Salisbury Communities for Children
Question 1 – How have you adapted service delivery in response to the bushfires, floods and Coronavirus pandemic? When has it worked and when hasn’t it worked? How will this affect how you deliver services in the future? Have your service adaptations included better integration with other initiatives?
Play2Learn Supported Playgroups modified their model to provide online and remote service delivery in response to COVID-19. The modifications enabled them to stay connected to families safely when engaging remotely and included strategies to maintain “line of sight” for particularly vulnerable children for as long as possible. Cultural Support Groups initiated on-line chat groups and will continue to implement this strategy. Service providers (two CPs and one other NGO) collaborated to provide activity packs to families and to use this as an opportunity to maintain connection with families, this maximised the chance for support as multiple agencies were checking and sharing how the most vulnerable families were travelling. COVID safe Home Visiting continues, and became very valuable as a means of ongoing connection with families.
Ongoing excellent communication and collaboration between service providers will improve support and outcomes for families and children. Our online Building Healing Communities symposium brought together representatives from CfC, the SA Dept of Human Services, GoodStart, Playgroups SA, Community Hubs Australia, Save the Children, the Australian Refugee Association, Lutheran Community Care and University of South Australia Research in Education and Social Inclusion. Moving it from a face to face event to online resulted in a much greater reach across other initiatives. We developed an action plan co-designed with participants to build healing communites through integrating early childhood services to resource communities represented at the symposium as well as our own. See Action Plan.
Question 2 – Are the proposed key outcomes for the families and children programs the right ones? Are there any major outcomes missing? How can we include strengths-based outcomes that focus on family or child safety?
It is important to measure outcomes to provide ongoing information about what’s working well and to be able to implement changes to continue to be responsive to the needs of families. A significant aspect of what works well for the FP role is to improve access and engagement of families with vulnerabilities to support services through the integration of services across multiple NGO organisations and government. Families may initially connect with supports through soft entry activities (such as playgroup, cultural support groups or music groups) or home visiting. Where beneficial, access to more targeted services is facilitated because trust and relationships have formed through soft entry activities. Organisations need to work closely together (ideally in a co-located space) to maximise the likelihood that families will move across to the targeted services they need. We want to evaluate and report to DSS whether services are being provided in a way that maximises the accessibility for Isolated families with complex needs. Suggested outcome: Improved engagement with services
FP’s also have an important role to plan and facilitate the coordination/collaboration/partnership of programs/activities/supports across a community in response to community input, evidence of what works and available resources. This builds the capacity of the community as families and children can access timely, appropriate support in a suitable location. We want to evaluate and report to DSS whether the service structures/community plans are facilitating a coordinated response to providing the best services for families and children. Suggested outcomes: Services working more effectively as a system
Because FPs work with multiple NGO’s they are well positioned to provide collaborative training events. We want to evaluate and report to DSS whether we are improving the capacity of the service system through collaborative professional development and information sharing opportunities. Suggested outcome: Improved community capacity
A State CfC independent evaluation by the Flinders University evaluated the FP role in delivering related outcomes by surveying CPs, other NGO’s, not-for-profit, local government and health services. See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338229103_Exploring_the_role_of_Communities_for_Children_CfC_Facilitating_Partners_and_their_impact_on_service_delivery_and_collaborative_community_service_delivery_2019
If we are going to see significant change it is essential that we build on existing family strengths and community assets. Suggested outcome: Improved development of family and community assets
Question 3 – What tools or training would support you to effectively measure and report outcomes through the Data Exchange Partnership Approach?
It’s important to develop evaluations with service providers and community. This increases ownership and investment into the value of the evaluation and will improve the quality and quantity of data collection. Participation of families is increased when they can see that they are able to reflect in a meaningful way the impact services have had for them. This also means that families may be involved in the development of the evaluation and a standardised evaluation may not always be implemented. Another advantage of this evaluation method is that it considers the cultural differences in the community (for CALD and Aboriginal/ATSI families). Culturally appropriate methods of data collection empower community to tell their story, embrace differences and ensure evaluations are meaningful to the participants as well as service providers and funders.
Principles based evaluation doesn’t only tell us whether what we are doing makes a difference, it also considers whether we are enacting the principles that our work is based on and whether they are contributing to making a difference for families.
Partners have told us that they like to share the stories of families. This is powerful because it isn’t a moment-in-time look at the impact of an activity. It demonstrates long-term outcomes (sometimes over several years), the impact of multiple activities/strategies and the connection and intersection of them (the flow of a family through the service system), and a greater amount of contextual information such as how cultural/economic/health and other factors may have affected the outcome for the family. It is also empowering for families to share and encouraging for service providers and funders.
