Believe Inquire Respond to Disclosures (BIRD) Research Report


The project team, Yamurrah and SNAICC identified a working title of Project BIRD in recognition that the training will address upskilling the health sector to Believe, Inquire and Respond to Disclosures of child sexual abuse.

The BIRD Research Report has been written by Yamurrah in partnership with SNAICC. Together, we are co-designing with First Nations experts a trauma-aware, healing-informed and culturally appropriate national training package and resources to improve culturally safe responses in primary healthcare for First Nations victim-survivors of child sexual abuse. This includes trauma-aware foundational modules on cultural safety and healing-informed practice, as well as trauma-specific specialised modules in responding to child sexual abuse disclosure.

The BIRD Research Report examines current approaches, literature, legislation and relevant training across Australia and has formulated key understandings and insights that will guide the development of the training package and resources. The BIRD Research Report highlights content that could be covered in training, as well as locations where the training may be established for user testing sites. The ideas presented in this research report will be further explored with governance partners and key stakeholders.

The BIRD Research Report examines responses to child sexual abuse, has developed a BIRD Practice Framework that provides key training objectives, and is informed by First Nations worldviews, including behaviours found typically in birds. The BIRD Practice Framework recommends desired professional development and practice that is required in responding to disclosures of child sexual abuse. Further subject areas are recommended as key training content.

Our decolonised approach centres Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worldviews and narratives.Before invasion, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people operated under different legal systems, including lore and law. These culturally diverse and sophisticated systems managed conflict, child protection and human relations. These systems also carefully managed child safety and wellbeing, including kinship structures that protected, educated and collectively cared for children. These systems are still operational in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We acknowledge that colonialism has fractured these systems in many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (Atkinson, J. 2002, Terare, M. 2019, Lawrie, R. et. al 2018).

The animal and plant world are deeply integrated in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander belief and knowledge systems. Birds are central to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, spirituality and connections to Country.

Creation and dreaming stories of birds are prolific across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations from the cockatoo, owl, kookaburra, lyrebird, willy wag tail, emu, crow, magpie, kingfisher, eagle, parrot, brolga, swan, galah and honey eater. The stories vary with messages and meaning. Some have stories that consider morals, responsibilities and values while others include ways to relate with the land and each other. Some stories reveal the importance of learning, sharing and caring for each other and the land.

Birds are incredibly special and, for some tribes, birds represent a clan or personal totem. They often hold deep spiritual significance and their stories can be represented in the Milky Way and the land itself. Birds communicate about weather patterns and changes and, for Aboriginal people, birds and birdsongs tell stories of the land, warnings and good news stories, as well as messages from the Ancestors and loved ones who have gone to the Dreaming.

Birds signal, communicate and call on each other when there is danger; bird calls can signal a distress call. Birds socialise in flocks and communicate with other bird species when there is a threat or predators. Birds work together as communities to protect and guard against predators and dangers. When birds fly in a flock, there is usually a lead bird in the flock who flies forward and can also fall back and allow another bird to lead when they tire. Pelicans are a fair example of this – there is lead pelican who flies ahead and searches for food sources and circles back to the flock to align with the formation.

Hearing birds sing and chatter in the bush can also signal that there is no imminent danger, which signals to other animals and humans that the environment is safe. This is important information for humans both neurobiologically and physiologically. The very sound of birds singing and chattering can help regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, assisting with emotional regulation, anxiety and connection generally. Going outside in nature and connecting with birds and nature can help reduce stress, tension and depression, as well as support physical, cultural and spiritual wellbeing. New research is showing that hearing birdsongs helps create a sense of calm and has been found to be beneficial in reducing depression, stress and anxiety. These benefits are free and accessible to everyone globally.

Similarly, the bird represents freedom, strength, safety and communication. Birds can offer an inclusive way for survivors across Australia to connect to pathways of healing by having safe experiences of disclosures.

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