Building The Blocks of Cultural Competency in Melbourne's North West





Partnerships between Aboriginal community controlled agencies and mainstream agencies promote capacity building across both partnering agencies. Aboriginal community organisations provide cultural expertise, community knowledge and community trust, while mainstream organisations may provide a greater variety of services and back office support. Services to Aboriginal people therefore are often most effective when provided in partnership between mainstream agencies and Aboriginal community agencies and where services are coordinated to ensure that the health needs of Aboriginal people are being addressed holistically. Good partnership models require clear transparent processes and a relationship that is built on mutual trust and integrity.


In accordance with best-practice principles provided by Onemda, programs targeting the Aboriginal community should be:

  • - inclusive of the historical, social and cultural context community owned and driven
  • - build on strengths to address community-identified priorities
  • - flexible allowing for innovation
  • - accountable to the Aboriginal community
  • - comprehensive with multiple strategies to address all the determinants of health
  • - sustainable in terms of funding, program and governance
  • - evidence-based with built-in monitoring and evaluation systems
  • - supports and sustains social, human and economic capital from a strengths-based perspective

For reasons of cultural safety many Aboriginal people prefer to access health services from Aboriginal community organisations, however some Aboriginal community members may choose to use mainstream services due to confidentiality concerns, or due to a lack of alternative options. When making referrals, where possible, Aboriginal people should be provided with choice of being referred to both a mainstream service provider or an Aboriginal community organisation.

Relationship building and engagement with Aboriginal community organisations can be initiated and enhanced through activities such as:

  • - inviting staff from an Aboriginal community organisation for a morning tea or lunch;
  • - participating in cultural activities such as NAIDOC week;
  • - supporting an Aboriginal organisation’s application for program funding;
  • - providing a presentation about your programs to staff at an Aboriginal organization;
  • - supporting staff from an Aboriginal agency to participate in workforce development opportunities;
  • - sponsoring an Aboriginal organisation’s cultural activities (such as contributing to a NAIDOC week celebration)

Relationship building is not a one off activity but requires sustained ongoing engagement and maintenance of relationships.

Be aware that Aboriginal community organizations receive numerous requests from mainstream services to participate in steering committees and reference groups and often have limited capacity. When providing cultural expertise for a mainstream project Aboriginal representatives should be remunerated for their time and contribution.


Title Koorie Coordinated Care Model
Author: Aborigines Advancement League (2017)
Type: Document

The Koori Coordinated Care project provides an Aboriginal partnership model which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Aboriginal people and families through stronger connections between clients and their support services, family, culture and community.

Title: Working and Walking Together: Supporting Family Relationship Services to Work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Families and Organisations
Author SNAIIC 2010
Type Publication

This handbook has been produced for all non-Indigenous family relationship service staff working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. The handbook includes information and practical advice that aims to support staff in strengthening their relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations. A range of topics are covered in the handbook, such as:

  • - communication skills;
  • - cultural protocols; and
  • - working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in culturally competent ways.


Title Opening Doors Through Partnerships: Practical Approaches to Developing Genuine Partnerships that Address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Needs
Author Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) (2012)
Type Publication

This paper explores how genuine and respectful partnerships between mainstream service providers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations (ACCOs) have multiple benefits including the development of cultural competence for mainstream service providers; governance and service capacity development for ACCOs; development of shared capacity to respond to community needs; and development of individual and community capacity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in areas including workforce and community leadership. To achieve these outcomes the paper identifies the need to unpack what a genuine partnership requires at different stages of the partnership development, operation and management; the resources and practical support that are required to enable effective partnerships; and the practices that contribute to ‘good practice’ partnerships between ACCOs and mainstream service providers.

Title Working Together to Build Capacity: A Report on the Evolution of the Koori Alcohol & Other Drug Diversion Worker Role at UnitingCare ReGen
Author Uniting Care, ReGen (2015)
Type Publication

This report reflects upon the challenges experienced by ReGen Uniting Care in retaining a Koori Alcohol and Drug Diversion Worker (KADDW), in an Aboriginal identified position over a nine year period, before developing a successful partnership model which provided for the Aboriginal worker to be co-located at an Aboriginal Community Controlled Agency. The report explored the challenges experienced up to this point and evaluates the factors contributing to the success of the project and to highlight possible approaches for the future.

