Anita D'Aprano on Why Community Engagement Matters

Somewhere inside any house with a small child or three, there’s usually a blue (or purple, perhaps) binder on a shelf thick with data on milestones and progress. That binder is the tangible outcome of several screening tools and measures that have been the mainstay of routine child health checks for decades.

But for many Aboriginal families, at least some of this context is often missing. Health services have found themselves in a bind: using mainstream tools that don’t take into account culturally specific features of growing up Aboriginal risks creating a distorted picture of a child’s ability, potential and development. This can have ripple effects throughout a child’s formative years and beyond. Yet not having reliable instruments means crucial windows for early intervention can be missed.

Anita D'Aprano
Dr Anita D’Aprano

In close consultation with Aboriginal communities, Dr Anita D’Aprano is changing this. Anita (Department of Paediatrics) has just secured MRFF funding to develop, validate and evaluate ASQ-STEPS, the first culturally appropriate developmental outcome measure for Aboriginal children.

Developing tools that are fit for purpose

Anita told the August MMS MRFF Research Success webinar that culturally safe and culturally competent care depends on sensitive, rigorous adaptation of mainstream tools for use in Aboriginal contexts.  “Tools that are adopted for other purposes are stretched and used for purposes they’re not designed for. ASQ-STEPS will hopefully fill that gap”.

Anita and her team spent two years developing the instrument, which is derived from the US ASQ-3 tool.  It assesses how Aboriginal children are developing – how they talk, play, learn and think, and whether early childhood programs are effective at helping them learn and develop.

ASQ-STEPS builds on Anita’s earlier work leading the development of ASQ-TRAK, a screening tool that identifies whether children are at risk of developmental problems and need support. And indeed, part of the grant will be used to refine elements of the ASQ-TRAK, which has now been been rolled out nationally in Aboriginal settings.

Anita’s grant will cover testing ASQ-STEPS in urban, regional and remote Aboriginal contexts, and after that, evaluating the feasibility and cost of rolling it out. For now, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates interstate travel, but Anita is exploring ways to work alongside communities on design, implementation and research translation.

Community endorsement matters

Anita told the webinar that strong community and government engagement was the key to securing the MRFF grant. “We have a range of stakeholders in terms of Aboriginal community-controlled health services, peak bodies, government. The Northern Territory Government was willing to fund the initial phase (of creating a prototype), which strengthened the MRFF application.

“Most importantly, our Indigenous reference group means that those different groups were able to endorse the research officially, and that strengthens the relationship. It demonstrates that the study is feasible and is a priority for the community, and translation is more likely because there is such strong engagement.”

You can see Anita’s presentation in the Celebrating MRFF Success webinar here
Access Passcode: Wzxk4q1+ 

Follow Anita on twitter @Anita_Daprano