Year in review 2015-16: Enhancing capacity of child and family services

Through a genuine exchange with users of research, the Parenting Research Centre (PRC) builds the capacity of community services to improve child outcomes through effective parenting support.

Our 2015-16 achievements included the following projects:

1. Supporting the implementation of smalltalk

We provided implementation support for the scaled-up delivery of smalltalk to supported playgroups around Victoria. smalltalk supports parents in disadvantaged families to enhance the home-learning environment for their young children. smalltalk is funded by the Victorian Department of Education and Training.

Highlights included:

  • delivering 13 training programs to 183 playgroup facilitators in Victoria, that include a two-day workshop and practice coaching
  • providing extra training to more than 115 smalltalk facilitators to improve effectiveness in planning service delivery, making field observations, and developing skills
  • conducting 105 site visits providing coaching support to supported playgroup providers
  • engaging with trained smalltalk facilitators via the new online community of practice hosted on the smalltalk website.

2. Supporting the Intensive Family Support Service, Northern Territory

We continued our unique role in supporting service providers and on-the-ground workers in delivering the Intensive Family Support Service, a parenting support service for vulnerable families in the Northern Territory. In our role as an Implementation Capacity Support Service, we supported local implementation for providers in city, rural and remote communities, and developed annual support plans for each provider agency.

Our work is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

Highlights included:

  • supporting 5 providers in their implementation work
  • supporting 7 sites: Darwin, Katherine, Ngukurr, Ntaria, Santa Teresa, Tennant Creek and Wadeye
  • delivering 27 training sessions to 35 workers
  • coaching 28 workers in face-to-face sessions
  • delivering 4 topics to workers: Introductory, Supervisory, Booster and Yarning Mat.

3. Providing implementation support

We were engaged by a number of agencies in New South Wales to help them implement evidence-based approaches to enhance their service delivery:

  • Uniting: completed the development of a practice framework for practitioners working with families experiencing family violence and supported its implementation
  • Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation: focused on prevention and early intervention in parenting and child wellbeing while maintaining a strong focus on Aboriginal culture and values
  • SafeCare: worked with agencies selected by the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services to trial SafeCare, an evidence-based parenting program that addresses child abuse and neglect; we also worked closely with the agencies to adapt SafeCare to the Australian context
  • Wanslea Family Services: delivered on-site implementation support, trained workers in four evidence-based programs, developed an evaluation framework, and reviewed reunification programs to help inform practice decisions for families whose children are being restored to their care after being placed in out-of-home care.

5. Working in early childhood education and care

We conducted a feasibility study into developing and supporting a practice development model for helping early childhood education and care services work more effectively with families.

Drawing on the experiences of parents, educators and experts through interviews, we designed a practical model that meets the needs of a service, including the following features:

  • a relational framework to guide and enhance service delivery, and measure targets
  • practical training for educators to help them have constructive conversations with families experiencing adversity and stress
  • an implementation process that strengthens existing infrastructure with practical support, for example: resources for pre-training, online resources for educators, training for educational leaders, and skill development.

5. Collaborative Practice Framework

Our Collaborative Practice Framework for working with parents in early childhood intervention settings continues to attract strong interest. This year, we continued to refine our framework and progress our understanding of what is needed to effectively implement practice quality-improvement initiatives, working with three organisations:

  • Knox City Council Specialist Services
  • Western Australia Child Development Service
  • New Zealand Ministry of Education, Early Childhood.

6. Developing self-directed professional training materials

The Western Australian agency, WA Country Health Service, engaged us to develop a series of video-based tutorials, interactive video conferences, and on-site coaching and implementation support in collaborative goal-setting practices for early childhood intervention practitioners working in rural and remote areas of Western Australia.

This professional learning program and associated implementation support activities are designed to build the skills and confidence of practitioners in effectively engaging and strengthening the capacity of families. The program will be finalised in 2017.

7. Building evidence in partnership with Windermere Child and Family Services

The Victorian-based agency Windermere Child and Family Services engaged the Parenting Research Centre to review a number of community delivered programs for families.  

As part of this process, we co-designed with Windermere a new approach for supporting community agencies to review, use and build evidence to continuously monitor and improve the quality of programs and services in order to achieve improved outcomes for children and families.

Our approach included the following components:

  • Program Assessment Framework: this framework helped to assess the feasibility, ‘implementability’ and evidence-base of community delivered programs, acknowledge existing strengths and learnings and identify areas for further development.
  • Outcomes Mapping Process: this process enabled further development and refinement of existing program logics in collaboration with community agencies to ensure a shared understanding of the mechanisms of change underlying programs; the process also helped to identify key engagement, implementation, mediating and intended outcomes for each program.
  • Literature Review: we developed a methodology to support community agencies to review the literature including searching, reviewing and summarising the key theories and evidence underpinning programs and their activities.
  • Evaluation Plan: we helped develop an evaluation plan to enable community agencies build evidence to help monitor program implementation and further enhance the quality of programs and services.
  • Collect, analyse and report data:  we developed a process to support community agencies to collect, analyse and report data in a way that supports the continuous improvement of programs, demonstrates program impact and supports reporting requirements.

Windermere has engaged us to continue in this partnership on the strength of the willingness and commitment of community agencies to adopt the approach and make changes to practice to improve outcomes for children and families. This success has led to us refining our approach in different contexts with other projects and agencies.

8. Delivering streamlined services for vulnerable families and children

The Parenting Research Centre was a partner in a whole-of-government Victorian initiative that focused on vulnerable children from the antenatal period through to four years of age.

For this project, we piloted a model that uses a family-centred service approach, and streamlined multi-agency service delivery. This approach is particularly important for families who need multiple services where gaps and overlaps in services can be an issue.

Highlights included:

  • adapting the evidence-based model Team Around the Child, developed in the United Kingdom, to align with Victoria’s service system
  • trialling the model in three Victorian local government areas – Whittlesea, Latrobe, and Yarra Ranges – encompassing a range of services, including: universal and enhanced maternal and child health, specialist children’s services, community health services and family support
  • training 108 practitioners from a range of professions – family support workers, social workers and maternal and child health nurses – to plan and deliver services together, with parents as integral members of the team.

Our findings indicated that this model is acceptable to practitioners and parents, is suitable for meeting the needs of vulnerable families, and provides a framework for multi-agency collaboration.

Our partners were Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, The University of Melbourne and Deakin University. The project was funded by the Victorian Government Departments of Education and Training, and Health and Human Services.

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