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Aus prisons neglecting Aboriginal mothers’ health

The health needs of Aboriginal mothers in Australian prisons are not being met, a new study has found, with many experiencing high levels of psychological distress.

The joint study conducted an investigation into the social, emotional and physical wellbeing of 77 Aboriginal mothers in NSW facilities and 84 in Western Australia.

The findings indicated that the demographic is an underserved group, calling for health programs that provide culturally appropriate models of care.

Chief investigator Professor Elizabeth Sullivan, a public health researcher at the University of Newcastle and UTS, said a historical context of child removal, loss of language and marginalisation have often contributed to incarceration.

“Many of the mothers had a history of removal from their families and almost half were caring for children under five prior to imprisonment,” Professor Sullivan said.

“We need to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, with over 450 children suddenly impacted by their mothers’ incarceration in our one study alone.”

Professor Sullivan added that the perspectives of Aboriginal women should be shaping health programs to improve them moving forward.

“Despite the over-representation of Aboriginal women in Australian prisons, there is a lack of culturally informed patient-centred health programs,” she said.

“We need a more holistic approach to programs that can help improve health outcomes for Aboriginal women both in prison and post release.

“Listening to these women is the first step towards developing better health programs to deliver within the prison environment that help ongoing health and social outcomes for Aboriginal women and their families.”

The study was a joint initiative between the University of Newcastle, UTS, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, Curtin University, the Kirby Institute, the Australian National University and the University of Western Australia. It was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Its research article was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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