Our Research

Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future is a community-based participatory research project which aims to co-design, develop and implement perinatal awareness, recognition, assessment and support strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Aboriginal) parents experiencing complex trauma. Learn more about complex trauma here and by watching the video below.

Note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander viewers should be aware that this video may contain images, voices and names of people who have passed away.

The Healing the past by Nurturing the Future project has been funded into two phases:

  1. Building strong Foundations (Lowitja Institute 2018) and co-design (NHMRC 2018-2022 )
  2. Program development (Ian Potter Foundation 2021-2023), implementation and evaluation (Medical Research Future Fund 2021-2025 )


Our project aims to:

  1. Assess and implement the acceptability, validity, safety and feasibility of recognizing and assessing Aboriginal parents during the perinatal period (from pregnancy to two years after birth) to identify those experiencing complex trauma.
  2. Develop and implement acceptable, safe and feasible awareness and support strategies during the perinatal period to support Aboriginal parents experiencing complex trauma.


The goal is to promote healing for the parent and prevent inter-generational transmission of trauma to the child.


We expect positive outcomes of the project to include:

  • identifying relevant services and key stakeholders and forming a ‘community of practice’
  • developing protocols to create a culturally and emotionally safe research environment for staff and parents who have experienced complex trauma
  • using research findings to identify evidence gaps
  • developing safe, acceptable and valid perinatal strategies for recognising and assessing complex trauma among Aboriginal parents
  • developing safe, acceptable and feasible perinatal strategies for increasing awareness among perinatal care providers (trauma-informed care) and support for Aboriginal parents
  • building the capacity and skills of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

Why is this project needed?

Becoming a parent is exciting but it can be hard. Particularly for parents who have experienced difficulties in their own childhood, which can have long lasting effects on physical, social and emotional wellbeing. The effects may be ‘triggered’ during pregnancy and the transition to becoming a parent, causing distress and challenges for creating a nurturing environment for the new baby. On the flip side, growing research shows that becoming a parent offers a unique life-time opportunity to heal from this childhood hurt and provide a nurturing environment for children.

Yet, despite these opportunities for healing and the risk of triggering due to the intimate nature of perinatal care - particularly during frequent contacts with health care providers during pregnancy and the first two years after the baby’s birth - there are currently no systematic perinatal strategies for supporting parents who may be experiencing complex childhood trauma.

Image credit: 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.

Image credit: 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.