Yarning towards strength and resilience

As a proud Anaiwan woman, UQ PhD candidate Hayley Williams understands the value of culturally sensitive healthcare.

Williams is blending Indigenous and western methodologies to improve psychosocial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with burn injuries, their families and attending clinicians. 

Her project is part of the Coolamon Study, a larger NHMRC-funded project run by the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney.

Williams was drawn to this project because of the high risk of psychological trauma and ongoing psychosocial implications for children with burn injuries.

“Improving health outcomes and services for Indigenous Australians by helping them to stay strong and resilient during such a difficult time is something I’m incredibly passionate about,” Williams explains. 

“I want to ensure families are supported throughout their experience and are able to recover well afterwards.”

Williams is part of the Children’s Burns and Trauma Research team at UQ's Child Health Research Centre. She works with the families of children treated at the Pegg Leditschke Children’s Burns Centre at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. 

Williams emphasises that burn injuries and treatment are distressing for both the child and caregivers.

“It’s an awful thing for a parent to see their child in that state of pain. Burn injuries are described as one of the most painful and traumatising injuries a child can endure.

“If the psychosocial impact isn’t addressed appropriately or in a timely manner, patients and family members can have ongoing emotional problems such as post-traumatic stress.”

While working on the longitudinal aspects of the study, Williams noticed something lacking in paediatric burns care for Indigenous patients and their families.

“I realised they didn’t want extra processes, such as best practice guidelines – they wanted people to make eye contact, ask how they were going and if they needed anything.

“So while their physical care was well looked after, their psychosocial needs remained largely unmet.” 

Williams’s work begins when the child starts treatment. Once families grant permission, she sits in on their appointments and takes ethnographic observational notes.

The researcher then holds a ‘thinking aloud session’ where she asks each clinical staff member involved to reflect on each appointment.

“I ask questions like how they felt the family was coping, what they think went well and what they think could be improved.

“Once the child’s treatment is complete, I sit down with their caregivers for a yarn. Yarning is a traditional method that provides caregivers with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences in a way that’s guided by them.”

As Williams explains, the focus is on the caregivers’ experience – from the time of their child’s injury to the end of treatment – and the impact the injury and subsequent care have on their family.

“Yarning gives caregivers control over how much they would like to share, in what way and when. Everything is on the participants’ terms, including the development of any resources or interventions at the end.

“It’s incredibly important to me to make sure my project is doing these families justice and acknowledging their valuable understanding and expertise in this area.

“I firmly believe that if we can improve the physical and emotional health of our young ones, then we will set them up well for life.”


This story is featured in the Summer 2018 edition of UQMedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine visit our blog, MayneStream.