Indigenous community safety programs examined

Two new papers released today on the Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website examine the role and effectiveness of programs promoting safety in Indigenous communities.

The causes of unsafe communities are multiple, interrelated and intergenerational. As such they require responses that prevent problems from developing, focus on 'at risk' individuals or groups, and tackle problems presented by 'unsafe' individuals or places. These programs also need to be responsive to the local context in which they are delivered.

The first paper released today, Programs to improve interpersonal safety in Indigenous communities: evidence and issues provides an overview of community safety programs and interventions delivered to Indigenous Australians.

These include programs to support families and prevent child abuse and neglect, mental health interventions, programs that help individuals to manage alcohol use and to develop workforce skills, and programs that divert known offenders from the criminal justice system.

While the paper found that there were limited data on the outcomes of community safety programs in Indigenous communities, there was a small range of community safety initiatives that had been rigorously evaluated and had shown positive outcomes.

For example, there was some evidence that early intervention for families can help prevent child abuse and neglect, mental health interventions can improve levels of social and emotional wellbeing, alcohol restrictions and alcohol management programs can help individuals to manage alcohol use, and diversion programs can keep known offenders from the criminal justice system.

The second paper, The role of community patrols in improving safety in Indigenous communities, summarises key evidence in support of community patrols in Indigenous communities.

The functions of community patrols can include: safe transport; dispute resolution and mediation; interventions to prevent self-harm, family violence, homelessness and substance misuse; and diversion from contact with the criminal justice system.

The paper found that there was some evidence that community patrols can substantially reduce the number of admissions to police lock-ups, reduce juvenile crime rates, and reduce alcohol-related harm and crime. They can also improve partnerships and cultural understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse (http://www.aihw.gov.au/closingthegap/) is jointly funded by all Australian governments and provides an online source of information on what works to close the gap in Indigenous disadvantage. It is delivered by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).

The Closing the Gap Clearinghouse website has recently been redeveloped to improve the website's content, navigation and search functionality.

Canberra, 8 July 2013

Further information on Programs to improve interpersonal safety in Indigenous communities: evidence and issues: Andrew Day, mob. 0403 064 239

Further information on The role of community patrols in improving safety in Indigenous communities: Fadwa Al-Yaman, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1146, mob. 0403 064 239