Family, kinship and community

Family, kinship and community are central to a holistic understanding of the social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [42770] [43078] [29064].

Family and kinship

Within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander models of SEWB, family and kinship are very important relational domains, and kinship is one of the principles that guides the current national SEWB framework [33834] [32777] [28917].

Kinship systems provide each person with a defined role (based on age, gender, and other factors), and serve to link people via duties of care [35856]. Children are attached to and cared for by many adults, including grandparents, aunties, uncles and older siblings [29064] [28917]. Elders are respected [32777] [42770].

While the kinship system was more prevalent in traditional pre-colonised society, family and kinship networks remain an important part of the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [29064].

The disruption of family life is therefore a risk factor for poor SEWB [42770] [33834]. Historical disruptions to family life under past government policies included the removal of children and the deliberate fragmentation of kinship systems [29064]. Current disruptions include the experience of family violence, child abuse and neglect, the absence of family members, and children in out-of-home care [42770] [33834].

A strong and healthy connection to family is a protective factor for SEWB [42770] [33834].  Connection – when it has been disrupted – can be restored by spending time with Elders, developing healthy relationships, connecting with family history and participating in parenting and family programs [42770]. The current national SEWB framework advocates for a number of specific actions to strengthen and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families [33834].


For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, knowing and being part of particular Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities is an important part of identity [28916].

As well as being important to identity, communities can be sources of support and resilience, and this support can enhance and promote an individual’s SEWB [33834]. Both the current SEWB framework and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander models of SEWB on which it is based identify connection to community as important to a person’s wellbeing [33834] [28917] [32777].

Conversely, disrupted connection to community is identified as a risk factor for poor SEWB [42770] [33834]. Events or experiences that can disrupt a person’s connection with their community include isolation, lateral violence, substance use and family feuding.

Communities that are empowered and cohesive are best able to support the SEWB of individuals and families [17840] [33834] [29065]. Self-determination, community control, cultural revitalisation and community healing have been identified as crucial strategies for empowering and strengthening communities [42770] [33834] [29065] [29074].


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