Back to home

Service design to keep First Nations families and communities together with the Office of the Children's Guardian


The challenge

First Nations Australians are massively over-represented within basic social, economic and health indicators; with large over-representation in Australia’s justice, child-protection and health systems. Many of these challenges can be solved through the ability to work and to look after family. But to do this, you need a Working with Children Check (WWCC).

The Office of the Children's Guardian identified that a tiny proportion of First Nations Peoples were accessing the WWCC, a simple mechanism that’s required for any adult to engage with children in a professional capacity.

These checks are a cornerstone of a well functioning child protection system—designed to stop perpetrators of harm having access to children—and are a necessary and valuable part of our society. However for First Nations Australians, the check is particularly difficult to navigate, to the point that it was subverting their needs, rights and culture.

This contributes to a situation that nobody wants—the ongoing cultural and geographic displacement of Australian First Nations children.

Impact opportunity

Today were engaged to study the experience of First Nations Australians in applying for the check, and the impacts that limited access might bring.

We needed to design a solution that maintained the WWCC regulatory framework—essential for ensuring the safety of Australian children—whilst creating a service that vulnerable people could access and engage with in a supportive and inclusive way.


  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

Discovery and co-design

We worked to understand the current organisational structure and how the process of a WWCC works for First Nations People. After extensive research, we held key stakeholder workshops to identify strategic goals of the project and worked together to map the WWCC experience, identify barriers, pain-points, strengths and opportunities for how the service could be improved for First Nations applicants.

It was important to understand the complexities that employees face and build organisational empathy for the end-user, and particularly the most vulnerable.

We identified opportunities and co-designed service concepts and changes to build a better service together.

Debunking myths and building trust

Together with OCG we worked to demystify the WWCC, and address the misconception and fear that the evaluation process might mean ending up in jail or lead to having children taken away from family groups.


We worked to make a WWCC that was more accessible for First Nations applicants so that families and communities could access better service, employment and support family connections in a culturally appropriate way.

Throughout the project’s four phases, we followed cultural protocols to ensure respectful relationships, such as asking for elder approval to come on-country and to do the project. We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the First Nations liaison in our project team. It was essential to develop cultural guidelines for our methods of engagement and to meet people in their place.

Philippa Abbott
Head of Design, Today

“For black people and the government it's a struggle, it's been a struggle since day one and for us to go through all this bullshit to prove that I'm a changed man, it's annoying.”


“Things like that when you're in the community make you more scared to go and put your name out there and apply and be assessed.”


Designing for lasting impact

The project developed a process that supports First Nations people and their experience with clear and appropriate mechanisms to increase WWCC’s and deliver better outcomes for First Nations Australians. The refined and culturally respectful process ensures First Nations adults can safely care for First Nations children and is making a significant contribution to narrowing the gap in First Nations inequality that perpetuates ongoing cultural and geographic displacement of Australian First Nations children.

Successful First Nations WWCC applicants now have better access to government support, employment opportunities and the ability to support family members. Over time this will increase livelihoods and community outcomes for each person and their family.

There’s been a shift in First Nations community engagement techniques and communications, with case-by-case face-to-face channels established and collaboration between other key services to ensure flow-through and limit barriers such as ID checks.

Pilot applicants had been approved by the time we finished our part of the project and one has already become a champion in his community to support other First Nations people to get through the process; highlighting a successfully handed off and locally owned service design solution.


This project was awarded Gold at the 2020 Good Design Awards in the Social Impact category, Gold at the 2020 Melbourne Design Awards in the Service—Government category, Best in Category for Service Design at the 2020 Premier's Design Awards and Finalist at the international 2020 Service Design Network Awards.


We designed a process that supports Indigenous people to obtain a WWCC and deliver better outcomes for themselves and their families. Our solution has been successfully implemented by the Office of the Children’s Guardian across NSW. This specific check is increasing people’s access to work and services, and—critically—ensuring that more Indigenous children are being cared for within their own communities.

Working with our traditional custodians, this solution is a key tool in ‘closing the gap’ and actively building reconciliation by providing culturally appropriate support for every Australian.


Developing a disruptive product to take on unfair lending with Good Shepherd Microfinance & NAB

Back to projects