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Open Access Research article

‘Doing the hard yards’: carer and provider focus group perspectives of accessing Aboriginal childhood disability services

Michelle DiGiacomo1*, Patricia Delaney2, Penelope Abbott23, Patricia M Davidson1, Joanne Delaney3 and Frank Vincent3

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Broadway, P.O. Box 123, Broadway, Australia 2007

2 Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney, P.O. Box 3160, Mt Druitt, Australia 2770

3 University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith, Australia 2751

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:326  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-326

Published: 19 August 2013



Despite a high prevalence of disability, Aboriginal Australians access disability services in Australia less than non-Aboriginal Australians with a disability. The needs of Aboriginal children with disability are particularly poorly understood. They can endure long delays in treatment which can impact adversely on development. This study sought to ascertain the factors involved in accessing services and support for Aboriginal children with a disability.


Using the focus group method, two community forums, one for health and service providers and one for carers of Aboriginal children with a disability, were held at an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) in the Sydney, metropolitan area of New South Wales, Australia. Framework analysis was applied to qualitative data to elucidate key issues relevant to the dimensions of access framework. Independent coding consistency checks were performed and consensus of analysis verified by the entire research team, several of whom represented the local Aboriginal community.


Seventeen health and social service providers representing local area government and non-government-funded health and social service organisations and five carers participated in two separate forums between September and October 2011. Lack of awareness of services and inadequate availability were prominent concerns in both groups despite geographic proximity to a major metropolitan area with significant health infrastructure. Carers noted racism, insufficient or non-existent services, and the need for an enhanced role of ACCHSs and AHWs in disability support services. Providers highlighted logistical barriers and cultural and historical issues that impacted on the effectiveness of mainstream services for Aboriginal people.


Despite dedicated disability services in an urban community, geographic proximity does not mitigate lack of awareness and availability of support. This paper has enumerated a number of considerations to address provision of disability services in an urban Australian Aboriginal community including building expertise and specialist capacity within Aboriginal Health Worker positions and services.

Increasing awareness of services, facilitating linkages and referrals, eliminating complexities to accessing support, and working with families and Aboriginal community organisations within a framework of resilience and empowerment to ensure a relevant and acceptable model are necessary steps to improving support and care for Aboriginal children with a disability.

Childhood disability; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Early intervention; Focus groups