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Towards social sustainability: the case of the Family Wellbeing community empowerment education program

journal contribution
posted on 2018-08-20, 00:00 authored by Janya MccalmanJanya Mccalman, A McEwan, K Tsey, E Blackmore, Roxanne Bainbridge
Despite interest in the concept of social sustainability over the last twenty years, researchers have struggled to clearly define what it really means and to find ways to implement it in practice. This paper describes a practical example of how Alice Springs Aboriginal residents have taken steps to work towards social sustainability through a community empowerment education program. The paper is based on the findings from a synthesis of a phased series of papers and reports from evaluations of the Family Wellbeing (FWB) Program in Alice Springs since 1996, supplemented by interviews with key program facilitators and evaluators. The study found that by engaging Aboriginal participants in conversations within the context of their own stories, the FWB program has helped participants to understand their situation and experiences and to move from self blame, victimhood and poor self esteem towards a position of greater strength and control. Participants have also gained capacity at a collective level to identify their strengths and needs and to tackle issues for family, organisational and community improvement. Participants’ identified violence as a community priority and developed a vision for personal, family and community healing. At a personal level, FWB resulted in a range of empowerment outcomes including a reduced likelihood of reoffending, engagement in further study and finding employment. Organisational and community outcomes have included the founding of a healing centre and the further delivery of FWB to groups such as town camp residents, prisoners, alcohol rehabilitation clients and school students. The paper concludes that there is potential to embed such approaches within the core business of mainstream health, education and welfare services. Although our qualitative research to date suggests a range of benefits, these need to be demonstrated empirically through rigorous economic evaluation of FWB’s costs and benefits.


Category 4 - CRC Research Income






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Southern Cross University

Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

Open Access

  • No

Cultural Warning

This research output may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now deceased. We apologize for any distress that may occur.

External Author Affiliations

James Cook University

Era Eligible

  • Yes


Journal of Economic and Social Policy