Issue 99

Family Matters No. 99, 2017

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Research to results

This edition presents a range of articles based on research presented at the AIFS 2016 Conference, "Research to Results - Using evidence to improve outcomes for families".


"Working out what works for families": Evidence and the Australian child and family service system

Kelly Hand

Overviews the increasing policy and practice focus on the need to better understand the effects of social services on families. Hand highlights how governments across Australia are increasingly making data collection and evaluation part of their conditions for funding programs and individual services. The article also discusses the contested nature of "evidence" and future directions for program evaluation.

Conference Keynote. Two-generation programs:: Can 1 + 1 be more than 2?

Greg Duncan

Two-generation programs provide coordinated services to both parents and children - for example, early childhood education complemented with a parenting skills program. In this article, based on his keynote address given at the 16th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Distinguished Professor Greg Duncan looks at the potential of two-generation programs to benefit families - such as by closing the school achievement gap between children of high and low socio-economic status or reducing 'toxic stress' in the home. In particular, he discusses evidence from overseas on whether two-generation programs, run synergistically, have more impact on parents' and children's outcomes than two separate programs.

Conference Keynote. What can early interventions really achieve, and how will we know?

John Lynch

In this article, based on his keynote address given at the 16th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, Professor John Lynch considers evidence-based policy-making from the perspective of an epidemiologist. Professor Lynch describes recent evaluations of several early childhood programs from Australia and overseas, and concludes with recommendations for getting "good-enough" evidence. Considering that less than 50% of the research on early childhood programs can be regarded as of moderate or high quality, better evidence must be produced to justify public expenditure on interventions.

Conference Keynote. Research to recommendations

Justice Jennifer Coate

In this article, Commissioner and Justice Jennifer Coate describes the aims and work of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including its terms of reference, approaches to information gathering, research program, the issue of disclosure, and the Royal Commission's goal to produce recommendations that are actually implementable. Already, the Royal Commission's research has provided a strong evidence base for reform.

Practitioners on evidence

Sam Morley

These four short practitioner profiles explore how evidence is being generated and used by community service organisations in the child and family welfare sector. These experts (from metropolitan and regional organisations around Australia) reiterate how an evidence base is essential to a detailed understanding of their clients’ needs and to choosing the right interventions. Their insights are important to the work of policy-makers and researchers. In particular, they highlight the pressing need to develop flexible evidence based programs that can adapt to the multiple issues facing vulnerable children and families.

The Expert Panel Project

Elly Robinson

In 2014, the Australian Government Department of Social Services commissioned the establishment of a panel of experts to help service providers to deliver evidence-based programs and practices in the family support sector - the Expert Panel Project. Now that the Project is half-way through its 5-year term, this article reviews progress to date and some of the benefits and challenges of the process so far. Particular reference is made to programs under the Government’s Communities for Children Facilitating Partners initiative. So far, the Project has provided valuable insight into the level of skills and knowledge across the sector regarding evidence-based programs and outcomes measurement, and the effort needed to support what is, effectively, a cultural change.

Supported playgroups for parents and children: The evidence for their benefits

Joanne Commerford and Elly Robinson

Supported playgroups have been operating for many years in Australia, despite the absence of strong empirical evidence for their effectiveness in supporting vulnerable families. This article assesses the evidence on the benefits of supported playgroups for parents and children and the factors important to their operation. It also considers their role as a 'soft entry point' to other services, and whether - and how - they assist families to transition out of the playgroup.

Insights from the Australian Government Department of Social Services' Families Group

Roslyn Baxter

The Commonwealth Department of Social Services aims to improve the lifetime wellbeing of people and families through its range of policies, programs, and payments. This article highlights some of the ways the Department is collecting and using data to improve service design and delivery. These include its work with other agencies to implement the National Data Collection and Reporting Framework to help address domestic violence and the DSS Data Exchange, which is beginning to provide valuable insights about service usage and clients - from Family and Relationship Services to emergency relief. 

Evaluating the outcomes of programs for Indigenous families and communities

Stewart Muir and Adam Dean

This article outlines some issues and common challenges that require careful thought when planning an evaluation of a program targeting Indigenous people. Sections include: The need for outcome evaluations; Evaluation: the basics; Indigenous community involvement; Choosing an evaluation method; Adapting evaluation methods and measures; and Reporting. Examples from Ninti One, Kids Caring for Country, and Families and Schools Together (FAST) NT are included to illustrate themes.