Facs research news no 8 June 2001

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Piloting of the Survey Instruments

The dress rehearsal stage of the pilot testing for the HILDA survey, described in FaCS Research News, No.7, started on 30 May 2001 and will finish on 11 July 2001.

This pilot involves some 250 households across 16 Census Collection Districts. The sample selected for this pilot, also described in the previous issue, will be the basis for the Waves 2 and 3 pilots.
The Survey Instruments being used in the Dress Rehearsal pilot are curently available on the HILDA website http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/hilda/

Enquiries about the HILDA Survey should be directed, in the first instance, to the HILDA website http://www.melbourneinstitute.com/hilda/ or to Professor Mark Wooden of the Melbourne Institute on (03) 8344 8882 or m.wooden@unimelb.edu.au

Enquiries about the email-based HILDA User Group and comments about the Survey Instruments or piloting procedures should also be directed to Professor Mark Wooden at m.wooden@unimelb.edu.au
Further enquiries about this survey should be directed to Karen Wilson or Helen Boden, Longitudinal Data Section, Strategic Policy & Analysis Branch at email HILDA@facs.gov.au

The Longitudinal Survey of Australian Children (LSAC): an update

Extensive consultations with stakeholders have helped FaCS develop the key research questions for LSAC. LSAC will identify the key factors affecting child outcomes over the developmental life course in the early years, including:

  • How well are Australian children doing on a number of key developmental outcomes?

  • What are the pathway markers, early indicators, or constellations of behaviours that are related to different child outcomes?

  • How are child outcomes interlinked?

  • What are the features of children’s environment (for example, families, communities and institutions) that are related to child outcomes?

  • How do we explain why children do or do not change course (in terms of measured outcome) over time?

  • How is a child’s potential maximised to achieve positive outcomes for children, their families and society?

  • What role can the government play in achieving these outcomes?

FaCS is undertaking a tender process to contract the implementation and management of LSAC to a qualified research organisation.

General Customer Survey: an update

The FaCS General Customer Survey is a longitudinal survey which tracks a representative sample of all FaCS customers (each payment type is included) and asks questions about a broad range of issues. The survey was developed to meet requirements for quantitative customer research by the department.

The General Customer Survey uses Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) to follow respondents as they move off or between payments, or between addresses over the two-year life of the longitudinal panel. Each quarter a new panel is surveyed for the first time. All respondents are given two follow-up interviews at twelve-month intervals. In addition, respondents on employment-related payments are interviewed each quarter over their first year of participation.
Six data collection quarters have now been completed. Data collected in the year 2000 have been made available to FaCS staff in the first instance for research and analysis. Longitudinal data will be released progressively within FaCS over 2001­–2002.
Survey findings are expected to inform a broad range of research and evaluation projects over the coming year. The wide-ranging nature of the both the sample and the questions asked in the survey has resulted in a broad appeal to researchers across the portfolio. In particular, the data are expected to contribute to the suite of evaluation tools required for the Australians Working Together package.
The survey will allow insights into:

  • the characteristics of people receiving FaCS payments;

  • how this population changes over time;

  • how individual customers change their behaviour and their circumstances;

  • the impact of payments on circumstance;

  • factors affecting take-up of FaCS payments and services and dependence;

  • attitudes to receiving payments;

  • respondent histories between episodes receiving payment; and

  • interaction between FaCS payments and other programs and activities.

External research bodies and other departments have also expressed an interest in having access to the General Customer Survey data. Options to facilitate the release of the data are being considered with a view to making the most of our current research partnerships and exploring other initiatives to make this data widely available.

Indicators and measures of community strength

There has been considerable national and international research around many elements of community strength. A variety of indicators, from a variety of perspectives, have been put forward as possible tools to measure community strength and the performance of agencies supporting communities.

Given both its responsibilities for national policy development and, in the context of the Commonwealth Government’s $240 million Stronger Families and Communities Strategy, the need to evaluate policy initiatives which impact on the strength of communities, FaCS identified a need for a more systematic and comprehensive approach to the analysis of community strength and its measurement.
FaCS identified the work necessary for this to broadly include:

  • an analytical framework for understanding the commonalities, contestability and links between different theories on indicator research, as well as the problems and issues related to this research in regard to measuring community strength;

  • the identification and development of a comprehensive menu of options of indicators for measuring community strength and developing a measure of relative community strength; and

  • a reference document to inform the future work on measuring community strength and outcomes both for policy development and evaluation purposes.

FaCS agreed that this research would be undertaken in two stages. In late 2000, Professor Alan Black and Dr Philip Hughes from Edith Cowan University began work on the first stage of the project—to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of literature on existing work on indicators of community strength, an analysis of the outcomes of the review, and to suggest a set of outcomes which would inform the second stage.

