Strengthening a workforce: continuous education for EAL practitioners

Emerging international research suggests that among Aboriginal communities, the burden of chronic, unhealthy stress is not merely a matter of the access to doctors, hospitals, medicines or the absence of disease and incapacity but also linked to life experiences of racism, social, economic and cultural inequality and exclusion. These contributing to mental health issues, violence and substance abuse.

The evidence linking psychosocial stress to the development of chronic disease or the complication of its management is an area of research particularly relevant for Aboriginal population groups, who face constant stressors as a result of the structural disadvantages over multiple generations as a result of historical injustices. In addition to the causes and responses to stress, current literature also highlights the importance of coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and its impacts. A common indicator of chronic stress in a population group is high rates of high-risk health behaviour, notably substance abuse, incarcerations, and hospitalisations for assault or intentional self-harm.

Yawardani Jan-ga (horses doing healing) Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) Program is a direct response to community concerns over youth social and emotional wellbeing, and community requests for research programs that are strengths-based and focus on building healthy coping skills among Aboriginal youth. It is an Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) program that uses horses to engage Aboriginal young people in learning a variety of transferable life-skills (2), such as emotional awareness, self-regulation, and healthy boundaries. Yawardani Jan-ga builds on a previous WA-based Aboriginal-lead EAL intervention that targeted “at-risk” Aboriginal youth in the Midwest, ‘Nguudu Barndimanmanha’ (horses making good).

Yawardani Jan-ga’s goal is to improve the social and emotional skills and wellbeing of Aboriginal young people through the implementation of an equine-assisted intervention in multiple sites across the Kimberley.

For Yawardani Jan-ga, the opportunity to provide continuous training and support to novice EAL-practitioners, will ensure the development of a workforce of Aboriginal front-line workers capable of delivering major improvements in workforce capacity to impact positively on the social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of Aboriginal youth across the Kimberley and beyond.]

To deliver Yawardani Jan-ga in the Kimberley, EAL-sessions will be facilitated by certified Aboriginal EAL Practitioners, nominated by the communities in which they reside, ensuring delivery is culturally secure and appropriate to improve mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing of Aboriginal youth.

To assess progress within the program, EAL-practitioners must become familiar with positive and negative human-horse connections and interactions, requiring the development of critical observational skills to perceive a various factors, including the duration, frequency, and quality of particular behaviours of the young person, the horse, and the dyad.

This requires substantial exposure to different kinds of human-horse interactions as well as training (with constructive feedback). In addition, to date there are no validated tools that accurately capture the critical elements of how the child’s interaction with the horse aids the development of life-skills and how to monitor changes over the period of the intervention.

Working within the Yawaradani Jan-ga program, this project aims to:
1. Build workforce: Enhance EAL-skills among Aboriginal EAL-practitioners through review and feedback workshops
2. Build transferability: Develop common language to facilitate the systematic description and evaluation of qualitative aspects of the human-horse relationship.

  • Professor Juli Coffin

  • Dr Christopher Blyth

  • Telethon Kids Institute

  • 2020

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