Department of Human Services

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Early Intervention Research Directorate

The DHS Early Intervention Research Directorate (EIRD) was established in response to the Royal Commission into the Child Protection System (2016 Nyland Report).

Recommendation 50 of that report outlined the role of EIRD as being to:

Prepare a Prevention and Early Intervention Strategy that is updated at least every five years:

  1. to identify service models that have proved effective or show promise in promoting the health, safety and wellbeing of children in South Australia;
  2. to serve as the basis of decisions by South Australian Government agencies to fund prevention and early intervention services;
  3. to form the basis of negotiations with the federal and local governments, with a view to coordinating funding priorities;
  • Establish research partnerships and fund evaluations of innovative service models to determine their effectiveness and value for money; and
  • Focus on the prevention and early intervention investment priorities identified in this report.

Epidemiological approach

Epidemiological approach

To deliver best practice early intervention services, EIRD applies an epidemiological approach to its work. An epidemiological approach (or public health approach) uses research evidence, systems-thinking, and data to determine the factors associated with different health and welfare outcomes. It moves beyond reporting counts of processes or transactions and explores the patterns of risk factors in populations. In contrast to unstructured data mining, an epidemiological approach is informed by theoretical models based on existing evidence or a hypothesis informed by clinical observations. It typically includes data modelling methods that can take multiple variables into consideration.

The type of data required for epidemiological analysis is different from the data required for administrative reporting, which commonly does not include the recording of outcomes. Administrative data often focuses on collecting information about who received a service, when and how the service was delivered, but often it is not easy or possible to assess the outcomes of the services.  Building capability to capture a broad range of evidence-informed risk and protective factors, and service outcomes is essential to building an epidemiological approach.
Shifting to an epidemiological approach involves several activities:

  1. Tracking relevant patterns in the population to understand the size of the child abuse and neglect problem.
  2. Identifying risk and protective factors, and risk populations, with particular focus on ecological factors regardless of whether they play a direct role in harm alleged/substantiated (I.e., family environment, community factors, family dynamics, material deprivation etc.)
  3. Developing and evaluating prevention and intervention strategies, including community-level interventions.
  4. Advancing recognition and understanding of risk factors, disseminate information about the effectiveness of intervention activities to the public health community.

Co-design

Co-design

To create meaningful and sustainable change, the new Child and Family Support System (CFSS) has been designed together with the people who need the services and the people who deliver the services.

A comprehensive, statewide co-design process was led by EIRD in 2019 to inform approaches to and priorities for the reform of the CFSS. Stakeholders across government, the sector and communities have all agreed on how we will work together to better support our state’s families. This authority and the environment of collaboration and mutual respect established in the process continues as we implement changes to the CFSS.

Importantly, the commitment to bring together knowledge from diverse sources — data, research, practice and lived experience — will continue to create and sustain a more evidence-informed and culturally responsive system.

The co-design process resulted in agreement on seven shared directions.

In the Roadmap for Reforming the Child and Family Support System 2021–2023, we have distilled these directions down to four priority areas, each with a set of programs, services and activities.

Further reading

Common Elements

Common Elements are discrete techniques or practice, grounded in evidence and can be used to build client engagement and facilitate changes in family functioning to ensure the safety of children. The common elements approach is being implemented by DHS in partnership with the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) to build the capability of our workforce across the Child and Family Support Services (CFSS) sector to form positive, productive relationships with families.

CEI is a global, not-for-profit evidence intermediary dedicated to using the best evidence in practice and policy to improve the lives of children, families, and communities facing adversity.

CEI work with clients, including policymakers, governments, practitioners, program providers, organisation leaders, philanthropists and funders across three key areas of work to:

  • understand the evidence base
  • develop methods and processes to put the evidence into practice
  • trial, test and evaluate policies and programs to drive more effective decisions and deliver better outcomes.

DHS, along with CEI, have identified 10 common elements as being most valuable for the CFSS sector, along with supporting practice guides that have been designed to be used in a flexible way and can be tailored to the needs of the family. The Department’s previous co-design and consultation work highlighted priority areas and target populations that an evidence-informed response needed to address. In particular, client engagement and child and family safety and were identified as priority areas.

The common elements identified have been grouped into four modules

  1. Building Engagement
  2. Preparing for Change
  3. Family Safety
  4. Enhancing Family Functioning

Each module aims to achieve specific client outcomes through discrete practices (common elements).

