It is well acknowledged that local Aboriginal communities require more youth-specific, culturally-appropriate preventative and early intervention services. The beauty of Yawardani Jan-ga is that it caters for leadership and trauma-informed responses for Aboriginal young people by Aboriginal people in the lead.
The Yawardani Jan-ga project is where horses take the reins in the healing process in an innovative early intervention program that harnesses the power of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) to promote the social and emotional well-being (SEWB) of Aboriginal children and young people residing in the Kimberley region.
This research project would not be possible without the support of our sponsors.
As outlined in the proposal this research Led by CIA Coffin, Yawardani Jan-ga has been developed and will be delivered by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people. Through our participatory research approach, local community members will be active contributors to the adaptation, implementation, and evaluation processes planned, and ensure Aboriginal values, practices and worldviews remain at the core of Yawardani Jan-ga. In addition, participation of community at different stages of the project, will ensure information and resources generated from Yawardani Jan-ga, are disseminated in culturally appropriate and accessible ways.
The team will work directly with community members and groups to analyse and interpret data to guide the future direction of Yawardani Jan-ga with the aim of strengthening the intercultural research processes in the implementation, adaptation, and evaluation of Yawardani Jan-ga. Local Advisory groups made up of Elders, youth, and parents/carers will be established in the communities in which we work. These relationships will also hold the Yawardani Jan-ga team accountable to the communities in which we work, ensuring the model of EAL implemented in each setting is tailored to the specific needs of local Aboriginal youth. Through this continuous and sustained community involvement, local community members, particularly young people, will not just be well-informed of progress, challenges, and findings. Most significantly, they will also be mobilised and empowered to advocate for culturally appropriate ways to meet the needs and realities of young people in each community. To date, CIA Coffin has undertaken considerable and sustained community consultation and engagement to gauge community need and support for the EAL intervention. Consultations with stakeholders across the Kimberley, traditional owner groups, and community members have resulted in overwhelming support for Yawardani Jan-ga, including support from Native Title Prescribed Body Corporate, Nyamba Buru Yawuru, and other local Aboriginal organisations and associations in Broome and Derby.
From an Aboriginal perspective, Yawardani Jan-ga approaches youth mental health from a holistic cultural perspective, building skills through experiential learning that help youth establish a strong connection to self, community, and country. From a neurophysiological perspective, trauma experienced early in life affects the brain’s physical structure and function, changing brain chemistry and functionality . In adolescence, this often manifests as a heightened stress response and hyper-reactivity that can mean even minor challenges result in major activation leading to significant problems in school, at home and in social situations. Over time, children and youth disengage from school and social connections. At its most extreme, this impulsivity can lead to suicide or self-harm and substance abuse in an effort to self-soothe.
While all youth need to develop cognitive and behavioural skills to manage their social relationships, school, work and outside interests, for Aboriginal youth from complex family environments – often a legacy of intergenerational trauma – violence and distress become normalised reactions. Childhood and adolescence provides a unique window of opportunity to create new pathways and rewire brain patterning, however, medical-based interventions struggle to engage Aboriginal young people. EAL is an innovative non-riding experiential learning approach that uses horses to promote the development of a sequential series of life-skills. Consisting of a minimum of 10 facilitator-led sessions, the learning experience focuses on the non-verbal communication or biofeedback from the horse as a teaching modality for cognitive and behavioural change. Participants learn self-awareness, confidence, self-regulation and pro-social skills. Studies show that over time participants re-engage with school/ vocational opportunities, reduce risk taking behaviours and increase positive relationships with family and others. In this way, Yawardani Jan-ga begins to address individual modifiable factors linked to continuing cycles of disadvantage, social exclusion, and suicide.
The aim of critically documenting and evaluating different aspects of the adaptation and implementation of the Yawardani Jan-ga program is to document processes, activities, leadership, and staffing patterns that emerge over the life of the project. These evaluation will give us a thorough understanding of the strategies and processes that have worked well, as well as those that have not proven to be productive or helpful to develop an Aboriginal specific model of EAL. Gaining a thorough understanding of the consequences of our implementation and adaptation approaches, will generate local knowledge and capacity of common dynamics and strategies (e.g. processes, decisions, and collaborations) that can be generalised across contexts facing similar challenges with youth. This is particularly applicable to Yawardani Jan-ga because although the initial focus will be on implementation and adaptation of the EAL-intervention, over time the focus will shift to sustainability and expansion to other Regions in WA. Structured around or built into Yawardani Jan-ga are facets of income generation, including the training of Aboriginal youths to gain horse mastership and rodeo skills, the sale of horses to generate income and the development of horse-related tourism, which can be led by participants who have been trained during the EAL program. This engagement on an enterprise level is envisaged to provide employment for multiple people across the life of this project, but importantly also equip them with knowledge and skills that they can draw on to gain future through exploring social enterprise models.
Our focus on developing a workforce of Aboriginal front-line workers across the Kimberley will deliver major improvements in workforce capacity to impact positively on the social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of Aboriginal youth. Yawardani Jan-ga will provide further training opportunities and encourage continuous learning throughout the life of the project, including the opportunity to achieve higher certification in EAL practice as well as develop their research skills. Importantly, the program will also build the capacity of Aboriginal researchers through formal university channels. Through upskilling local Aboriginal people in research skills, we understand that we are tapping into professional skills-sets, family connections, and community dynamics that will be critical in brokering relationships between researchers and community members to enable effective communication of research processes and findings.
There is a well-known unmet need for culturally-appropriate, youth-focused prevention and early intervention services designed and implemented by local Aboriginal people. Most recently, this need was reinforced in the 2019 Inquest into the deaths of Thirteen children and young persons in the Kimberley Region of WA . The report concluded that the underlying conditions, life-events, and behaviours of the young people reflected the impact of intergenerational trauma and poverty in communities. The recommendations urged government agencies and services to recognise the importance of culture and inclusivity towards cultural healing for children, young people, and communities, and adopt a more collective and inclusive approach in the development and implementation of programs targeting youth mental health in the Kimberley . The Yawardani Jan-ga project (Horses doing Healing) responds to this challenge. It proposes the implementation of an early intervention strengths-based equine-assisted learning (EAL) program for Aboriginal children and young people living across the Kimberley, with the aim to increase their social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB). TKI is uniquely placed in the Kimberley, and is strongly committed to delivering this intervention-based research project.
In in recognition of the importance of being led by an understanding of what social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing means in an Aboriginal world, our co-design approach seeks to draw from local youth their perspectives on the expressions, experiences, manifestations and consequences of emotional distress in the communities in which they live through a process of consultation with youth feedback groups, local services, and researchers. The instrument (s) and resources emerging from this project have the potential to be used in evaluating similar outcomes using non-medical interventions or ‘alternative’ interventions, and other settings such as schools, and primary healthcare. Led on site by Professor Juli Coffin, the project will work directly with community members to analyse and interpret data to guide the development of the SEWB Tool.