This report presents a medium- to long-term evaluation of the Communities for Children (CfC) initiative.

Executive summary

This report presents the results of Phase 2 of the Stronger Families in Australia (SFIA) study, an evaluation of the Communities for Children (CfC) initiative. The focus is on examining the effects of the initiative on child, family and community outcomes. By using data from Phase 1 (Waves 1 to 3 conducted from 2006-08) and Phase 2 (Waves 4 and 5 conducted in 2010-12) of the Stronger Families in Australia (SFIA) study, the medium- to longer-term effects of the program can be assessed.

As is outlined in detail in the report: Stronger Families in Australia Study: The Impact of Communities for Children, the CfC initiative aimed to:

  • improve the coordination of services for children 0-5 years of age and their families;
  • identify and provide services to address unmet needs;
  • build community capacity to engage in service delivery; and
  • improve the community context in which children grow up.

As part of the CfC initiative, the Department of Social Services (DSS; formerly Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs [FaHCSIA]) funded non-government organisations as "Facilitating Partners" initially in 45 disadvantaged geographic areas around Australia. Their task was to develop and implement a "whole-of-community" approach to enhancing early childhood development, through consultation with local stakeholders. The idea behind the CfC model is that service effectiveness is dependent not only on the nature and number of services, but also on coordinated service delivery. The types of services offered in the CfC sites differ depending on the needs of each community, and include home visiting; programs on early learning, child nutrition and literacy; parenting and family support services; and community events. There are now 52 funded CfC Facilitating Partners.

In 2009, CfC services were incorporated into the Family Support Program, which brought together a wide range of services for children and families, broadening their scope to include services for children aged 0 to 12 years and targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged families. In the same year, eight sites were targeted to focus on preventing child abuse and neglect in particular - four were existing CfC sites and four were new sites. In this report, these sites are referred to as Stage 2 CfC sites. Stage 2 CfC sites have not been included in the CfC evaluation reported in the main body of this report; however, preliminary waves of data from the early implementation of seven Stage 2 CfC sites and comparison (contrast) sites are included in the appendix.

As in the initial phase of the evaluation, Phase 2 of the SFIA study provides a unique opportunity to consider the effectiveness of the CfC initiative. The strengths of the SFIA study include having a large sample representing 42% of the initial target population in the selected CfC and contrast sites, relatively low and non-systematic attrition from Wave 2 (when children were 2-3 years of age) to Wave 5 (when children were 9-10 years of age), robust measurements of child and family outcomes, and an appropriately matched comparison group. However, the SFIA survey cannot identify the extent to which particular children or families have received CfC services, as one of the key features of the initiative was to change the nature of how the service delivery system operates in a community context.

Summaries of the key findings of the study and some of the implications of these findings are provided in this report.

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