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1.13 Community functioning

Why is it important?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have long sought health outcomes encompassing the physical, social, cultural and emotional elements of life. This includes the ability to live proudly and freely as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (OATSIH 2004). Functioning is about the things people achieve or experience, consistent with their account of wellbeing, varying from 'being adequately nourished and being free from avoidable disease, to very complex activities or personal states, such as being able to take part in the life of the community and having self- respect' (Sen 1999:75). The conversion of capabilities into functioning is influenced by the values and personal features of individuals, families and communities and by the social and cultural environment in which they live. Different cultures give greater or lesser priority to different types of functioning (Sen 1999).

To develop a picture of family and community functioning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' perspectives, workshops drawing together participants from across Australia were held in 2008 and 2010. Participants at the workshops described the various elements of family and community life essential for high levels of functioning. The workshops identified a number of key themes and weighted these functionings according to their relative value. In 2010, six themes were identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants and these have been used to analyse and present available data. Participants were drawn from a number of jurisdictions and settings so the themes they identified appear to reflect widely held views among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Independently of these workshops, a review of relevant research has supported the association between the functionings identified by the workshops and the achievement of health and wellbeing.

While community functioning is a strengths-based measure, analysis of the institutional, interpersonal and internalised elements of racial discrimination suggest this factor deters and undermines community functioning and increases ill-health (Cunningham et al. 2013). In 2008, more than a quarter (27%) of Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over reported being treated unfairly in the last 12 months because they were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. These estimates are conservative, with research specialising in racial discrimination reporting 97% of Indigenous Australians in the sample experiencing racism (Kelaher et al. 2014). See measure 3.08 for analysis of cultural competency in the health system.

Findings

Outlined below is a description of each of the six themes and the key findings for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, using data from the 2008 Social Survey.

Connectedness to country, land, and history; culture and identity

  • Being connected to country, land, family and spirit
  • Strong and positive social networks with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Strong sense of identity and being part of a collective
  • Sharing; giving and receiving; trust; love; looking out for others

Based on the 2012–13 Health Survey, 83% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults reported feeling proud of who they are. Three-quarters reported that they get the emotional support and help they need from their family (75%) and that their family really tries to help them (76%). Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • 72% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over recognised their homelands.
  • 62% identified with a clan or language group, up from 54% in 2002.
  • 89% 'feel able to have a say with family and friends' some, most, or all or the time. This is associated with excellent or very good self-assessed health status and low to moderate levels of psychological distress.
  • 63% had attended a cultural event in the last 12 months.

Resilience

  • Coping with the internal and external world
  • Power to control options and choices
  • Ability to proceed in public without shame
  • Optimising what you have
  • Challenge injustice and racism, stand up when required
  • Cope well with difference, flexibility, accommodating
  • Ability to walk in two worlds
  • Engaged in decision-making
  • External social contacts

Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • 69% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over reported that they did not avoid situations due to past discrimination.
  • 80% agreed that their doctor could be trusted and 69% agreed that the local school could be trusted.
  • 89% felt they were able to find general support from outside the household
  • 54% in non-remote areas knew someone in an organisation they would feel comfortable contacting.

Leadership

  • Strong elders in family and community, both male and female
  • Role models, both male and female
  • Strong direction, vision
  • The 'rock', someone who has time to listen and advise

Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • 42% of children aged 3–14 years had spent time with an Indigenous leader or Elder in the last week. In remote areas this increased to 63%.

Additional data items that describe values of leadership would be useful in future social surveys.

Having a role, structure and routine

  • Having a role for self: participation, contributing through paid and unpaid roles
  • Capabilities and skills derived through social structures and experience through non-formal education
  • Knowing boundaries and acceptable behaviours
  • Sense of place—knowing your place in family and society
  • Being valued and acknowledged
  • Disciplined

Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • 78% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had lived in only one dwelling in the last 12 months. This was associated with low to moderate levels of psychological distress and being employed.
  • 73% were in households that had not experienced cash flow problems in the last 12 months.
  • 86% were in households in which there had been no days without money for basic living expenses in the last two weeks.
  • Most children aged 0–14 years (94%) had participated in informal learning activities with their main carer.

Feeling safe

  • Lack of physical and lateral violence
  • Safe places
  • Emotional security
  • Cultural competency
  • Relationships that can sustain disagreement

Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • 75% had not experienced physical and/ or threatened violence in the last 12 months.
  • 80% felt safe at home alone after dark. This was associated with excellent or very good self-assessed health and low to moderate levels of psychological distress.
  • In the five years prior to the survey, 97% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had not been incarcerated (91% had never been incarcerated in their lifetime).

Vitality

The final theme, Vitality covers community infrastructure access to services, education, health, income and employment.

Data from the 2008 NATSISS show:

  • half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over had no disability or long-term health condition.
  • 68% of those aged 15 years and over had experienced low/moderate levels of psychological distress in the four weeks before the survey.
  • 76% of children aged 0–14 years did not have problems sleeping.
  • 74% of children aged 4–14 years spent at least 60 minutes every day being physically active.
  • 74% of people aged 15 years and over said they can easily get to places as needed. This was associated with feeling able to have a say with family and friends in the community and providing support to relatives.
  • Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were seeking to improve their knowledge, skills and qualifications, with 41% of those aged 15 years and over (who were not currently studying) intending to study in the future.
  • School work was the main purpose of internet use for children (77%), while 30% of those aged 5 years and over used the internet for education or study.

Implications

Community functioning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be assessed within a framework that reflects values of:

  • Connectedness to country, land and history; culture and identity
  • Resilience
  • Leadership
  • Having a role, structure and routine
  • Feeling safe; and
  • Vitality.

