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Jennifer Lorains

Year of Award: 2015 Award State: Northern Territory Education > Early Childhood
The Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship to understand effective ways to use early childhood data with Indigenous communities - Canada, USA, UK

About the Fellowship

The factors that influence children’s early development are so interwoven that a common language and understanding between families, services, governments and communities is required to improve outcomes for children. A shared language should include an understanding of what data tells us about how children are developing to identify strengths and vulnerabilities for children, their families and communities. For many, data is not an exciting topic - but it’s an important one – so I sought to gain a greater understanding about effective ways to use early childhood data with Indigenous communities.

Findings and observations

My Fellowship identified promising practices for working with Indigenous communities to engage with and respond to data about their children’s development. However, it was clear that the action of using data with communities is the tip of an ice-berg. Beneath the surface there are factors such as relationships, processes and systems that act as enablers to effectively using early childhood data with communities. People described the importance of engaging in ways that afford Indigenous people and communities the respect and time required for meaningful participation. Respectful relationships, culturally relevant data and responsive government, research and service systems were identified as important enablers to using early childhood data with Indigenous communities, rather than only for them.


Conclusions drawn from my Fellowship findings identify the importance of meaningful engagement with communities, which is enabled by collaborative approaches with communities and systemically between policy makers, researchers and service providers. An important conclusion was also that implementation matters. It is unlikely that our evidence-based policies and programs will have the desired impact if effective implementation is not funded and supported appropriately. For Australia, considering how our programs, services and systems help or hinder our approaches to working with Indigenous communities is important. We may need to rethink some funding and operational models to ensure we establish important systemic enablers to effectively engaging Indigenous communities in using data and driving positive early childhood development. Gathering theoretical and practical learnings from different disciplines and countries has helped me to understand how we improve the ways we communicate and use early childhood data with Indigenous communities.

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