We would greatly appreciate training and support from DSS to select and implement the most appropriate evaluation, undertake principles-based evaluation and qualitative evaluations like The Most Significant Change and to subsequently report outcomes or translate them into SCORE.
Question 4 – Do you already have a program logic or theory of change outlined for your program? Did you find the process useful? If you do not have one, what has stopped you from developing one? What capacity building support would assist service providers to develop program logics and theories of change?
We have written program logics for some of our CP programs and have used a Results Based Accountability model for others. It’s important for us that program logics or theories of change include a feedback loop so that we are regularly considering our outcomes in order to sculpt programs (and change program logics) for the greatest benefit to families.
It would be beneficial not only to provide to DSS a program logic for each CP program but also for the FP activity as a whole in order to provide a whole-of-community view of our inputs, strategies and outcomes.
Question 5 – If longer-term agreements are implemented, how can the department work with you to develop criteria to measure and demonstrate performance? How can the Data Exchange better support this?
Because DEX is most often unable to consider data at an individual CP program level, it is beneficial to be able to provide feedback via AWP reporting which also allows for sharing quantitative evaluation data
Question 6 – What does success look like for your service, and how do you assess the overall success of your service?
To assess the overall success of our program it’s important for us to consider outcomes for individuals, families, the community, and service system. Outcomes such as improved engagement with services, collaborative and effective place-based practice, and enhanced service system capacity are indicators of success at our site.
Success looks like engaging community to be partners in activities and to take a lead role in the development and implementation of an activity. This can be particularly powerful for ATSI or CALD communities where an activity is developed from the community and community (sometimes a school) is also trained to continue facilitation.
We have found that population outcomes as measured by such instruments as the AEDC, substantiated notifications and NAPLAN to be particularly helpful. In our site this has been contingent on having strong baseline data mostly because we were privileged to be included in the initial national evaluation conducted by the Macquarie University Social Policy Research Centre. We have worked extensively with local evaluators to demonstrate success and took up a publisher invitation to write up something of the story behind the data. See https://www.worldcat.org/wcidentities/lccn-nb2012009495
Question 7 – Do you currently service cohorts experiencing vulnerability, including those at risk of engaging with the child protection system? If not, how does service delivery need to adapt to provide support to these cohorts?
It seems most families experiencing vulnerability at risk of engaging with the child protection system have experienced intergenerational trauma. We have found that intensive support in the form of ‘wrap around’ services to be the most promising way forward in terms of breaking the cycle of dysfunction in these families. These families do not engage easily with services and the stigma associated with needing support needs to be tempered by the provision of ‘soft entry’ activities in non-stigmatising locations such as schools. Family hubs offer the additional capacity to deliver seamless transitions from soft entry activities to more intensive support groups and tailored individual trauma responsive strategies. They can also provide a welcoming environment serviced by multi-disciplinary teams able to respond with skill and flexibility to service cohorts experiencing vulnerability. The results we have seen from this approach are encouraging. See The Family Centre Approach to Early Intervention and Prevention report
Such centres need to be well connected with the service system in order to receive appropriate referrals from agencies and institutions engaged with child protection such as government agencies, childcare, schools, playgroups and the general community. The system itself needs to be redesigned to better engage with traumatised families and we have recently collaborated with stakeholders to develop an action plan to further this process. See Action Plan.
The Wellbeing Classroom uses a whole-school, teacher equipping, peer-to-peer mentoring, and family engagement approach to improving the emotional wellbeing of children at primary school. An evaluation showed it identified improvements in children’s social relationships (including a reduction in bullying), their abilities to identify their own and others’ feelings and school attendance. These results are significant in a school with relatively high levels of cultural and linguistic diversity and complex social contexts including low incomes, refugee backgrounds and disability. Parent involvement data comparing 2017-2018, showed a 70 percent increase in the number of families with English as an additional language or dialect attending family learning events, and a 50 percent increase in the number of EALD families accessing family support and health services. See The Wellbeing Classroom Report.
Aboriginal children are supported at school via the Drumbeat program which has demonstrates good improvements in emotional wellbeing. An Aboriginal mentoring program was developed by community, led by two Aboriginal musicians, supported by Relationships Australia SA in partnership with schools. This was the power of a community developed program making a significant impact on the lives of the children involved . As well as developed out of community, being able to equip communities (such as schools) to have the skills and understanding to continue the work also builds community assets.
Question 9 – For all providers, are there other ways to improve collaboration and coordination across services and systems?
