Explore the impact of “transgenerational trauma” and the ‘Closing the Gap’ (CTG) policy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s health outcomes

Transgenerational trauma refers to trauma that is limited to the people who experienced the traumatic event. Instead, its effects can be seen and impact a close family or an entire community (Sheri, 2017).  Past trauma’s adverse effects are passed down through generations in various ways, such as how they carry out their everyday activities, how they bring up their children, and how the community is set up in what they believe and what they fight for. The majority of transgenerational trauma arises from their histories, such as being systematically exploited, repeated and continuous abuse, racism, and poverty. These are enough traumas to cause genetic changes among the people and generations of that community. Some of the symptoms associated with generational trauma include hypervigilance, a sensitive flight and flight response—the most common—aloofness, mistrust, and a sense of a shortened future. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander communities, the trauma of colonization came in many forms, including conflicts and massacres, introduced diseases and starvation, and abuse physical, emotional, and sexual when their children were forced into institutions not in their country or respected their culture (Nelson Jeff, 2008). They also went through discrimination and racism and the destruction of their indigenous forms of governance, leadership, and community organization. Transgenerational trauma in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has dramatically been contributed by the unresolved trauma that was further heightened by subsequent policies after colonization. This has then been passed down from one generation to another. Its effects can be seen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s social lives and health status. Trauma has been associated with genetic changes; therefore, there are many hospital referrals and admissions of autoimmune diseases and other illnesses in a community with unresolved generational trauma.

The people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were heavily affected by removing their children from their country and homes to assimilate the aim of assimilation by the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions. The assimilation policy was based on the belief in white superiority over the black community and that the pureblood Aboriginal people would eventually die out (humanrights.gov, 2008). Children of both white and Aboriginal parentage were selected in that they would easily be assimilated into the white society due to their lighter skin. This assimilation policy led to what is termed a lost generation among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The children were forced to adopt the white culture and were even given a change of names. Most of these children were also placed in an institution where physical, emotional, and sexual abuse was common. The Aboriginal community considers children sacred, and they ensure that the communities are close-knit. The forceful removal of the children was devastating for the children, parents, and overall the community. This disrupted the transfer of oral culture and knowledge between generations, leading to cultural knowledge loss (Common ground, 2019). Many of the children suffered from physical and sexual abuse under state care. They were also forced to reject their culture. The children also received a low-quality education and worked as domestic workers and laborers at a very young age. This greatly affected their social outlook and, more so, their health. The post-traumatic effects of separation from their parent can be seen as they start their own families, caused by a lack of experience in healthy family situations.

Closing the Gap Policy is a government initiative that aims to address and reduce the setbacks among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with respect to child mortality, life expectancy, access to early childhood education, and employment outcomes (HealthInfoNet, 2013). It is a formal commitment by the Australian government to achieve equality in health among the Torres people. The government has created educational institutes that support students’ growth and development and keep them through every rank of education level. Such a hub is the Wuyagiba Bush hub in southeast Arnhem Land, which supports Aboriginal students in accessing higher education within the country. The hub interlinks cultural content with academic knowledge with the aim of building an all-rounded student. This helps the students appreciate their cultural values as they learn and acquire new educational experiences. This has helped bridge the gap created by generation gap removal, where cultural knowledge transfer was interfered with. These centers being funded by the government provide ample study spaces, computer facilities enabling students to keep up with upcoming technology, internet access, and video conferencing facilities (closingthegap.gov, 2020). They have considerably improved the quality of education that the Aboriginal children receive, improving literacy levels within these indigenous communities. Education influences physical, mental, and emotional development and influences future health status.  

The CTG policy aims to address the effects of trauma passed through generations to improve the health quality of Aboriginal people effectively (Murray Richard, 2008). This has been addressed by making available trauma care facilities that are free to the locals. Additionally, trauma education has also been incorporated into early childhood programs, making it possible to educate the children and, more so, the community on how to identify trauma and ways to overcome and heal from the generation’s trauma. Trauma-informed services help reach out to survivors of traumatic experiences, and they also provide education and enrichment for the neurodevelopmental growth of children. These initiatives are built around the child’s cultural and spiritual heritage, making it easier and simpler to address this issue.  The CTG policy has addressed employment opportunities by developing local industries and small businesses that source labor from the people of these indigenous communities. Local employment initiatives are aimed at improving the economic standards and prosperity in these communities (Nelson Jeff, 2008). Such initiatives include the funding of microenterprises and promoting tourism in the area. There was the creation of a job portal to facilitate employment, whereby job seekers are matched with local opportunities that fit their requests.  The Australian government’s recent initiatives, the most important of which is the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, aim at improving the emotional wellbeing of these indigenous people.  These programs aim to improve mental health by providing healing services and access to traditional healing, trauma education, and effectively dealing with loss and grief (Judy, 2013). Some of the issues that have been addressed by these programs include, most importantly, transgenerational trauma, suicide prevention that has been on the rise in Australia, substance abuse, violence, depression, and reliable pathways to healing from these issues that have been brought up indirectly through trauma. The Aboriginal communities need to join such programs to help curb transgenerational trauma; this will remarkably reduce the health defects and problems that have been increasing in percentage through generations. Additionally, it will promote the right brain and physical development among children in the community, thus facilitating a healthier generation. The social and emotional wellbeing program aims to enhance service delivery to the indigenous community by prioritizing members of the stolen generation. The program offers counseling support, provides workforce and training to the people, links up family tracing initiatives, and connects the children that were forcefully removed during the assimilation to their families in Australia (humanrights.gov, 2018). Such a program is a great path to healing the initial trauma caused, and through counseling, generational trauma is also addressed.

transgenerational trauma
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