Family Wellbeing Program: a model for empowerment

Family Wellbeing Program: a model for empowerment

Les and Komla (front row seated) training and mentoring Gurriny Health Workers to embed Family Wellbeing into their services and programs, Yarrabah, May 2019.

The Family Wellbeing Program is a social and emotional wellbeing program that has helped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take control of their lives and target critical issues like suicide in their communities.

In Far North Queensland, Les Baird (previously Chief Executive Officer of Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service in Yarrabah) forged a partnership with Researcher, Komla Tsey and others from the University of Queensland in 2001, to adapt the Family Wellbeing Program to Yarrabah’s needs.

The Family Wellbeing Program has a number stages that involves teaching participants about social and emotional needs in a way that allows them to go on and share this learning with others. This includes learning about meeting basic human needs for shelter, exercise, food, sleep, as well as identity, sexual expression, respect for self and others, life-long learning and connection to something greater than ourselves.

The first part of the Family Wellbeing Program gives participants the skills to better understand and manage relationships and emotions. These problem-solving skills build resilience and teach participants how to deal with issues like self-harm, drug and alcohol misuse and other addictions such as gambling. Participants can then go on to complete the facilitator training.

This second part of the program teaches participants to not only deliver the Family Wellbeing training but to become active researchers so that they can take control of the information and problem solving that is needed in their communities. In this stage of the program, participants and community members come together to talk about the issues that matter most to them. They apply their skills and knowledge to tackle these issues. In Yarrabah, these included a chronic housing shortage, poor school attendance, and boredom. The program also helps to develop practical skills in monitoring, reviewing and measuring what is working well in the community and identifying what isn’t working well.

The program has achieved results. In 2007 the number of suicides in the community of Yarrabah decreased dramatically. By 2011, 16% of the community – or about 463 people – had attended Family Wellbeing sessions and from this a local workforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers were recruited. The Family Wellbeing Program has now been delivered in over 60 sites around the country and overseas. In other settings where the Family Wellbeing Program has been applied, there is evidence that it can provide a powerful model for change.  The program is an example of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership, which allows participation and control over decision making, is critical to dealing with serious social and emotional wellbeing issues.

For more information contact:

Leslie Baird
Mobile: 0478 648 279


Baird L (2019) The solution to Indigenous suicide crises lies in listening to Aboriginal people Overland retrieved 24 June 2019 from

Baird L (2019) The National Family Wellbeing Forum: sharing stories on the journey to empowerment retrieved from

Prince J, Jeffrey N, Baird L, Kingsburra S and Tipiloura B (2018) Stories from community: How suicide rates fell in two Indigenous communities. Canberra: Healing Foundation. retrieved from