The Seasons for Healing program was evaluated by Dr Keith Miller and Mr Michael Bull from the School of Social and Policy Studies, Flinders University in June 2014.
A steering committee oversaw the development of Seasons for Healing between 2011 and 2014. An Advisory group was instrumental in providing leadership to the project and effectively and sensitively adapting the Seasons for Growth program into an Indigenous context to create Seasons for Healing. A pilot phase was conducted in 2012. Following changes recommended by the evaluation team, an implementation phase was conducted from late 2012 and into 2014. The evaluators were included from the beginning in the advisory group and this meant that they were given insight and perspective into the program which led to a more beneficial evaluation outcome.
Primarily, the Seasons for Healing program meets the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation National Performance Indicators, and in particular the National Outcomes of:
- Strengthened social, spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing
- Strengthened connection to culture
- Strengthened cultural identity and pride (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, 2011)
For this, the Aboriginal Family Support Services SA and Good Grief (now MacKillop Seasons) are to be congratulated.
In particular, it can be said of the Seasons for Healing program that:
- The National Performance Indicators for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation have been met and the program is considered to be culturally safe for companions and participants.
- The development of the Program in 2011 by the advisory group was conducted openly and ethically with a high regard for the cultural and emotional well-being of companions and participants.
- The research phase was conducted in close consultation with the advisory group and the Indigenous people with an emphasis on the educational focus of the program.
- In the writing and development stage, the program was tightly structured and clearly scaffolded to ensure that the Seasons for Growth remained as the basis for the Seasons for Healing program but that the adaptations were culturally appropriate.
- °Strong and critical discussion by the advisory group ensured that the aspects of the Seasons for Healing Program discussed in the research phase were translated into the writing and development phase. Feedback from the companions and community members involved in the pilot phase of the program was then communicated to the writers and further alterations were made for the implementation phase.
- Following the pilot phase, changes were recommended in terms of the program, organisation and training. The advisory group decided on the final changes which would be made for the implementation phase.
- The implementation phase has been spasmodic in its implementation into communities. According to senior management at AFSS, one significant reason for this was the current workload on staff.
- An important recommendation to AFSS from the pilot phase of the program was that the training, preparation and delivery of the program be incorporated into the ongoing workload of AFSS staff members. During the implementation phase, AFSS senior management made the decision to do this to enable the Seasons for Healing program to become an ongoing and integral part of the delivery of services for AFSS to Aboriginal communities from 2014.
- The 'train the trainer' model envisaged an experienced trainer accompanying a new trainer so that the new trainer would receive training on the job. New trainers would be chosen from experienced Companions. The advisory group recognised the significance of implementing this model. The ongoing viability of the Seasons for Healing program in each community will be determined by how well new trainers are engaged.
- Empowerment evaluation empowers Indigenous communities and participants. Through the activity of evaluation, companions and communities were empowered, the voices were heard and their opinions were respected in developing in the final Seasons for Healing product. This is reflected in the changes made following the pilot phase.
- The impact of the Seasons Healing program on communities was recognised as being both positive and immediate. The initial apprehension observed with a new program dissipated once community members became involved. Participant groups in every community who were engaged in both the pilot phases became immersed in the program and found it to be a valuable, rewarding and meaningful experience. Many said they would highly recommend it to other members of their communities. No evaluative measures have been made of the long-term benefit to communities. A recommendation is that a further evaluation should occur in due course.
- Mutual benefits for both Aboriginal Family Support Services and for Good Grief Ltd have occurred. There has been honest interaction within the advisory group and positive feedback from community members provided to Good Grief Ltd in their development of the program. This has been balanced with the expertise around trauma, loss and grief provided by Good Grief Ltd which has been shared with participants.
- Reflective learnings from the Seasons for Healing program are that AFSS need to incorporate Seasons for Healing into their regular suite of programs and companions need to have done the program as participants before becoming companions. Secondly, the program needs to be integrated into communities so there is a greater acceptance of its validity.