Background: Evaluating program outcomes without considering how the program was implemented can cause misunderstandings and inefficiencies when initiating program improvements. In conjunction with a program evaluation, reported elsewhere, this paper theorises the process of implementing an Indigenous Australian maternal and child health program. The Baby Basket program was developed in 2009 for the remote Cape York region and aimed to improve the attendance and engagement of Indigenous women at antenatal and postnatal clinics through providing three baskets of maternal and baby goods and associated health education.
Methods: Constructivist grounded theory methods were used to generate and analyse data from qualitative interviews and focus groups with Indigenous women who received the baskets, their extended family members, and healthcare workers who delivered them. Data was coded in NVivo with concepts iteratively compared until higher order constructs and their relationships could be modelled to explain the common purpose for participants, the process involved in achieving that purpose, key strategies, conditions and outcomes. Theoretical terms are italicised.
Results: Program implementation entailed empowering families through a process of engaging and relating Murri (Queensland Indigenous) way. Key influencing conditions of the social environment were the remoteness of communities, keeping up with demand, families' knowledge, skills and roles and organisational service approaches and capacities. Engaging and relating Murri way occurred through four strategies: connecting through practical support, creating a culturally safe practice, becoming informed and informing others, and linking at the clinic. These strategies resulted in women and families taking responsibility for health through making healthy choices, becoming empowered health consumers and advocating for community changes.
Conclusions: The theoretical model was applied to improve and revise Baby Basket program implementation, including increased recognition of the importance of empowering families by extending the home visiting approach up to the child's third birthday. Engaging and relating Murri way was strengthened by formal recognition and training of Indigenous health workers as program leaders. This theoretical model of program implementation was therefore useful for guiding program improvements, and could be applicable to other Indigenous maternal and child health programs.