Looking to the future: aspirations of women with young children

  • Figure 1 Circular diagram with text Hopes for children, Satisfying basic needs, Hopes for family, Develop self.
    Figure 1: Immediate, mid- and long-term goals
  • Illustration with text What helps? What I want, What's stopping me? Steps to get there Name: Date:
    Pathway to Dreams
  • Young child wearing adult shoes
Alexandra Gregory, Danielle Aquino, Kayli Wild and Gary Robinson
MECSH Evaluation,
Centre for Child Development and Education,
Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University

Aboriginal women raising young children in remote communities are hopeful for their own and their children’s futures.

Since 2019, three Northern Territory Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services have implemented Maternal and Early Childhood Sustained Home-visiting (MECSH). From pregnancy to baby’s third birthday, women in the program are supported by a nurse and other support workers. A core element of the program is promoting aspirational thinking and supporting women to achieve their goals.

As part of the MECSH evaluation, we explored how women talked about their hopes for the future and how practitioners were engaging women in these conversations. In 2022-2023 we interviewed 92 women and 11 practitioners in the program.

We found that while many nurses talked with women about their children and provided practical support, some struggled with goal setting and felt ill equipped to implement that part of the program with the resources available. The original discussion tools, for example, had only words and no pictures. Several nurses found it challenging to move toward longer-term life goals with families, as the urgency of supporting women’s immediate needs often took precedence.

When we spoke with women in the program, they identified many goals, which fell into four broad categories, and spanned immediate, mid- and long-term hopes for the future (Figure 1).

  1. Self-Development – Getting a job was valued, and could provide purpose, activity, and financial independence.
  • Find work
  • Stop drinking and smoking
  • Open a business
  • School / study
  • Exercise
  1. Hopes for Children – The future was bright for children with cultural and school education leading to opportunities. Positive role models, reciprocity and care were highlighted, so when kids grow up, they will look after others.
  • School everyday
  • Graduate
  • Culture, ceremony, ancestors’ story
  • Get a job
  • Take care of family
  • Travel
  • Be anything they want
  1. Hopes for Family – Long-term and broad hopes were important, particularly happiness and health, good communities, and supportive family.
  • Happy, healthy, strong
  • Be together
  • Go holidays
  • Be independent
  • Have lots of help
  • Culture, hunting, bush foods
  • Saving money
  • Move
  1. Satisfying Basic Needs - Emphasis was placed on immediate concerns of housing insecurity and safe environments for the family.
  • Own house, own space
  • Live close to school, clinic and shop
  • Have a car
  • Clean house
  • Stay away from violence, gunja and alcohol people

These findings have implications for ways forward in supporting women and families to achieve their goals. Addressing basic needs first contributes to immediate safety for women and children. When nurses demonstrate themselves as helpful in supporting women’s needs and priorities, this is crucial to developing trust. When women trust their nurses, deeper and more personal hopes for the future can emerge, which speak more to women’s values. Values and far-off hopes can be used as anchoring points in conversations about strengths and small steps that can be put in place to create the future women hope for.

Contextually relevant tools that clients and practitioners can use as a framework for these deeper conversations are needed. Set for release in 2024, in collaboration we have developed a new goal setting discussion tool. The Pathway to Dreams prioritizes visual appeal, appropriate language and strengths-based exploration, without ignoring current difficulties. By embedding women’s priorities into program delivery, MECSH nurses can better understand how to walk beside women, encourage them to keep moving forward when there are setbacks, and cheer every step forward towards their dreams.

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