1 in 5 children in Australia are notified to child protection services before the age of 15. That statistic is 1 in 2 for Indigenous Children. Since 2005 there has been a 51% increase in children removed from their families and placed in out-of-home care in Australia. Family services are overwhelmed, whilst child protection services are only able to respond to the most extreme cases. The financial costs are significant. Every year in Australia about $1,944m is spent addressing the long-term impact of child abuse and neglect. The cost of setting up and running Family by Family in an area is equivalent to the money saved by preventing a family of three from entering long term care.
Family by Family emerged from a co-design process with 100s of families that was framed by the question: “How can a new service enable more families to thrive and fewer to come into contact with crisis services?”
Over 12 months The Australian Centre for Social Innovation worked with government child protection services, local NGOs, child protection academics, a local city, a design team and most importantly families to design what became Family by Family.
Family by Family is a new network of families helping families. It enables families to set and achieve their own goals with the support of other families who have 'been there, done that'. Goals like improving kids behaviour, making better friends, getting out more, or learning about Australia. The service finds and trains families (kids included) who have made it through tough times, matches them with families who want things to change, and coaches family pairs through a 10-30 week link-up. The aim is to enable families to thrive, not just survive.
Core to the model are two new roles: the Sharing Family role and the Family Coach, each requiring the design of new recruitment materials, training experiences, support systems, and incentives.
The roles play out over 5 service stages:
1. Finding - how we attract families with family friendly language, messages and visual identity
2. Training - how we build capacity of 'sharing family' adults and kids
3. Linking-up - how families work together over 10 to 30 weeks
4. Coaching - how families are supported during a link-up
5. Measuring - how progress is made visible to families and funders.
In it’s first year of evaluation 90% of families participating in Family by Family met their goals. If this figure is discounted to 30% Family by Family still saves $1 for every $7 invested by preventing children from entering residential care services. Family by Family shows that families, with well designed support systems, can be more effective and efficient at creating change than professionals.
Research to develop Family by Family started on the ground in 2010. In 2011 a full service started operation in two locations in South Australia, reaching around 200 families a year. Over the next year we expect Family by Family to double in size in South Australia and start in New South Wales, working alongside professional child protection services. We believe Family by Family works because it’s designed with families for families.
The objectives of Family by Family were to enable more families to thrive and reduce crisis service usage. Our evaluation and cost benefit analysis suggest that we are contributing to both these key outcomes.
Through prototyping and ongoing service delivery we’ve also identified value we create that we did not expect at the outset. As a service open to all families we’ve reached unexpected groups - eg migrant and refugee groups who may not be in contact with the child protection system yet use Family by Family as a way to get to know Australia and build neighbourhood networks. We also did not predict the extent of outcomes for Sharing Families: for many, Family by Family has served as an entry back into education or into employment.
The family project moved through 4 stages of development with families and stakeholders engaged at every phase.
1. In the Look stage we recruited families outside of supermarkets, through door knocking and through a family festival. We spent 100s of hours with 140 families (kids included) in interviews, ethnographic research and at family dinners to learn what enabled families to thrive and what were the drivers and barriers for families to make progress toward thriving.
2. In the Create phase we co-designed solutions with families. We learnt about what they wanted to be part of and probed early ideas for interactions. It was here that we learnt how families valued the support of peers over professionals.
3. In the Prototype phase we recruited Sharing Families, taking them through two iterations of training and linking them up with Seeking Families. They helped shape the training, the language, the interactions and measurement of family by family. We also prototyped the coach role - the professional who provides support in the background.
4. In the Value phase the families involved in the prototype shared their stories on film to help us make the case for further investment in Family by Family. At the launch they spoke about their experiences to the Premier of South Australia.
Since the initial development of Family by Family, families have continued to be an active part of innovation projects and service improvement, with the Sharing Families becoming very familiar with interviews, ethnography and prototyping. Current innovation projects include: working with Indigenous families to shape Family by Family to create more change for Indigenous families; working with kids and the Kids Coach to increase the impact of kids in the model; working with coaches to prototype an iPad app to streamline the paperwork around the coach role and with families to create a digital version of the ‘bubbles and stickers’ that can more effectively track measurement at scale.
As we move to new areas families in those areas are engaged in Scoping Projects before we start on the ground delivery. Scoping includes families and services from the area being involved in family dinners, and ethnographic work designed to help us shape Family by Family to fit that particular area.
