Introduction

World Central conducted the pilot research with the aim of gaining greater insight into the experiences of leaders and practitioners, who deliver primary health, education, essential and community services and development in remote Indigenous communities Australia-wide. 

One hundred participants were surveyed across Australia in 2018, to gain a qualitive a ‘snap shot’ into the challenges faced by the workforce of individuals living and working in remote Indigenous communities.

The data findings illustrate the following challenges are experienced by remote leaders and practitioners:

Isolation

  • Lack of preventative measures for stress-related illnesses e.g. burn out
  • Lack of psychological and professional trauma support for staff
  • High exposure to integrational trauma
  • Complex needs and extreme socio-economic disadvantage of communities

(Figure 1: Respondent #56)

Participants

To ensure an accurate collection of data, the study engaged a broad range of different people within remote services including:

  • 26% in Community Development;
  • 22% in Youth Development;
  • 16% CDP programs;
  • 15% Administration work;
  • 11% Community Safety/Night Patrol;
  • 27% Management staff and;
  • 49% of ‘Other’ roles, including: Aged Care, Teaching & Education, Early Childhood Services, Nursing & Allied Health Professionals, Law Enforcement, Rangers, Veterinarians, General Store Management & Work, Civil Works and Essential Services, Employment and Job Networks, Mental Health, Social Work, Food & Nutrition.

Common Experiences

The reported results indicate that the majority of respondents listed their favourite aspects of remote roles in Indigenous communities as working with Indigenous people and cultural factors, a strong belief in social justice and greater opportunities for remote people and the adventure of remote work and living in the bush.

But the common challenges that workers were faced with were well-known in contributing or pre-determining factors to burnout. Nearly half of respondents who left remote roles, left mostly due to negative experiences caused by the following: 

Solutions to challenges

Half of all respondents regard professional mentoring from an experienced remote practitioner as a solution to improving the ability to deal with challenges. The following solutions have been reported by respondents:

  • Professional mentoring from an experienced remote practitioner
  • A greater connection to peer networks
  • Developing a better understanding of tools to achieve self-care and work-life balance
  • Better conditions
  • More harmonious team and organisation

What’s Next?

Despite excessively high staff turnover and related expenditure, currently research into remote Indigenous community service delivery is markedly limited. World Central’s report highlights the challenges and lived experiences of leaders and practitioners of remote community service delivery, a gap in literature and research, and a need to develop further evidence-based studies in this area Australia-wide.

More research is required to identify whether it is a lack of public awareness and knowledge of risks that exist in remote locations are contributing factors to burnout and other stress-related illnesses; like vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Further studies would also explore the profoundly positive impact of external Mentoring, provided by experienced remote practitioners.

This will serve to achieve both localised community-based, and overarching national goals for health outcomes, education, safety, self-determination and economic participation. Concurrently it will also serve to prevent harm to leaders and practitioners in remote communities, better serve Indigenous communities and their long-term development goals, whilst potentially saving millions of dollars in the costs associated with very low staff retention and constant recruitment in remote Australia.

 

A Note on Public Costs to High Staff Turnover

A research paper published by The Australian Health Review in 2017 proved that high staff turnover exacerbates the already high costs of providing primary care in remote areas, and this equates to A$21 million annually for the NT Government alone; and this is not including all other areas of expenditure in remote communities, including child care, aged care, employment services, youth development, roads and infrastructure etc. (Zhao, Russell, Guthridge, Ramjam, Jones, Humphrey & Wakerman, 2017).

It is unknown to what the total national public expenditure of high staff turnover in the national Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) has already incurred between 2015 – 2019, from the budget of up to $4.9 billion in the priority areas of education, employment and safety in remote areas (Department of PM&C, 2019).

The findings of World Central’s “Living and Working in Remote Indigenous Communities” Research Report 2019, indicate a ‘snapshot’ of alarming qualitative and quantitative evidence, including that over 50% of remote leaders and practitioners are leaving roles due to lack of adequate support provided.

To receive the full “Living and Working in Remote Indigenous Communities” Research Report 2019 by courtesy, please contact World Central on 0473 425 757, request it by emailing admin@worldcentral.com.au, or contact World Central Founder Shelley Madden.

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