Fitzroy Crossing is a small town four hours from Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia (WA), built along the Martuwarra Fitzroy River. It is on Bunuba Country and home to five language groups – Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Wangkatjunka, Walmajarri and Nyikina.
Children and families in the Kimberley do not have adequate access to consistent services and supports to help them address the complex issues they face. This has significant impact on health and wellbeing outcomes for children, families and the wider community.
The Marurra-U partnership, currently in its seventh year, is an inspiring relationship between Royal Far West (RFW) and Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre (MWRC). Integral to this is deep two-way learning, forming the basis of a unique collaboration. Marurra-U is a Bunuba word meaning ‘to embrace with love and care’. The partnership aims to wrap around and support children, families, schools and communities.
Marurra-U’s goal for remote Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy Valley is to have access to a connected system of supports that are strength-based, trauma-informed, grounded in local wisdom, culturally safe and focused on enabling children to develop the capabilities and skills they need to reach their full potential.
What have both organisations been privileged to learn? Collaboration increases impact. The RFW team are guided by the MWRC team who know the community and context, playing a vital role in connecting the team to families, schools, stakeholders and services. Two-way learning means the RFW and MWRC teams constantly learn from each other. The Marurra-U partnership leverages lived experience, community knowledge and child-development expertise to design and deliver a combination of therapeutic services to children and capacity-building services for the adults around them.
Services are delivered in person, in community and via telehealth. The in-person work is an essential element that fortifies relationships and two-way learning, increasing the effectiveness of the telehealth services. Telehealth delivery is also a fundamental element, enabling communities access to consistent, frequent allied health services.
Technology adds value to our work and, when we are not on the ground, means we are still able to provide supports and grow knowledge through capacity building. During COVID-19, RFW was the only stable provider that continued delivering therapy and capacity-building services to the region. We are also able to continue services during the wet season, which many other providers cannot do.
Emily Carter, Chief Executive Officer at MWRC, saw what was possible in terms of access to services, using face-to-face intensive therapeutic services combined with telecare to reach children in remote areas. She has been committed ever since to work with RFW and show the Fitzroy Valley communities and families ‘what good looks like’, commenting, ‘Never have we seen this level of integrated supports that are so responsive to community need and demonstrate what is possible, if we think and work differently.’
Jacqueline Emery, Chief Executive Officer at RFW, says: ‘Growing the capacity of parents, carers, educators, health and other professionals is an important part of our work that fortifies child therapy outcomes. It has positive impacts on parent and carer wellbeing, and education and health workforce sustainability, as well as extending our impact.’
The partnership works with local services to ensure gaps are filled, being careful not to replace or duplicate services that already exist. Local organisations that Marurra-U have worked with include WA Country Health Service (WACHS), Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services (KAMS) and the WA Department of Communities.
The Marurra-U team recently travelled to Yiyili community (located six hours inland from Broome, two hours further than Fitzroy Crossing), where the community navigator from MWRC and a speech pathologist, social worker and occupational therapist from RFW were able to reconnect with teachers and students they support through telecare at Yiyili Aboriginal Community School.
One school principal, whose staff access professional learning and coaching through the partnership said, ‘This is the best professional development our team has ever done.’ A child from the same school told their teacher, ‘[Teacher], you and the other teachers aren’t angry anymore!’ We think this is real impact.