About the project

Becoming a parent offers a unique opportunity to heal from childhood hurts.

The Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future project is developing perinatal awareness, recognition, assessment and support strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents experiencing complex childhood trauma.

While there are no systemic perinatal strategies for supporting parents who may be experiencing complex childhood trauma, the frequent contacts with health care providers during pregnancy and the first two years after the baby’s birth offer a unique opportunity to support new parents on their healing journey, and interrupt the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

This project’s goal is to promote healing for the parent and prevent inter-generational transmission of trauma to the child. It will be undertaken in two phases, co-design1 and implementation2 which are indicated throughout with a 1 or 2.

The project will:

  • Assess and implement the acceptability, validity, safety and feasibility of recognizing and assessing Aboriginal parents during the perinatal period to identify those experiencing complex trauma.
  • Develop and implement acceptable, safe and feasible awareness and support strategies during the perinatal period to support Aboriginal parents experiencing complex trauma.

Purpose and benefits

It’s common for people who have experienced complex trauma in their own childhood to face challenges when creating a nurturing environment for the new baby. Childhood difficulties can have long lasting effects on a person’s physical, social and emotional wellbeing.

These effects can be ‘triggered’ during pregnancy and/or the transition to becoming a parent, due to the intimate nature of perinatal care. We want to interrupt this cycle with acceptable, feasible and effective perinatal strategies. The project is expected to have many positive outcomes, including:

  • identify relevant services and key stakeholders to form a ‘community of practice’
  • develop protocols to create a culturally and emotionally safe research environment for staff and parents who have experienced complex trauma
  • use research findings to identify evidence gaps
  • develop safe, acceptable and valid perinatal strategies for recognising and assessing complex trauma among Aboriginal parents
  • develop safe, acceptable and feasible strategies to increase awareness of trauma-informed care and support for Aboriginal parents among perinatal care providers
  • build the capacity and skills of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers


We greatly appreciate the funding provided by the following organisations.

Phase one

  • Lowitja Institute CRC (2018) - Building strong Foundations
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC GNT 114159) (2018-2022) - Co-design

Phase two

  • Ian Potter Foundation (2021-2023) – Program development
  • Medical Research Future Fund (2021-2025) – Implementation and evaluation

Collaborations and community engagement

We are grateful to the peak bodies in South Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria who provided letters of support for this project:

The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation is a critical friend of this project.

We have established collaborative agreements with community controlled health organisations and services in each jurisdiction including:

Formal and informal collaborations were established with:


This collaborative research involves investigators from many universities and health services organisations, including:

About the artwork

Songs of Strength
Ink on paper, 2018, Shawana Andrews

A father, mother and child wearing possum skin cloaks and looking to the ancestors and past generations. The parents are connected with a songline which gives them strength. The stones below represent a strong foundation and the stitching on the cloaks represent the relational connectedness of Aboriginal people and worldview.

Cultures Child
Ink on paper, 2018, Shawana Andrews

A father, mother and child wearing possum skin cloaks sitting by a myrnong daisy, the father holds the stem and looks to the daisy as it holds history and knowledge of the ancestors, this gives him strength.

The mother holds a newborn and rests against the stem, it supports her.  Mother and father are on different sides of the stem representing their different paths and roles in caring and nurturing for children. The daisy is in flower but also has a new bud and speaks of future generations and continuity.

The stones below represent a strong foundation of many generations and the stitching on the cloaks represent the relational connectedness of Aboriginal people and worldview. The mother's hair blows in the wind, representing change.