Positive outcomes for disadvantaged families

An early intervention program targeting families in disadvantaged communities across Australia is delivering positive outcomes for children, research led by UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre has found.

Sprc inside

An early intervention initiative targeting families in disadvantaged communities across Australia is delivering positive outcomes for children, research led by UNSW's Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) has found.

The Federal Government's Communities for Children (CFC) program funds non-government organisations in 45 geographic areas to develop and implement a whole-of-community approach to enhancing childhood development. Programs include home visits, early learning and literacy, parent and family support and nutrition for children aged 0-12 years.

A national evaluation of the program led by the SPRC, in partnership with the Australian Institute of Family Studies, found that families involved in the program experienced a range of positive impacts compared to families living in areas without CFC intervention.

Positive results included lower household unemployment, less hostile and harsh parenting practices, higher levels of effective parenting, higher levels of community participation and social cohesion, and higher levels of child vocabulary and verbal ability.

"The results show that an area-based intervention model can make a difference in Australia if it is properly funded, designed and implemented and supported by a community-based approach," the SPRC report's lead author, Dr Kristy Muir, said.

Increased service coordination and collaboration were also major outcomes of the program, the report shows.

In 2006, only 34 percent of agencies worked closely together, compared to 66 percent in 2008. This helped service providers solve problems, increase skills and capacity, and minimise duplication.

Moreover, families traditionally considered hard to reach, such as sole parents and migrant and indigenous groups, were successfully engaged with key services.

"The CFC model transformed the way services for children in their early years are delivered. Prior to the program, these services were often narrowly focused and rarely coordinated," said SPRC Director Professor Ilan Katz, the project's Chief Investigator.

"These findings highlight the positive impact of tackling disadvantage at an early age by focusing on families and supporting parents. To get these results after such a short period of time is very encouraging," he said.

The results of the evaluation were presented at the Australian Social Policy Conference at UNSW.

As part of the evaluation, surveys were conducted with more than 2,200 families with children aged two to five years living in 10 communities with a CFC program and five communities where there was no CFC intervention.

According to the research team, the evaluation findings compare favourably to the UK's high-profile Sure Start program.

Funding for the CFC program, implemented through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA), has been extended in recognition of the strong evaluation findings.

More information: The full report (Occasional Paper 24) is available on the SPRC website.

Details of the Communities for Children program are available on the FaHCSIA website.

Media contact: Denise Knight, UNSW Media Office | 0405 207 685 | d.knight@unsw.edu.au