The Aboriginal Mothers in Prison Project: An Example of How Consultation Can Inform Research Practice

By Wilson, Mandy; Jones, Jocelyn et al. | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

The Aboriginal Mothers in Prison Project: An Example of How Consultation Can Inform Research Practice


Wilson, Mandy, Jones, Jocelyn, Gilles, Marisa, Australian Aboriginal Studies


Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (1) women comprise the fastest growing subgroup among the prisoner population and are severely over-represented in Australian prisons. Despite the striking over-representation, research into their health and other needs has, to date, been limited. This paper describes the consultation process undertaken in Western Australia for the Social and Cultural Resilience and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Mothers in Prison project (hereafter, the Aboriginal Mothers in Prison project). The project aims to better understand the health, treatment and other needs of Aboriginal mothers in prison in Western Australia and New South Wales, and was conducted over two phases, the consultation phase and the applied research phase. This paper focuses on the results of the first phase of the research. It outlines the history of the development of ethics in this field and reviews the formal documents available to guide researchers working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, tenets of which were infused throughout the research process. The paper then discusses how key stakeholders were identified in the area and provides an overview of the central findings from the consultation phase. In addition, the paper illustrates how being true to the consultation process and actively incorporating the feedback of diverse (and sometimes competing) stakeholders ensures the project acknowledges, respects and actions (where possible) the needs and concerns of the various agencies and individuals with investment in the issue.

The development of accountability in research with Aboriginal peoples and communities

There remain significant disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians across most social indicators. Aboriginal Australians experience the lowest standards of health, education, employment and housing, and are overrepresented in their contact with the criminal justice system (NIDAC 2009). Research has the potential to address the social determinants of health and improve the conditions in which Aboriginal Australians live. However, as Marmot (2011) highlights, the challenge is to apply the findings of research to the social determinants of health to enable Indigenous Australians to lead lives that they have reason to value.

Australia's peak health and medical research organisation, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), is responsible for funding research and setting standards for the conduct of ethical research in the health area. The need for accountability in Aboriginal health research was originally flagged in November 1986 at a national conference convened by the NHMRC and Menzies Foundation (National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party 1989). A resolution from this conference was for the NHMRC to fund a national workshop to address the 'contentious' issue of ethics in Aboriginal health research. It was contended that much research was being conducted in ways considered to be unethical. Subsequently, the national workshop was convened with the purpose of bringing together Aboriginal community representatives to produce a set of guidelines on the ethical responsibilities of researchers in Aboriginal health and to identify the mechanisms necessary to establish a nexus between the guidelines and the funding of research. The working party developed and recommended a set of national guidelines for Aboriginal health research to be adopted by researchers and research institutions (National Aboriginal Health Strategy Working Party 1989).

In 1991 the NHMRC published the Guidelines on ethical matters in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research (NHMRC 1991). These guidelines focused on the key areas of:

* community consultation

* community involvement

* ownership and publication of data.

It was intended that these guidelines should be dynamic and were to be reviewed every ten years by the NHMRC. …

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