Resilience Project

Due to limited options for secondary schooling in their remote home communities, over 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian students are supported by the Queensland Department of Education Transition Support Service (TSS) to relocate and access their schooling in a boarding environment. For students to maintain their wellbeing, these transitions require navigation of new systems, cultures, challenges and resources, and the capacity of schools to support these processes. In response to increased suicide risk identified in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, the five-year (2015-2020) Resilience Study was developed by CQUniversity and TSS to measure and develop strategies for building and maintaining resilience for students during this transition.

To do so, the study is investigating the impact of a multicomponent resilience intervention to enhance boarding schools’ and transition support for Indigenous students and their levels of psychosocial resilience. We are testing the hypothesis that students’ resilience is not positively influenced by the multicomponent intervention. The Resilience Study project has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council from December 2014. In 2017, the Resilience Study research team were awarded a Queensland Department of Education ‘Education Horizons Grant’ to enhance the Resilience Study research and support the remaining phases of the study. As a part of the Education Horizons grant, research workers and PhD candidates Amelia Britton and Katrina Rutherford, in collaboration with AR Designs, developed a Resilience Building Toolkit. The Toolkit takes form in a website which provides resources for boarding schools who are working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Resilience Study is based on an integrated mixed methods approach; each component iteratively informing the other. The primary research methods are quantitative: 1) assessment of the effectiveness of the intervention in changing the levels of students’ resilience, educational outcomes and suicide risk, and 2) economic evaluation of the intervention. The secondary methods are qualitative and include a grounded theoretical model of the process of enhancing psychosocial resilience to protect against suicide for Indigenous boarding school students.

A tertiary focus of the study is capacity development, whereby more experienced researchers in the team will provide research mentorship to less experienced researchers through regular meetings, and Indigenous team members will provide cultural mentorship in research practices to non-Indigenous members.

For more information please contact project manager Dr Tessa Benveniste -

Student Artwork - Strong and Deadly by Venus Watson

This etching artwork is designed by Miss Venus Watson, a Year 12 student with a hearing disability from Palm Island. This artwork represents the strengths that she had and that she believes students need to exist, live, survive, be engaged and be happy at boarding school, away from kin and country.

Black and white Aboriginal artwork by Venus Watson
Strong and Deadly by Venus Watson
Venus Watson
Venus Watson

"Hello, my name is Venus Watson. I am also known as Venus Lawrence as this is the surname registered on my Birth Certificate. I come from Palm Island.

My artwork titled Strong and Deadly is scratch art and expresses resilience or the strengths I draw on to be strong and deadly at boarding school.

The Rainbow Serpent is my guardian spirit and creator with great powers and he is wrapped around the Aboriginal Flag which represents my pride and identity as a young Aboriginal woman. The footprints represent my life journey and on this journey, I carry with me my culture represented by the artefacts – boomerangs, totems – goanna, the flower and water symbols, all represent the importance of land and sea to me which comforts me and gives me hope for the future. Finally the connections I have with others and most importantly my family.

- Venus."

The Pilot Phase saw 94 students from three boarding schools and two remote community primary schools, along with re-engaging students from one remote community, participated in the Pilot Phase of the Resilience Study by completing student surveys, and the secondary students participated in student camps.

Pilot data found that most primary students reported high levels of resilience. A third of primary students reported normal - high levels of psychological wellbeing. Secondary students attending boarding school a reported reduction in resilience measures and psychosocial wellbeing.

The published paper Measuring resilience and risk factors for the psychosocial wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boarding school students: Pilot baseline study results offer more information about the background of the Resilience Study and the pilot survey data.

In Phase One, 281 remote Cape York and Palm Island Indigenous students successfully completed the student survey. These students were from 18 boarding schools across Queensland, two remote community primary schools and re-engaging students from one remote community. STEP UP plans were developed by eight randomly-selected Phase One partner schools to promote the resilience of remote Indigenous students. Professional development sessions for schools and boarding facilities have been facilitated. Community meetings have also been held in five remote communities to feedback the Pilot Phase data to parents and community leaders.

The second phase of this study reports quantitative and qualitative data from students. An interrupted time series design is being applied to evaluate levels of change in students’ resilience and wellbeing. Structured questionnaires were collaboratively developed, with questions adapted from the Child and Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM-28), and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K5). Surveys were completed by 240 students from 17 boarding schools, 2 primary schools and re-engaging students from one remote community. As well, yarning circles were held, with students asked to discuss the ways they have maintained their wellbeing, despite the challenges of transitions.