Community functioning scores present a national quantitative measure that demonstrates the strengths and capabilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian families and communities.

Figure 1.13-1 - Community functioning score by remoteness, proportions, Indigenous Australians aged 0–14 years, 2008
chart showing Community functioning score

Figure 1.13-1 shows the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 0-14 years with a community functioning score of 0 to less than 5; 5 to less than 10; 10 to less than 15; 15 to less than 20; 20 to less than 25; 25 to less than 30; 30 to less than 35; and 35 to less than 40. Data is presented for major cities; inner regional areas; outer regional areas; remote areas; and very remote areas. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2008 NATSISS

Figure 1.13-2 - Community functioning score by remoteness, proportions, Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over, 2008
chart showing Community functioning score

Figure 1.13-2 shows the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over with a community functioning score of 0 to less than 5; 5 to less than 10; 10 to less than 15; 15 to less than 20; 20 to less than 25; 25 to less than 30; 30 to less than 35; and 35 to less than 40. Data is presented for major cities; inner regional areas; outer regional areas; remote areas; and very remote areas. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2008 NATSISS

Table 1.13-1 Selected variables contributing to community functioning among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 2008 and 2002
Community functioning theme and associated variables 2008
Number
2008 (a)
Per cent
2002 (a)
Per cent
Connectedness to family land and history, culture, identity
Recognises homelands 234,383 72 70
Speaks an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander language 62,629 19 21
Attended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural event in last 12 months 205,674 63 68
Identifies with clan group or language group 203,106 62 54
Feels able to have a say with family and friends some, most or all of the time 292,375 89
Feels able to have a say within community on important issues some, most and all of the time 157,312 48
Contact with family or friends outside household at least once per week 307,515 94
Has friends can confide in 246,649 75
Able to get support in time of crisis from outside household - from family member 261,506 80
Provides support to relatives outside household 166,892 51
Resilience
Did not feel discriminated against in last 12 months 237,812 73
Did not avoid situations due to past discrimination 225,507 69
Can visit homelands 146,017 45 46
Involvement with Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander organisation 59,516 18 26
Work allows for cultural responsibilities to be met (employed persons) 75,028 44 22
Household member(s) used strategies to meet basic living expenses in last 12 months 119,147 36 49
No community problems reported 84,327 26 25
Community problems reported, but less than three types 73,788 23 29
Theft not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 192,535 59 57
Alcohol not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 192,138 59 67
Illegal drugs not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 208,039 64 68
Family violence not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 245,938 75 79
Assault not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 253,009 77 80
Sexual assault not reported as a neighbourhood/community problem 288,926 88 92
Total persons who reported a community problem 232,592 71 74
Agrees that most people can be trusted 118,975 36
Agrees that their doctor can be trusted 260,777 80
Agrees that the hospital can be trusted 204,189 62
Agrees that police in the local area can be trusted 170,317 52
Agrees that police outside the local area can be trusted 133,362 41
Agrees that the local school can be trusted 224,734 69
Knows someone in organisation that is comfortable contacting (non-remote areas) 132,011 54
Felt able to find general support from outside the household 291,459 89
Provided support to someone outside household in last 4 weeks 184,537 56
Participated in sport/social/community activities in last 3 months 289,381 89
Recreational or cultural group 46,263 14
Community or special interest group activities 42,274 13
Church or religious activities 49,393 15 24
Watched Indigenous TV 177,695 54
Listened to Indigenous radio 85,682 26
Leadership
Child spent time with an Indigenous leader or elder in last week (3–14 years) 65,035 42
Encouragement from elders and council would help child to complete Year 12 (2–14 years) 7,504 22
Encouragement from elders and council would help child in secondary school to complete Year 12 (15–19 years) 3,251 5
Structure and routine/having a role
Can communicate with English speakers without difficulty (Indigenous language is main language spoken at home) 27,179 72
Has lived in only one dwelling for the past year or longer 255,157 78 69
Child involved in informal learning activities with carer in last week (0–14 years) 180,736 94
Feeling Safe
Felt safe at home alone during the day 305,892 94
Felt safe at home alone after dark 261,414 80
Felt safe walking alone in local area after dark 172,047 53
Not a victim of physical or threatened violence in the last 12 months 246,372 75 76
Indigenous culture taught at school 87,833 53
Was taught Indigenous culture at school or as part of further studies 148,592 45
Learnt about own Indigenous clan/language 55,947 17
Child neither bullied nor treated unfairly at school because Indigenous 112,159 81
Not incarcerated in the last 5 years 316,033 97 93
Never incarcerated 297,030 91
Vitality
Self-assessed health status excellent or very good 143,004 44 44
Has no disability or long term-health condition 164,157 50 64
Low/moderate level of psychological distress (5–11 K5 score) 221,717 68
Employed (persons aged 15–64 years) 167,416 54
Year 12 highest year of school completed (excluding secondary school students) 66,220 22 18
Has a non-school qualification (25–64 years) 83,257 40 32
Living in a dwelling that has no major structural problems (all ages) 370,606 71 60
Household members used telephone(s) in last month 317,203 97
Used computer in last 12 months 218,006 67 56
Used Internet in last 12 months 192,852 59 41
Has access to motor vehicles whenever needed 215,689 66 55
Can easily get to places needed 241,481 74 70
Total persons aged 15 years and over 327,101 100

(a) Unless otherwise indicated percentages are of the estimated total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 15 years and over. Where another population is indicated, this has been used to calculate the percentage. For further detail, refer to the Detailed Analyses.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of NATSISS 2002 and 2008