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The importance of Aboriginal supported playgroups

What are playgroups?

Playgroups are informal gatherings for parents of children under school age that encourage parent-child activities. Supported playgroups include the presence of a trained facilitator who leads the playgroup activities, in contrast to community playgroups which are led by participants. Some supported playgroups aim to develop into community run playgroups. Playgroups may include discussion with other parents, role play, practicing skills and may be accompanied by in-home learning programs. For both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, playgroup participation was much more common than attending parent support groups. Recent research suggests parents will resist services that are advertised to instruct parenting or use terminology around ‘effective parenting’ due to the perception that parenting ability should come naturally, does not require community support, and parents fear being blamed for poor child outcomes; Rather, parents and carers value and engage in services that are advertised for the benefit of their children when they are framed around child development [1]. This suggests that playgroups serve as an important point for prevention and early intervention for young families.

Disadvantage faced by Indigenous families

Research from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) has shown that Aboriginal parents are attending playgroups, on average, later than non-Aboriginal parents [2]. Across all socio-economic indicators Aboriginal Australians are the most disadvantaged group of Australians [3] and are one of the most disadvantaged indigenous populations in the world [4]. A substantial gap in educational outcomes has been well documented [5]; [6]. Establishing early relationships with formal support networks may help alleviate the adverse effects associated with socio-economic disadvantage and those who lack adequate social support.

Benefits and challenges to running successful playgroups

Playgroups can have an important role for connecting with Aboriginal families to improve health and wellbeing. There is also evidence playgroup attendance leads to specific improvements in social capital, parenting skills and knowledge, as well as improvements in child development. Playgroups were also shown to provide a link to other services, resources and be a stepping stone to early learning and preschool, as well as providing support in the face of disadvantage and discrimination.

Some of the challenges identified for running successful playgroups for Aboriginal families were having adequate funding to spend the time necessary to engage the families and wider community, build trust, as well as enable the role of Aboriginal staff, Elders and advisory groups to make the playgroup culturally appropriate and safe for participants. Short-term funding can also have an impact on establishing trust and achieving intended outcomes, particularly when the transition to building a community run playgroup is not always feasible. Lastly, transport to access playgroups can be a barrier to participation and transportation services may be necessary to reach the intended participants.

applied research centre

This information was collated as part of a rapid evidence review conducted for the Department of Education and Training (DET). At CFRE, we emphasise the importance of integrating research findings into practice, and our work highlights practical recommendations for agencies to implement. We are skilled at delivering high quality rapid evidence reviews, environmental scans, community needs assessments and data analysis. For more information about how we can help you gather the right evidence to inform your decision-making, contact us today!


1. L’Hote, D., Kendall-Taylor, N., O’Neil, M., Busso, D., Volmert, D. & Nichols, J. (2018). Talking about the science of parenting. Available at https://www.parentingrc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Talking-about-the-Science-of-Parenting.pdf

2. Schulver, W. (2011). Parenting Groups as Sources of Social Capital: Their Pattern of Use and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Mothers of Young Children. Flinders University of South Australia.

3. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2014 Report: Index of Disadvantage. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at https://www.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/indigenous/Health-Performance-Framework-2014/tier-2-determinants-health/209-index-disadvantage.html

4. Biddle, N., & Taylor, J. (2012). Demographic consequences of the ‘Closing the gap’ Indigenous policy in Australia. Population Research and Policy Review, 31(4), 571-585.

5. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2018). Closing the Gap: Prime Minister’s Report 2018. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. Available at https://closingthegap.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/ctg-report-2018.pdf?a=1

6. Ford, M. (2013). Achievement gaps in Australia: What NAPLAN reveals about education inequality in Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 80-102.

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