La Trobe study addresses inter-generational trauma, supports parents
The Sector > Quality > In The Field > La Trobe study addresses inter-generational trauma, supports parents

La Trobe study addresses inter-generational trauma, supports parents

by Freya Lucas

January 08, 2020

A major study led by researchers at La Trobe University has identified key themes that will be used to inform strategies to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents in the first years of their children’s lives.


The Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project aims to break the cycle of intergenerational and complex trauma experienced by First Nations people using strategies which are created with parents through co-design. 



Co-design is increasingly being used by both government and the community sector to describe a range of activities and processes used in the design of services and products that involve people who use or are affected by that service or product. 


More than 20,000 scholarly articles were reviewed by an international research team, with the findings used to build a comprehensive understanding of pregnancy and birth for parents who have experienced trauma in their own childhood.


The study identified seven themes, derived from studying interviews with more than 350 parents who experienced trauma as children, and relate to parents’ experiences during pregnancy, birth and the first few weeks after birth.


The seven themes are:


  • New beginnings: becoming a parent is an opportunity for ‘a fresh start’, to put the past behind them and move forward with hope for the future to create a new life for themselves and their child.
  • Changing roles and identities: becoming a parent is a major life transition, influenced by perceptions of the parenting role.
  • Feeling connected: the quality of relationships with self, baby and others has major impacts on the experiences of becoming a parent.
  • Compassionate care: kindness, empathy and sensitivity enables parents to build trust and feel valued and cared for.
  • Empowerment: control, choice and ‘having a voice’ are critical to fostering safety.
  • Creating safety: parents perceive the ‘world as unsafe’ and use conscious strategies to build safe places and relationships to protect themselves and their baby.
  • ‘Reweaving’ a future: managing distress and healing while becoming a parent is a personal ongoing and complex process requiring strength, hope and support.


Catherine Chamberlain, an Associate Professor who participated in the research, said the findings were “critical for informing discussions with Aboriginal parents and communities to create a strong foundation for work to heal complex trauma”.


“This gives us a thorough and deep understanding needed to help co-design support strategies with communities to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their babies,” she added.


The themes have been shared in discussions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents and community members to see if any are relevant, the Associate Professor said. In doing so First Nations parents come to understand these experiences are shared, even in other countries.


“The next stage of our Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project will use these themes to examine what support strategies have been evaluated in research. We will look at whether this research reflects what support parents say they want and what they feel works,” Associate Professor Chamberlain said. 


For more information about the research, please see the research teams website, here

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