A new Resilience Building Toolkit website has been developed to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who transition from remote Cape York and Palm Island communities for secondary education through boarding schools. This new resource focuses on valuing culture and identity, developing cultural leadership, building staff capacity, building social and emotional skills, nurturing strong relationships, and creating a safe and supportive environment in boarding schools.

This new toolkit draws on a five-year Resilience Research project developed by CQUniversity’s Centre for Indigenous Health Equity Research (CIHER) in partnership with the Queensland Department of Education’s Transition Support Services (TSS).

“The six domains featured in this toolkit are the guiding framework informing a STEP UP action plan,” says Katrina Rutherford from CIHER. A STEP UP action planning document is used by school staff to audit their practice against the six domains and identify areas of strength and opportunities for growth.

“The website was funded by a Horizon’s grant from the Department of Education from 2017-2018. The project aim was to develop STEP UP interventions in schools and investigate their impact on increasing students’ levels of resilience.

For any further information please contact CIHER. – CQUni News Article Jan 4, 2019.

Resilience Study Schools and Community Meetings

The Resilience Study team is being led by Gungarri researcher, Professor Roxanne Bainbridge and Associate Professor Janya McCalman from CQUniversity, alongside Project Manager Dr Tessa Benveniste and the Transition Support Services (TSS) team which is led by State Program Manager, Mr Richard Stewart.

The published paper Measuring resilience and Risk Factors for the Psychosocial Well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Boarding school students: Pilot Baseline study results offer more information about the background of the Resilience Study and the pilot survey data.

This Resilience Study research team held the annual Resilience Study Schools and Community Meeting on 15 and 16 August 2018. We were privileged to work with students, representatives from boarding schools and facilities, community Mayors and representatives from Cape York and Palm Island, and TSS partner Primary schools – all in the one place! The attendance this year was outstanding, with around 90 participants!

The purpose of the meeting was to:

  1. Provide feedback on results of study to students, communities and schools,
  2. to contribute to improving the resilience of TSS supported students through linking their communities, schools and TSS,
  3. to work with the Participatory Action Research model to continuously improve and refine the research, and
  4. to begin collaboratively planning actions beyond the research. The insights and information that were generated together is valuable the resilience study, but most importantly, valuable for enhancing the support provided to remote Indigenous students in boarding schools.

Thank you to everyone who attended and thank you to our guest speakers, panel members, student leaders and to those who helped facilitate the breakout sessions. This year’s meeting was a success thanks to you! For further information regarding the School & Community meetings please email project manager, Dr Tessa Benveniste:

The 2017 Schools and Community Meeting provided the opportunity for Boarding Schools, Community Leaders, school staff and students to get together to share about the Resilience Study and plan action for 2017 and beyond. Students shared their experience of being a boarder from a remote community, assisted in the facilitation of the workshop (in partnership with TSS and CQUni team) and advised as the team planned for Phase Two of the study. The meeting provided a unique opportunity for everyone to share their stories and provide directions for how we can all work together to create environments in which students can flourish and learn.

The CQUniversity and Transition Support Services (TSS) Resilience Study team, led by Gungarri researcher A/Prof Roxanne Bainbridge and A/Prof Janya McCalman and working with TSS leadership Sandy Russo and Katrina Rutherford, facilitated a one day 2016 Schools and Community Meeting. This meeting provided an opportunity for Boarding Schools, Community Leaders, school staff and students to share about the Resilience Study Pilot Study and plan action for 2017.

Guest Panel discussing how service providers can work together and support the resilience of students

Guest Panel discussing how service providers can work together and support the resilience of students.

From left: Tessa Benveniste (CQUni), Cathy Adams (TSS), Peter Linehan (EQ), Antoinette Cole (Catholic Ed Cairns), Greg Franks (Boarding Australia), Janelle Knack (Catholic Ed Townsville)

Five male Abergowrie students standing on stairs

Names left to right: Taquiri Madua (Abergowrie), William Tamu (Abergowrie), Pryce Gibima (JPC), Nguumpii Rocky (JPC), Maurice Bourne (BTC) at the 2018 Schools and Community Meeting.

Two Indigenous males and one Indigenous female standing in front of an Indigenous artwork

Nguumpii Rocky (John Paul College), Wayne Butcher (Mayor – Lockhart River) and Justine Omeenyo (John Paul College) standing in front of the artwork created by Vicki Saunders with the help of students.