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Content type
Corporate publication

August 2015

Our Agency Plan

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) agency plan outlines our vision, mission and our values. It looks at the environment in which we operate and how we conduct our work. It profiles our current research focus and identifies research opportunities for the future while also reflecting our achievements. This agency plan fulfills requirements for the provision of a corporate plan under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA).

Who we are

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) is a Melbourne-based statutory agency of the Australian Government, established in 1980 under the Australian Family Law Act 1975.

The Institute operates within the portfolio of the Department of Social Services (DSS), and is responsible to the Minister for Social Services. The Institute has close and ongoing relationships beyond the portfolio with various government agencies, policy makers and relevant community sectors. Staff at the Institute are employed under the Public Service Act 1999.

Our vision

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is a trusted organisation with a proud record of high-quality, responsive and impartial research. Our vision is to make a profound and positive contribution to the lifetime wellbeing of Australian families by providing research that advances knowledge and informs family policy and service delivery.

Our mission

The Institute’s mission is to increase the understanding of factors affecting Australian families by conducting research and communicating findings to policy makers, service providers and the broader community.

Our values

At the Institute, our commitment to shared ethical values, consistent with the Australian Public Service values, underpins:

  • our work
  • our interactions with one another
  • our interactions with our partners and stakeholders

We value:

  • respect
  • integrity
  • impartiality
  • excellence
  • humour
  • innovation
  • accountability

We show this through:

  • making a commitment to genuine consultation
  • maintaining courtesy in all that we do
  • appreciating creativity in all aspects of our work
  • finding inspiration in collaborative work
  • always maintaining confidentiality
  • understanding and promoting diversity
  • sharing enthusiasm and joy in work

The world we work in

Families live in constantly changing social, political and economic contexts. After a period of sustained economic growth, Australia, along with the rest of the world, has encountered a slowing economy due to structural shifts and the changing nature of work.

Some of the challenges we face include:

  • concerning levels of inequality, with the consequences of disadvantage particularly affecting vulnerable families and their children
  • an economy transitioning from a mining boom to investment in other industries
  • substantial budgetary challenges for the foreseeable future
  • long-term youth unemployment
  • entrenched intergenerational disadvantage
  • the growing needs of the care economy
  • changing patterns of workforce participation
  • the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians
  • the shift from a manufacturing to an information economy in a globalising world, which profoundly affects families
  • rising reports of family violence, child abuse and neglect
  • armed conflict and its effects on past and current Australian Defence Force members and their families
  • emerging technologies that influence how we communicate with one another, and their potential to widen the equity gap
  • drug and alcohol abuse and its effects on families
  • poor mental health and how it affects children and families
  • growing levels of gambling and its associated harms in families and the wider community
  • the increasingly diverse mix of people who now make up the Australian community

How we work

We realise our vision by:

  • undertaking high-quality research that:
    • uses best practice and applies creative and innovative approaches to research design
    • is rigorous and ethical
    • is appropriate and cost-effective
    • is relevant and responsive to policy and practice settings
    • uses and expands the datasets available to AIFS and other researchers
    • encourages collaboration with other organisations
    • respects and values the commitment, views and participation of all those who contribute to our research
  • sharing our information through:
    • publishing our findings in peer-reviewed reports, articles and other works
    • ensuring our research is accessible, synthesised and relevant
    • targeting multiple communication channels to reach a broad range of audiences
  • valuing and deepening our relationships with:
    • policy makers, practitioners and organisations with a shared interest in the lifetime wellbeing of all Australian families
    • national and international partners involved in family research and policy
  • building and maintaining an organisational culture that:
    • ensures high standards of performance, underpinned by ethical behaviour, sound risk and resource management, effective governance, and rigorous accountability procedures, as expected of an Australian Government agency
    • embraces and encourages creativity, innovation and collaboration
    • supports a rewarding and flexible working environment
    • provides opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge
    • ensures staff capability to deliver our research and dissemination programs
    • encourages continuous improvements in order to realise the Institute’s objectives

Governance, risk management and performance

The Institute’s governance structures are based on accountability, transparency and fairness. Internal management groups ensure external risk, control and compliance requirements are met.

These activities are overseen by the Director and Executive team, with strategic advice in respect to research provided through the AIFS Advisory Council. A range of other committees support this work, including the Risk Assessment and Audit Committee, an ethics committee, and a range of expert advisory groups assembled for major research projects.

The Institute recognises that risk management is an essential component of sound management and good corporate governance. Its Risk Management Policy and Framework provides a process for undertaking realistic and proportionate risk identification, management and mitigation. All staff are provided with the tools to identify, analyse and develop plans for managing risks in their areas of responsibility, including business planning and project management.

The Institute measures its performance against a number of key performance indicators in order to demonstrate and evaluate the success of its research agenda and dissemination strategies. These include measuring the numbers of:

  • commissioning bodies
  • research projects
  • longitudinal studies
  • publications distributed and downloaded
  • media mentions
  • participants at AIFS conferences and seminars

The Institute is currently reviewing how it measures its performance to ensure it maintains its relevance to policy makers, practitioners and the public.

A world-class family research organisation for Australia

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has been delivering innovative, impartial and high-quality family research to governments and community organisations for 35 years.

As such, we are positioned at the intersection of policy, research and practice and are able to generate research data as well as provide sophisticated analysis, synthesis and interpretation of data regarding the complex issues affecting Australian families.

