Murray and Richmond Tweed regions.

Image: Samantha Jones, Tanika Harris (Senior Aboriginal Policy and Strategy Implementation Officer, Department of Education), Kelly-Marie Hickey, Robert Salt (Senior Aboriginal Policy and Strategy Implementation Officer, Department of Education), and Karen Edwards.

The AFaT program focuses on families with children aged 0-5 and uses strengths-based approaches, centring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and ways of being to ensure it is culturally appropriate.

The program has expanded over the past year – there are now 10 AFaT providers operating in 30 locations across the state and over 1,000 families and 2,000 children have been engaged.

Each provider is unique, offering home visits, playgroups and resources that reflect the diversity of their communities, languages, and cultures.

Senior Aboriginal Policy Officer Tanika Harris came on board in early 2022 to manage the AFaT program in the Department of Education, with a focus on strengthening the partnership between the department, AFaT providers, and local early childhood and care services.

“Probably the biggest changes I’ve seen in 2022 have been around the relationship between the department and AFaT providers,” shared Tanika.

“The providers know that the department is here to support them in working side by side with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.”

An AFaT Network for providers has been established and now meets monthly, and the first AFaT Convene was held in October. All AFaT providers came together in Newcastle for a two-day interactive forum of learning, open discussion and collaborative practice, where attendees could share in a culturally safe and accessible environment.

Each session was planned using collaborative discussions to ensure a co-designed approach and guest speakers included Catherine Trindall, NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group President, and representatives from the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, University of Newcastle, Ministry of Health, and Sounds, Words, Aboriginal Language and Yarning.

Central to the convene was the opportunity for all attendees to connect, yarn and create trusting relationships that will empower them with the skills and resources to support Aboriginal families and their children’s learning and development.

Tanika has engaged in numerous community consultation visits on Yuin, Wiradjuri and Barkindji country alongside Robert Salt, Senior Aboriginal Policy Strategy and Implementation Manager at the department, meeting with providers to establish connection and trust and find out how families are benefiting from AFaT.

“Families are becoming empowered to step forward with the knowledge that they are their child's first teacher, and that culture is central to the holistic development of their child," Tanika said.

“Providers are supporting their growth in confidence and parents are making informed decisions in their child's developmental pathways.”

On the horizon for 2023 is to continue to grow the AFaT program and develop new mechanisms for providers to collaborate and share their learnings, and to create partnerships with more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations across NSW.

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