Common Elements Approach

The Common Elements approach is being implemented by DHS Early Intervention Research Directorate (EIRD).


The Roadmap for Reform outlines the steps for reforming the Child and Family Support System (CFSS) and is informed by an extensive evidence base – data, research, practice and the voices of lived experience, to create and sustain a system that is culturally and trauma responsive. As part of this reform, our priority work includes supporting and strengthening our workforce. We know that family preservation work is hard and complex, but we are keen to support our practitioners in this important mission to keep children safe at home in community and culture.

At the heart of CFSS is a healing approach, driven by the Trauma Responsive System Framework (PDF 1008.6 KB) that enables all levels of the system to work together to support healing and avoids further traumatisation. The success of our efforts in family preservation is directly related to having a stable, skilled, and diverse workforce that feels valued, supported and inspired.

Common Elements approach

The Common Elements approach is a key strategy used to strengthen the Child and Family Support System workforce by providing support through the provision of evidence-informed modules of practices, that are proven to be linked to successful outcomes for families and children.

The implementation of the Common Elements approach is intensive and targeted. It is not just a training program, instead a shared journey of reflective practice that includes clinical coaching and team learning activities to encourage deep reflection of foundational practice concepts and embed these skills consciously and consistently into practice.

Common Elements Background and Introduction (PDF 1.4 MB)

Co-designed and evidence informed practices

DHS Early Intervention Research Directorate (EIRD) in partnership with Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) developed the Child and Family Support System 'Common Elements' approach, designed to build the capability of the CFSS workforce to form positive, productive relationships with families whilst also assuring consistent practice focused on increasing safety and family functioning for CFSS families.

Common Elements are evidence-informed techniques and common practices that have been identified within key published and reviewed papers and identified practices within research-supported programs. A targeted approach in reviewing the evidence was supplemented by additional analysis of Common Elements and modular interventions that are already available and have been tested and tried in other contexts. The Common Elements selected were proven to be effective in improving client engagement and facilitating behaviour change.

Practices designed for priority populations

The Common Elements approach acknowledges the important yet challenging and complex work that practitioners do and the wisdom they hold from their experiences of working with families in the CFSS context. The approach aims to build on those existing skills, experience and practice expertise.

One of the core strategies of a Common Elements approach is to select a set of practice elements appropriate to the needs of a particular client or group of clients with shared needs. DHS’ previous co-design and consultation work highlighted priority areas that were the most critical for the CFSS sector and required an evidence-informed response.

Best practice in child protection settings includes the ability to keep the most important child safety concerns in focus, whilst also creating an environment in which parents and carers can consider change (Forrester, 2020).

DHS and Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) have used evidence to identify the 10 Common Elements most critical to addressing the priority areas for the CFSS sector.

The 10 Common Elements identified have been grouped into 3 modules:

  1. Building Engagement
    • OARS (Open-ended questions, Affirmations, Reflections and Summaries)
    • Checking for Understanding
    • Seeking Feedback
  2. Preparing for Change
    • Collaborative Partnership
    • Building Motivation for Change
    • Identifying Priorities
    • Goal Setting
  3. Enhancing Family Functioning and Safety
    • Communication Skills
    • Increasing Safety Through Conversations
    • Building Capacity for Family Led Problem Solving

How should Common Elements be used?

The Common Elements Approach nurtures relationship-based strategies that support gaining trust and engagement from families, acknowledges the context of the environment in which practitioners work and values and collects practitioners’ practice wisdom.

Each module aims to support practitioners to develop skills in the use of very specific practice elements (Common Elements). This approach provides practitioners with a set of discrete techniques and practices which can be drawn upon as required, using each practice flexibly, alongside other practices, models, and strategies when needed, as well as alongside practitioner knowledge and skills, and in line with family preferences.

The Common Elements Approach is enhanced by ‘Implementation Science’ to promote the uptake of evidence-informed practices into ‘business as usual’, to improve the quality and effectiveness of services. Local Implementation teams will play a critical role to provide key decision making around how the implementation of the practice modules across their service will best work and how to support sustainability of the approach.

Common Elements implementation plan

  • Common Elements Practice Guides identify the key elements of practice, found to be effective in the context of CFSS service delivery.
  • Tailored self-guided training via an online learning system
  • Facilitated discussion of each module is provided to contextualise the use of CFSS Common Elements of practice and provide an opportunity for reflective practice. Opportunity for engaging and reflective discussion will be enhanced through the co-facilitation of these sessions with the members of the Lived Experience Network.
  • Local Implementation teams will champion and lead the training and implementation within each service, addressing contextual barriers and identifying enablers to influence and enhance uptake of the approach.
  • Practice support and coaching are provided to support embedding learning into practice. Coaching provides practitioners with the opportunity to engage in ongoing, robust, and nurturing reflective practice to test skills, reflect and refine techniques in a supportive environment.
  • Implementation Science methods and strategies are used to promote the uptake of the Common Elements practices into ‘business as usual’, with the aim of improving workforce capacity and confidence as well as introducing systematic and intentional opportunities for service improvement.
  • Data collection to monitor implementation and inform continuous improvement. This also provides opportunity to collect practitioner wisdom from the implementation and from reflective practice which can then in turn contribute to our systematic learning systems for the CFSS reform.

Common Elements online course

Common Elements e-learning has been developed to support CFSS practitioners to nurture family healing and to avoid further traumatisation through the use of  relationship-based and evidence-informed practices that complement their existing evidence-informed practices.

10 practice guides across 3 modules are now available

Common Elements supports practitioners to form positive and productive relationships with families in ways that are trauma responsive and enhance safety and family functioning.

The e-learning takes practitioners on a shared journey, following the story of a CFSS Social Worker Maggie, as she engages a referred family using the 10 practice skills with the support of her CFSS Common Elements Coach. The e-learning provides guidance for clinical coaching, team learning activities and deep reflection on the application of core foundation skills.

Accessing Common Elements

DHS staff can access the Common Elements e-learning through My Hub. Search in the 'Courses' section of the 'Catalogue Search'

Other agencies can access the Common Elements E-learning through Launch.

To enquire about accessing the Common Elements online course, email:

Practice guides

Other resources

More information

Samantha King, Principal Project Officer, EIRD
Phone 0458 005 268

Page last updated 13 June 2023