We deliver research capabilities and expertise through empirical research, including longitudinal studies, data linkage and integration, evaluation and research synthesis.

AIFS continues to advance understanding by policy makers of key issues affecting Australian families. Current research priorities include ageing, children and their care, grandparents, Defence Force families, families and the law, Indigenous families, humanitarian migrant families, past adoption practices and forced family separation, gambling, and responses to family violence and sexual abuse.

Some of the Institute’s research has included:

  • understanding the effects of the interactions between different legal frameworks and systems on families
  • identifying the factors that promote children’s healthy development and wellbeing and positive family functioning
  • exploring the implications of diverse societal trends for families
  • examining the challenges confronting culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) families
  • providing information about the effects of family violence, abuse and neglect on children and families
  • studying the complexity surrounding the balance of work and family responsibilities
  • working with Indigenous families and communities to understand the challenges they face
  • building understanding of the nature and extent of gambling and gambling-related harms
  • highlighting the complex issues arising from past adoption practices and forced family separation

Our achievements and abilities

The Australian Institute of Family Studies:

  • has a proven track record in the design and delivery of high-quality research/evaluation projects, using robust mixed-methods research techniques
  • employs highly skilled and well-regarded staff, who have a wide range of relevant experience across disciplines and sectors
  • is one of only three Data Linkage Integrating Authorities in Australia
  • hosts the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange, which synthesises and disseminates information and resources, and provides interactive support for professionals in the child, family and community welfare sectors
  • has a long history of managing major collaborative longitudinal studies, including the Australian Temperament Project (ATP) and Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)
  • places a strong emphasis on communicating findings from its research through multiple channels, including its publications, website, social media and a range of online and face-to-face events
  • disseminates its research in over 100 peer-reviewed publications and project reports each year
  • delivers Australia’s foremost family studies conference for policy makers, researchers and practitioners, every two years
  • includes the Australian Gambling Research Centre, which was established at AIFS in July 2013
  • has its research findings mentioned widely in national and international media (more than 6,000 mentions in 2014-15)
  • attracts over 10,000 subscribers to its online newsletters
  • maintains a library that holds one of Australia’s most comprehensive specialised collections of Australian and international family research and information, including 5,000 titles that are only available at AIFS
  • has a demonstrated commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ issues and aspirations, and has developed two Reconciliation Action Plans outlining the agency’s initiatives to achieve reconciliation

Our research domains

Change is a constant in all our lives. Australian families adapt and respond to a range of social, economic and environmental influences and challenges.

Some of these include relationship patterns, fertility, gender roles, relationship breakdown, the work and family interface, and the growth of varying family types. High-quality research can provide evidence and shine a light on issues that assist policy makers in addressing the needs of Australian families.

Some of the broad trends affecting the lives of Australian families include:

  • demographic, social and cultural trends - population growth and changes in the age structure of the population, the movement of people from rural and regional areas to cities, immigration, the changing make-up of families, the effects of relationship breakdown, and child support are just some of the trends at play in this arena
  • economic trends - after two decades of sustained economic growth, changing economic conditions, both domestically and internationally, have challenged Australian families and policy makers, and intergenerational equity issues have also emerged as key drivers in current economic policy debates
  • technological trends - developments in information and communication technologies affect how we interact with one another, where we work and how we socialise
  • environmental trends - natural disasters, climate change and the pressures of increasing urban sprawl in cities with limited infrastructure are just some of the external environmental factors that affect family wellbeing

AIFS has identified three key research domains for the period 2015-19:

  • family relationships
  • social and economic participation
  • child and family wellbeing

Family relationships

As our society changes, so too do our families. The diversity of modern families is reflected in the choices we make in the way we live our lives.

Over the life course, changes will occur in the structure of families, with key transitions including forming partnerships, having children, leaving home, caring for and nurturing family members, and coping with death, separation and divorce. The complexity of these transitions on family relationships - including between parents and children, siblings and grandparents - may have a profound effect on each family member and the family as a whole.

More broadly, it is important to understand how families support the wellbeing of children and adults through the life course.

AIFS aims to provide research in these areas that assists in illuminating the reality of the lives of Australian families.

Social and economic participation

A critical aspect for maintaining positive functioning and resilient families is engaging in the economy and, more broadly, with society.

An adequate income and ongoing financial security is crucial to people’s wellbeing. As both dual-parent employment and single parenting becomes the norm, the need to understand the effects of work on family life increases, as does the role of child care in helping balance parents’ work lives and children’s learning and development needs. How support can be provided for jobless families, low-income families and the unemployed are pressing issues for a society that values equity. Providing certainty for older Australians and security in their retirement is also an increasingly prominent issue.

Child and family wellbeing

While the early years of a child’s life provide the foundation for future health, development and wellbeing, responding to child and family wellbeing issues involves taking a broad life course approach. AIFS research can provide an evidence base for the development of early intervention and prevention strategies across the life course. Issues of alienation and disengagement may be precursors to more serious life outcomes involving mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions, gambling and other damaging behaviours.

Family violence is also increasingly being recognised as a major issue in Australian society. Understanding the many causes and effects of family violence on child and family safety is an important area of research for AIFS. Knowledge of protective and resilience-promoting factors is critical to identifying effective prevention and legal and therapeutic responses.