Title Developing Capacity Through Partnerships: A Promising Model for Capacity Building Partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services and Non-Indigenous Services
Author Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC)
Type Publication

This Partnership model was developed in NSW to build the capacity of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to deliver Out of Home Care services for Aboriginal children. The model involved a partnership between an unaccredited ACCO and an accredited agency, with the primary aim of supporting the accreditation of the ACCO and the transfer of all placements assigned to the partnership once the ACCO is accredited. By partnering with the accredited agency, an unaccredited ACCO is able to develop and provide supporting programs, and also support placements in the short term, developing service expertise through supervised work on placements.

Title Engagement with Indigenous Communities in Key Sectors
Author Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Institute of Family Studies (2013)
Type Publication

This resource sheet examines the evidence of what is working (or not) in approaches to engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in some key sectors that are best represented in the literature on engagement. The paper reviews evidence from studies of Indigenous engagement in three sectors: early childhood services; environmental and natural resource management (NRM) activities; and health programs. These studies cover different levels of engagement from local engagement through to regional, state-wide and national engagement. The lessons from these sectors are consistent with those on regional engagement. The resource sheet also considers the research on international non-government organisations (NGOs) and their engagement with Indigenous communities and organisations in the areas of health, early childhood and financial literacy.

Title Aboriginal-Mainstream Partnerships: Exploring the Challenges and Enhancers of a Collaborative Service Arrangement for Aboriginal Clients with Substance Use Issues
Author BMC Health Services Research (2013)
Type Publication

Partnerships between different health services are integral to addressing the complex health needs of vulnerable populations. In Australia, partnerships between Aboriginal community controlled and mainstream services can extend health care options and improve the cultural safety of services. However, although government funding supports such collaborations, many factors can cause these arrangements to be tenuous, impacting the quality of health care received. Research was undertaken to explore the challenges and enhancers of a government initiated service partnership between an Aboriginal Community Controlled alcohol and drug service and three mainstream alcohol rehabilitation and support services.

Title How Effective Partnerships can Create a Better Future
Author Queen Elizabeth Centre (2015)
Type Publication

This report shares the learnings from an innovative Victorian program that has helped to reduce the risk of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being placed in out-of-home care and helped build stronger families. The ‘Bumps to Babes and Beyond’ program found that giving vulnerable mothers parenting education and support during pregnancy and during the first 18 months of their child’s life improved outcomes for children during the critical early years of life. The two year program, developed by Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC) in partnership with Mallee District Aboriginal Services (MDAS), has worked with 18 women and their families in Mildura. The program has been funded by the Victorian Health Department. The program success has been attributed to the genuine partnership between a local Aboriginal health provider and a mainstream organisation with expertise in supporting mothers and babies.

Title Making Two Worlds Work: Using a Health Promotion Framework with an ‘Aboriginal Lens’.
Author Mungabareena Aboriginal Corporation and Women’s Health Goulburn North East (2008)
Type Publication

This is a comprehensive planning and evaluation tool for specific health promotion initiatives with Aboriginal communities and as a prompt for all health promotion initiatives to ensure that they are incorporating the needs of local Aboriginal people. It was developed after a gap was identified in health promotion through an Aboriginal lens to support local health promotion practice. The publication includes examples of good practice in the local area to compliment the theory.

Title Partnership Audit Tool – Creating Change through Partnerships- Supporting and Sustaining Genuine Inter-agency Partnerships in Service Delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Families
Author SNAIIC (2014)
Type Publication

This audit tool has been created to support inter-agency partnerships in child and family service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. This publication provides a framework and tools for measuring progress towards achieving genuine partnership goals.

Title Working with Aboriginal People and Communities: A Practice Resource
Author NSW Department of Community Services 2009
Type Publication

This document provides important information to improve our knowledge and understanding of the diverse cultural dynamics that exist within Aboriginal families and communities. It suggests some engagement and communication strategies that will improve the way we work with and relate to Aboriginal people.