Family by Family was designed to support all families who want to change something in their lives. This broad definition includes families who are: in contact with the child protection services; refugees and migrants; experiencing domestic violence; socially isolated; experiencing substance use; living with disability; dealing with behaviour issues; as well as families looking to get better at doing family.
As a peer-to-peer model Family by Family also creates change for Sharing Families. These are families who have been through may of the same things - but have come out the other side.
The program was developed in South Australia with ambition to spread across Australia. The growth of Family by Family is supported by Uniting Communities and the Ten20 Foundation. Growth in South Australia is supported by the Government of South Australia. In Playford we are supported by Communities for Children and Playford Alive. In Marion we are supported by the Wyatt Foundation.
An independent evaluation of Family by Family found that:
Family by Family recruits families in genuine need of support - 62.5% were categorised as ‘stuck’ or ‘in and out of crisis’ and a further 30% as ‘moving on after crisis’.
Family by Family improves family interaction and health.
Outcomes for families improve over time – 90% said things were ‘better’ or ‘heaps better’.
Family by Family’s strongest impact is in factors that are ‘internal to the individual’ – self esteem, believing one’s choices make a difference, and having a positive orientation to the future.
Changes for Seeking Families:
Seeking families report: greater confidence; more control over their decisions; feeling more positive about the future; and spending more quality time together.
Seeking family quote:
“I used to keep in my shell heaps…now we’re doing more things together and we’re building that mother-son relationship”
Changes for Sharing Families:
Sharing families report changes in their families, in their own self development, in their kids, and in how they interact with the community. For a number of Sharing Families Family by Family has provided a gateway to employment and education.
Sharing family quotes: “Since becoming part of FbyF, I was able to realise that I was valued as a mum and that I actually am doing a good job, good enough to try and help others and their families.”
“I used to be just a stay at home mother with no real chance of doing anything else. Since FbyF I’ve done a Foundation Course and started a Bachelor in Behavioural Science at Flinders University.”
Projected savings for the service system:
A cost-benefit analysis has shown that for every dollar invested in Family by Family taxpayers are saving seven dollars through the reduced need for out-of-home care and child protection services. Direct savings to the government could be as high as $79.8m over the next ten years. Governments in South Australia and New South Wales have seen
the value and invested in the growth of Family by Family.
“This could be the solution to the problems with child protection that have plagued us for decades.”
Jay Weatherill, Premier of South Australia
“One of the most inspiring approaches to assisting very vulnerable families…that I’ve come across in four decades.”
Emeritus Professor Dorothy Scott OAM
The primary measurement tool for Family by Family, the ‘bubbles and stickers’, was designed with families and went through 15 iterations. First and foremost we wanted families to be able to track their own progress. The tool measures progress toward self- set goals at the beginning, middle and end of a link-up. Goals typically fall into one of 4 categories: kids behaviours; parents behaviours; social contact; or family interactions.
Families (including children) rate their progress against these goals as “heaps worse” “worse” “no change” “better” or “heaps better” using stickers. (‘Heaps’ being an Australian term for ‘a lot’).
The second data source is a post program questionnaire designed to track the pattern of outcomes across the program and the mechanisms that are fired (ie what prompts the change). The questionnaire explores change related to: social capital; positive family relationships; future orientation; personal development; self esteem; social learning theory; and locus of control. These are related to the behaviours that were identified as ‘thriving behaviours’ in the initial stage of user research.
Additional data sources include interviews with coaches and workers of other services. Further detail can be found in the Independent 2011-2012 evaluation report
Winning the Prize would be an opportunity for Family by Family and TACSI to reinforce the value that co-design approaches can bring to tackling long standing social problems. This would support the growth of Family by Family, TACSI’s work in Caring and with Indigenous Australians and the nascent but committed design for social innovation community in Australia. The Prize would also give TACSI the opportunity to raise its profile amongst the design community across the world. Attracting top design talent will be key to Family by Family’s ongoing impact.
Currently Family by Family is in a period of expansion within South Australia and New South Wales and our primary challenges relate to maintaining the fidelity of the model as it grows and spreads. What makes Family by Family different from other peer-to-peer models is the details of the interactions and the ‘families know best’ values of the organisation. Maintaining these is key to success. This means designing ways to adapt the model to new locations whilst keeping the elements that are core to creating change. It means designing training and support systems that enable rather than restrict quality practice. It means designing ways to build organisations’ capabilities to run Family by Family in their localities. And all this whilst continually challenging the norms of the service system and existing funding models.
We would like to jointly credit the project to ‘The Australian Centre for Social Innovation and families in Marion and Playford.’