A key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families
Tim Moore, Myfanwy McDonald, Harriet McHugh-Dillon and Sue West
There have been growing calls for service providers to seek greater community engagement in the design and delivery of services. However there is no consensus as to what this involves, and there appears to be a gap between the rhetoric and the reality of community engagement. This paper seeks to clarify what community engagement involves, how it relates to other ideas and practices, and the role it can play in improving outcomes for children and families.
The major social changes that have occurred in recent decades have altered the conditions under which families are raising young children and challenged the traditional service system's capacity to support them effectively.
There is a need for service approaches more suited to the needs of contemporary families, with community engagement as a potential strategy for ensuring that services are more responsive.
In this paper, community engagement is understood as a process whereby actors in a service system proactively seek out community values, concerns and aspirations and incorporate them into a decision-making process, establishing an ongoing partnership with the community to ensure that the community's priorities and values continue to shape services and the service system.
Community engagement has a strong rationale and accumulating evidence of efficacy, and the potential to be a key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian children and their families.
Convergent evidence from well-established fields of service delivery suggests a common set of characteristics that underpin effective community engagement.
Authors and Acknowledgements
Dr Tim Moore is Senior Research Fellow, Policy and Service Development, Centre for Community Child Health. Dr Myfanwy McDonald was Senior Project Officer, Policy and Service Development, Centre for Community Child Health, until September 2015. Harriet McHugh-Dillon was Project Officer, Policy and Service Development, Centre for Community Child Health, until December 2014. Sue West is Associate Director, Centre for Community Child Health, The Royal Children's Hospital, and Senior Manager (Policy and Service Development) and Group Leader (Policy, Equity and Translation), Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.
The authors thank Shaun Lohoar, Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and Zoe Upson, Program Manager Communities for Children at Amity Health, for valuable feedback on an earlier version of this paper.
Cover image: © istock/Steve Debenport
Moore, T., McDonald, M., McHugh-Dillon, H., & West, S. (2016). Community engagement: A key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families (CFCA Paper No. 39). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.
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