In this way, the common elements approach is not like a program with a starting and finishing point. Instead, this approach provides practitioners with a set of discrete techniques and practices which can be drawn upon as needed. The modules are intended to compliment or sit alongside other evidence-informed approaches

It is important to note that evidence-informed practice consists of using the best available evidence, alongside practitioner skill and expertise, and considers the needs and values of the family.

Common Elements

Common Elements

Common Elements are discrete techniques or practice, grounded in evidence and can be used to build client engagement and facilitate changes in family functioning to ensure the safety of children. The common elements approach is being implemented by DHS in partnership with the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) to build the capability of our workforce across the Child and Family Support Services (CFSS) sector to form positive, productive relationships with families.

CEI is a global, not-for-profit evidence intermediary dedicated to using the best evidence in practice and policy to improve the lives of children, families, and communities facing adversity.

CEI work with clients, including policymakers, governments, practitioners, program providers, organisation leaders, philanthropists and funders across three key areas of work to:

  • understand the evidence base
  • develop methods and processes to put the evidence into practice
  • trial, test and evaluate policies and programs to drive more effective decisions and deliver better outcomes.

DHS, along with CEI, have identified 10 common elements as being most valuable for the CFSS sector, along with supporting practice guides that have been designed to be used in a flexible way and can be tailored to the needs of the family. The Department’s previous co-design and consultation work highlighted priority areas and target populations that an evidence-informed response needed to address. In particular, client engagement and child and family safety and were identified as priority areas.

The common elements identified have been grouped into four modules:

  1. Building Engagement
  2. Preparing for Change
  3. Family Safety
  4. Enhancing Family Functioning

Each module aims to achieve specific client outcomes through discrete practices (common elements).

In this way, the common elements approach is not like a program with a starting and finishing point. Instead, this approach provides practitioners with a set of discrete techniques and practices which can be drawn upon as needed. The modules are intended to compliment or sit alongside other evidence-informed approaches

It is important to note that evidence-informed practice consists of using the best available evidence, alongside practitioner skill and expertise, and considers the needs and values of the family.

Community engagement

Community engagement

To support the quantitative data in our epidemiological approach, we also seek the voice of system users, including those with lived experience, professionals and community members, to understand and evaluate the impact of changes made to the Child and Family Support System (CFSS)

Lived Experience Network

The Early Intervention Research Directorate established the Lived Experience Network (LEN) as a result of the co-design process. The directorate continues to support this group of system advisors from diverse ages and backgrounds. The LEN provides people with lived experience with an ongoing mechanism to be involved in shaping the planning, monitoring and review of the Child and Family Support System.

Aboriginal Community Engagement

The Aboriginal Community Engagement team (part of the Early Intervention Research Directorate) facilitates the implementation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander System Design Criteria and Co-design Principles. These were developed during the Child and Family Support System co-design process.

Reports and publications

Reports and publications

DHS partners with various academic institutes to undertake data capture and analysis, service model and tool development, evaluation, and modelling activities.

BetterStart at The University of Adelaide

The BetterStart group of Adelaide University, part of the Faculty of Health Sciences, undertakes research into health and development from perinatal period into adolescence. BetterStart has worked in collaboration with EIRD since 2018 and has provided valuable insights through their Early Childhood Health and Development Project. Currently EIRD fund BetterStart to examine supply and demand of adult support services.

Telethon Kids Institute

One of the largest medical research institutes in Australia, based at the Perth Children’s Hospital, Telethon Kids Institute undertake research into childhood diseases. Telethon Kids Institute have undertaken research and evaluation of pilot programs.

Strong Start – Northern Pilot (PDF 4 MB)

Social Work Innovation Research Living Space (SWIRLS) at Flinders University

EIRD are working in partnership with Flinders University’s Social Work Innovation Research Living Space (SWIRLS) to facilitate the development a culturally informed practice tool to guide assessment and evaluate intervention outcomes for Aboriginal children and their families and to strengthen the culturally informed evidence base that supports culturally responsive practice for Aboriginal children and family’s wellbeing.

The practice tool will be designed to operationalise and assess Aboriginal children’s safety and wellbeing outcomes and broader family level change to sustain children’s safety and wellbeing. The tool will be informed by evidence and research, existing culturally responsive frameworks and practice tools, the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of Aboriginal people, including practitioners and community.

Published Reports and Data Summaries

  • CFARN Evaluation (Executive Summary Report) - (coming soon)
Page last updated : 17 Sep 2021

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