Building strong families through culture and community

06 July 2021

Smoking Ceremony Balit Booboop Narrkwarren healthAbility

Since 2016, healthAbility has worked in partnership with three Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) – Oonah Health & Community Services Aboriginal Corporation (The Belonging Place), Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service, and Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place – to develop Balit Booboop Narrkwarren.

Balit Booboop Narrkwarren, which means ‘Strong Baby and Family’ in Woiwurrung language, is a culturally adapted model of the Baby Makes 3 program. It has been created with ACCHOs to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who aren’t currently accessing mainstream services.

This model has been developed from the key messages of the Baby Makes 3 program – challenging gender stereotypes and roles, and strengthening positive, equal and respectful relationships – and aims to ultimately build strong families and prevent family violence.

While Balit Booboop Narrkwarren is based on the same key messages as Baby Makes 3, it seeks to recognise and respect the culture and specific needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in several ways. These include involving entire families (parents, Elders, Aunties, Uncles, carers, kinship groups etc.) in programs and activities, using art and images by local Aboriginal artists in resources, and acknowledging Traditional Owners with a Smoking Ceremony and Welcome to Country before training sessions when possible.

Balit Booboop Narrkwarren has also been able to embed its key messages into the programs and services that families already access, by training around 90 ‘Champions’ to deliver activities and programs in local ACCHOs.

Marc and Vanessa - Balit Booboop Narrkwarren
Vanessa Scales with Marc Williams from Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place.

Vanessa Scales, a proud Barkindji woman and early childhood educator, has completed training to become a ‘Champion’ of the program.

She has been working across a number of locations in northern and eastern Melbourne, including the Northern Hospital, Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place, and Oonah Health & Community Services Aboriginal Corporation, to deliver Balit Booboop Narrkwarren to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.

Vanessa’s connection to community means that families taking part in the program feel safe, and can better engage with its key messages.

“I’ve worked with children all my life, so it’s been lovely not just to teach, but to bring my knowledge and my own experience of working with children to the program.

“I know a lot of families in the region, and it’s been great to get to know them and work with them. My work with the program is possible because of the connection I have with parents in the community. They feel so at ease, because they know me, and that makes a very big difference.”

Anne Jenkins, CEO of Oonah Health & Community Services Aboriginal Corporation, has praised Balit Booboop Narrkwarren as a simple and effective way to support new families and future generations.

“It’s a great program for families and carers; it’s not just for young couples and new parents. It’s simple and easy to understand and it helps people to reflect on their roles within the family.

“I would recommend it to all ACCHOs as a means of supporting new families. Children are our future leaders, and we need to support them throughout their life’s journey, so supporting parents is a great first step.”

The work of Balit Booboop Narrkwarren has continued to expand with the development of online modules and forums. The program is continuing its work in antenatal and maternal health settings, including Koori Maternity Services in hospitals, and is also working with a number of local councils and ACCHOs across Victoria.

To find out more about Balit Booboop Narrkwarren, and how you can get involved, contact Bronwyn Forster on 0487 255 514 or

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The theme for 2021 – Heal Country! – calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.

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