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Working paper

Community functioning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: analysis using the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey

Aboriginal Australians Torres Strait Islanders Rural and remote communities Communities Australia

One of the major changes in Indigenous policy over the past decade and a half is the systematic reporting by government of socioeconomic and other outcomes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Much, although not all, of this reporting makes comparisons with the non-Indigenous population. An increasing body of literature, however, cautions against using a 'deficits approach' to Indigenous statistics and data. One concept that focuses explicitly on strengths and resilience that has been adapted to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context is that of 'community functioning'.

In the most recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework, this was defined as the ability and freedom of community members and communities to determine the context of their lives (e.g. social, cultural, spiritual, organisational) and to translate their capability (knowledge, skills, understanding) into action (to make things happen and achieve a life they value).

Building on this definition and previous analysis, this paper has four main aims: to identify a subset of community functioning measures and develop an index or set of indices; to analyse the distribution of community functioning by remoteness, sex and age; to analyse the factors associated with community functioning; and to analyse the relationship between community functioning and individual-level outcomes, recognising that community functioning is likely to be a predictor of important outcomes, as well as a key set of outcomes itself.

One of the main findings from the analysis is that those with high levels of all three measures of community functioning (connectedness, resilience and safety) were more likely to be satisfied with their life, more likely to report that they were a happy person all or most of the time, and less likely to report that they felt so sad that nothing could cheer them up.

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