Gunida Gunyah Aboriginal Corporation has been awarded the Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Award for their Warranggal Dhiyan (Strong Families) program as part of this year’s Mental Health Matters Awards.

Run by WayAhead, New South Wales’ Mental Health Association, the Mental Health Matters Awards shines a light on the organisations making a marked difference in the mental health sector.

“[The Awards] recognise the achievements of individuals and organisations … across the state that work to improve wellbeing as well as understanding and awareness about … mental health,” said WayAhead’s Mental Health Promotion Officer, Asha Zappa.

“The Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Award recognises programs, projects, people or initiatives that really demonstrate a commitment to community-led values and enhance the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal communities.”

Gunida Gunyah CEO Jane Bender said the idea for Warranggal Dhiyan came about through identifying a gap in services for Indigenous people in contact with the justice system in Gunnedah, NSW and the north west NSW region.

“[We] identified that Aboriginal men and women are overrepresented in our prison systems … [and] also overrepresented in negative contact with the police and the justice system,” Ms Bender said.

“There was no real program out this way that looked at catering not only for that person but the family, because this affects the whole family.”


A holistic approach

Warranggal Dhiyan supports individuals and families through an intensive case management and support package program.

“[The program] was primarily developed to support them through any part of the [justice] system that they’re in,” Ms Bender said.

“Our family support workers work with the family [too] … it’s a holistic approach.”

Each program is tailored specifically to the client and involves creating realistic goals in partnership with clients as well as focusing on issues such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health, domestic violence and disability.

“We do a lot of referrals to specialist services that we don’t have [in-house]. We run workshops, we do court support, educational programs,” Ms Bender said.

“We have access to psychologists, special consultants … we assist clients with getting kids into childcare and day care for early childhood education … it’s fairly broad, it’s a very responsive service to the clients’ needs.”

All Warranggal Dhiyan clients have initial physical health checks and must do the program’s truth and honesty assessment.

“It’s a very confronting program and it’s a very confronting process,” Ms Bender said.

Gunida Gunyah aims to eliminate any health or psychological issues first. The organisation then tackles other factors causing clients to be in regular contact with the justice system and may increase the client’s chances of reoffending.

“It’s about providing the support that’s never been there before,” Ms Bender said.

“[The program is] around setting realistic goals, but it’s around coordination of services as well. A lot of case conferencing takes place [and] a lot of sit-down yarns take place.”

After initial health checks, some clients are sent on for further cognitive or mental health assessments – approximately 60 percent of the program’s clients have some form of mental health-related issues.

Gunida Gunyah liaises with corrective services, housing, GPs, Centrelink, family support, education, psychologists and other services to meet each of its clients’ needs.

Ms Bender spoke of one client who, through the program, was able to be diagnosed with a disability and gain access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and specialist services.

“For me that was a big one because the person actually stated to our staff that work with him … ‘There’s a reason I am the way I am,’” Ms Bender said.


Onwards and upwards

Since its inception, Warranggal Dhiyan has only seen incredible success.

In its pilot program, 86 percent of clients did not reoffend and over the program’s three years of operation, on average, 93.35 percent have not reoffended.

“I believe it’s the responsiveness of the service, and the appropriateness. We don’t ask our clients to do anything that’s not necessary,” Ms Bender said.

Ms Bender said it’s awesome Gunida Gunyah and the Warranggal Dhiyan program’s support workers have been recognised in this year’s Mental Health Matters Awards.

“For us … it’s recognition for us and the great work that we’ve done, but it’s recognition for the clients and the hard work that they’ve done.”

Ms Zappa said awards like these play an important role in raising awareness and drawing attention to mental health and wellbeing.

“It’s really important to recognise the huge amounts of work being done across the state and the huge amount of effort that goes into creating these organisations and programs that are genuinely having a really positive impact in people’s lives,” Ms Zappa said.

“It’s [having] a chance to celebrate [these organisations] very publicly and to get the recognition that all that hard work is valued and very, very valuable.”

By Hannah Cross