“When our children come to us, and we’re available, we are there, and we’re listening, and it could just be just 30 seconds, it could be something very important they want to tell us, then stop and listen, send that message that we are available.”
These thoughts come to a town that spends a great deal of time talking about a cohort of children, different ones from year to year but always around 50 to 120 of them, out in the streets at night, breaking into homes and businesses, trashing, stealing cars, torching some.
People are leaving town because of them, or are not coming. Authorities are at a loss about what to do.
The thoughts are from Michell Forster, from Triple P, short for Positive Parenting Program, well represented in the NT, an international organisation which in Australia is funded by the Federal Government.
Its broad range of programs delivered in person or on-line are for parents and “practitioners”, putting kids first, and on the opposite end of the usual responses of curfew and lock ‘em up.
The trouble is, some parents here are not available, they may be drunk or in gaol. Should Aboriginal organisations which are receiving generous public funding step in?
Ms Forster spoke with editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: The majority of the parents here are doing exactly what you describe. The problem are those who don’t. What do we do about the parents who couldn’t care less for their kids?
FORSTER: Don’t they? We don’t know that. I think they do love their children. I don’t think we can say they don’t. I think maybe they lost a bit of control. Maybe children are bouncing off social media. What we have to start thinking about is spending quality time with our children. Just let them come to us, stopping what we’re doing, paying them attention, listening to them and talking to them. Having conversations. Talking about our cultural values. Our dreamtime stories. And also being good role models as well.
NEWS: Some parents, tragically, are not good role models.
This, Ms Forster insists, is where the programs of Triple P can come in. It has services for individual parents, for practitioners, jurisdictions, governments, agencies and organisations.
In Alice Springs that would include Congress (operating income 2022 $64.8m), Tangentyere (operating income 2021 $33.8m) and the Central Land Council, shareholder in Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd whose principal investments are Peter Kittle Motor Company, Yeperenye Shopping Centre and other properties, LJ Hooker Alice Springs, Milner Road Foodtown, Mercure Alice Springs Resort, Alice Springs Memorial Club property, properties at 75 and 82 Hartley Street, Alice Springs and Hertz Commercial Vehicle franchises in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
NEWS: How could these major organisations, Congress and Tangentyere mostly government funded, mesh into initiatives dealing with what has been the town’s most pressing problem for decades?
FORSTER: They could come and chat with us. We could talk about training, and what would best suit those practitioners and how they deliver, and what would suit the parents.
NEWS: If these organisations became Triple P practitioners, what would they tell the parents?
FORSTER: We never tell the parents what to do. If we did it would more than likely fail. We offer lots of tips and strategies and support parents and practitioners we are training, and the parents will take what they need. One strategy that is easy is to spend time with your children. Having two-way conversations with them. They learn to communicate. Spending quality time.
Ms Forster says not engaging with children, sending them away, is likely to lead to boredom and then trouble.
FORSTER: Bringing our kids in, not pushing them away. Praising our children, taking notice of the good things they do. We often take notice of the bad things. We’re always growling at them, especially when you have a really challenging child. Not focussing on the negative stuff. Positive stuff, such as when they say thank-you. Thanks for using your manners. Or they make grandma a cup of tea. When we praise them for good behaviour they are more likely to continue with good behaviour.
When we focus on negative behaviour they get attention for negative behaviour.
NEWS: More detention is what the public mostly wants.
FORSTER: We need to be building positive, healthy relationships before we start looking at managing bad behaviour. Putting some rules in place. We have a small number of rules, one or two so we are able to back them up. And when we back them up we want to act straight away so that children know when we put something in place. It’s going to happen. It’s consistent. This starts building respect. Mum has said no swearing. Our rule is that we are speaking nicely. If they break a rule we put a consequence in place straight away, such as not being allowed to go outside and play. Even if it’s just for five to 10 minutes minutes. We’re not grounding our kids for two weeks.
Ms Forster says the programs are not just for parents but also for grandparents, aunties even older siblings.
She says if the local organisations have capacity to deliver programs “we could talk with them about what program would best suit them, and what would suit their parents.”
Ms Forster says Triple P has implementation consultants, some of them Indigenous, and arranges consultations ranging from one-on-one to seminars.
Providers in the NT include organisations such as Anglicare, Centacare, Relationships Australia, Department of Employment and Training, Autism NT, Department of Education and the Police Domestic Violence Unit.
This is the aim, says Ms Forster: “To create socially, emotionally, physically, mentally happy adults. And help parents enjoy parenting.”
IMAGE from a promotional online clip for Triple P.