We have found it important to work together with representatives from services and systems on common challenges we all face in providing improved services with families experiencing vulnerability. Many of the challenges have to do with practice implementation. Implementation science may be helpful but it doesn’t substitute for practice wisdom gained from delivering family support with traumatised families. This was our experience from the early days of the initiative. Research and policy is helpful but we find it important to also bring together service providers to work with researchers on the issues we are facing in delivering family support.
Rather than facilitating time consuming meetings for the sake of meetings we have found that bringing relevant service providers and researchers together for specific capacity building events within a timeframe has been productive. The relationships developed in this process have established a platform for ongoing coordination across services and systems. Meetings are conducted on an as-needed basis as we continue to collaborate to facilitate integrated services.
The major challenge of this strategy is that personnel in the sector change roles quite frequently. That is partly why we have found it useful to bring people together periodically to work on capacity building workshops/conferences/symposiums. Outcomes of this strategy have included the development of family support hubs in schools and a whole of school wellbeing initiative. They have been contingent on strong relations with Department for Education representatives as well as early childhood experts from the University of South Australia and contracting service providers who have established credibility in working with schools. The working relationships with these stakeholders has been of sufficient strength to deliver initiatives with promising outcomes for children and their families.
Question 10 – The capability building support offered under Families and Children Activity programs has gone through several iterations. What works well? What do you think should change?
The initial iteration of CfC provided extensive capability building training mainly from researchers and representatives of related overseas initiatives such as Sure Start in the UK. While this was very helpful we found it important to engage with practitioners, as well as researchers and policy makers, in the process of developing and implementing activities supportive of families experiencing vulnerability. Conferences we facilitated were well received by practitioners and resulted in publications and other resources including videos of presentations contributing to building capability in the sector and beyond.
The process of implementing these initiatives brought together key stakeholders and engaged us in very productive initiatives and collaborative relationships including with academics invested in the sector. We have also experienced initiatives that have been stifled by competing agendas and controlling interest groups and been far less productive and more time consuming.
Our learning suggests we need both research and practice from multiple sources provided by the department, research alliances and practitioners. Families Australia conferences have been useful and more recently FRSA has initiated useful conversations regarding policy matters. We have found many relevant learnings in books, articles and online presentations. The vastly improved live online platforms have also contributed significantly to the facilitation of capability building in recent times as we discovered with our recent Building Healing Communities symposium.
Question 11 – Aside from additional funding, how can the department best work with you to support innovation in your services while maintaining a commitment to existing service delivery?
An independent evaluation by the Flinders University was carried out across all six Communities for Children sites in South Australia. One of the outcomes considered was the impact of changes to the FP role, including the evidence base requirement. The following suggests that we cannot assume programs are effective simply because they meet an evidence-based requirement; they need to be appropriate to the target group and provide opportunity for long-term engagement:
Importantly, some of the suggested evidence-based program are of short duration and do not meet the needs of the community of families dealing with complex situations and life circumstances. As captured by the following quotation:
We know from the evidence, however, if we’re actually trying to instil a support long-term change, 8-week parenting courses aren’t going to crack it. So, it’s actually counter-intuitive the way that that policy change has worked. The need for evidence-based needs to be balanced with the needs of the community. It is about modifying the programs or melding particular aspects of programs to meet our families’ needs. We have also been very innovative in our programs and need to deliver them over a longer time.
The FP and CP work together to balance the needs of the families and the requirements of the CfC initiative. As the short-term nature of some parenting courses does not necessarily reflect best practice for instilling long-term change in families or in the community.
As an FP it would be beneficial to be able to provide a percentage of services ourselves. This supports collaboration with our partners with a greater sense of a mutual partnership. The services provided could be innovative (perhaps for a trial period before setting up as an activity) and utilize the strengths of the FP organisation.
Question 12 – Is there anything else you would like to share about the ideas and proposals in the Discussion Paper?
We note that The Early Years Catalysing Group set up on response to the March 2021 National Early Years Summit is undertaking the development of a major dynamic systems model to be widely scaled up in 2022.
This will contextualise the components of the Australian early childhood development field and create a holistic picture that can identify the interactions, barriers and opportunities where levers for change can be found. Again, this will be a broad and deep collaborative process requiring engagement and input across the early childhood development field. (ARACY, 2021)
This initiative aligns well with the Action Plan developed through the 2020 Building Healing Communities Early Childhood Leadership Symposium though the national summit did not prioritise responding to the challenges of intergenerational trauma in the manner of the recent South Australian service system codesign . CfC has the potential to implement key recommendations coming from these and other related initiatives more broadly across local service systems.