Their completed report—The Identification and Analysis of Indicators of Community Strength and Outcomes—will be available in August 2001. This research report is an important element of work contributing to the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy and gives a sound analysis of the complexity of attributes that affect and shape communities.
The report’s analysis of indicators of community strength provides the basis for moving to the second stage of this important work, namely to develop and field-test indicators which can measure the strength of individual Australian communities. This work will begin approximately September 2001.
Further information: Chris Wojtas, Community Branch on (02) 6212 9383 or email: Chris.Wojtas@facs.gov.au

Impact of Child Care Benefit on child care usage

In April 2000 and October 2000, FaCS commissioned surveys of long day care (LDC) centres and outside school hours care (OSHC) services to determine the impact of the new Child Care Benefit (CCB) on child care usage. The surveys were conducted immediately prior to and soon after the introduction of the new benefit and measure changes in rates of utilisation in services.
The surveys demonstrate that CCB, introduced in July 2000, has resulted in more children using formal child care. CCB has also led to significant improvements in the utilisation of child care services and has had only a minimal effect on fee levels.
The surveys were conducted by Datacol Research Pty Ltd, a Canberra-based market research firm, using a disproportionately stratified random sample of 2254 LDC centres and 1445 OSHC services. Response rates for both LDC centres and OSHC services exceeded expectations, realising around 95 per cent for each service type in April and 97 per cent for each service type in October. This means that the results are highly representative. Apart from the change to the reference week, the questionnaires were virtually identical between April and October and allow for a direct comparison of the usage information obtained.
Number of children
The surveys indicate that from April 2000 to October 2000, the number of children in LDC centres increased by 18 per cent. In October 2000, it was estimated that there were 367 000 children in centres, which represented an increase of 56 000 children from the April figure of 311 000 children. These children came from 303 000 families, compared with 265 000 families in April—an increase of 14 per cent. The number of children in OSHC services has remained static at around 124 000 children—these children came from 89 000 families.
Utilisation rates measure the level of demand in child care services. They are calculated by dividing the number of hours paid for in a child care service by the capacity of the child care service (in hours).
In April 2000, the rate of utilisation in LDC centres was 74 per cent. Since the introduction of the CCB, utilisation in services has increased to 87 per cent, an increase of 13 per cent.
In Before School Hours Care, the rate of utilisation fell slightly from 52 per cent in April to 50 per cent in October. In After School Hours Care, the rate of utilisation has remained relatively static between April and October, at around 60 per cent.
For the LDC centres surveyed and since the introduction of CCB, there has been an average fee increase of 2 per cent. Thirty-three per cent of LDC centres reported that their fees had increased. In OSHC services, there has been an average fee increase of less than 1 per cent since the introduction of CCB.
Total hours paid for
Between April 2000 and October 2000, the total number of hours paid for in LDC centres increased by 17 per cent. The number of hours used in OSHC services remained static between April and October.
Further information: Rosemary Jardine, Child Care Benefits Branch on (02) 6212 9393 or email: rosemary.jardine@facs.gov.au

Men and family relationship evaluation

In response to a growing community sense that men have particular needs when seeking help with relationship issues, the Prime Minister announced funding for a Men and Family Relationships initiative in November 1997. Its aim is to help men deal with the emotional effects and unresolved problems following the breakdown of their relationship, so that they can manage a range of relationship difficulties and re-establish positive relationships. The initiative also aims to help relationship service organisations develop more sensitive and responsive approaches to working with male clients.

Some 54 pilot approaches to helping men with their family relationships will be tested over a period of four years. The money also funds some national projects, including a men’s telephone counselling service, due to begin operation later this year.
The 54 pilot services are extremely diverse. Situated in every State and Territory, some are working with all men in their particular community. Others are working with a wide range of target groups including Indigenous men, rural men, men with diverse cultural backgrounds, new fathers, men facing separation and divorce and the aftermath, prisoners and adolescent boys. In terms of service types, the pilots offer one or more of relationship counselling, relationship education and family skills training.
The 54 pilot services and a couple of national projects are now the subject of an evaluation that will run alongside the services from October 2000. The consultant evaluators are Phoenix Projects. There will be a great deal of communication between the evaluators and the projects on the evaluation findings via a website (http://www.phoenix-projects.com.au/facseval1.html) to encourage continuing service development. An e-group has been established to facilitate communication between services themselves on their trials and triumphs. The evaluation’s final report is due in September 2002.
The evaluation is to assess the effectiveness of the pilot services in attracting increased numbers and new types of clients, and enhancing their capacity for achieving and sustaining quality family relationships. It is also to assess what Commonwealth policy and program development and service delivery organisations can learn from the projects about men’s experience with relationships and effective strategies for assisting them.
It is very difficult to establish the causes of change in an individual’s behaviour, and thus to estimate the contribution of the program intervention. For this reason, the evaluation is using a range of techniques and types of data to answer questions about short and longer term outcomes for clients, who is attracted to the services and why, and what techniques are successful in everything from service siting and promotion to the therapeutic interventions used.
The evaluation data are being obtained in five ways, combining qualitative and quantitative information. Firstly, the program database FAMnet/FaCSLink is providing information on the nature and mix of services offered, and some limited client demographics. Secondly, the 46 organisations delivering the pilot services will be surveyed twice during the evaluation on their experience of service delivery. Data from the first of these surveys should be available shortly. Thirdly, men who have received services will also be surveyed twice, to gain some estimate of the impact of the services, including effect over time. Since FaCS does not know the identity of clients, the evaluation will largely be dependent on the services to gain access to their clients.
Fourthly, a number of qualitative community case studies are being undertaken to gain an in-depth understanding of the experience of some pilot services and their clients. From criteria developed by the consultants, the department and the Steering Committee, five of the 18 services from the first funding round and eight from the 28 second-round services have been chosen for study. During site visits of several days, the consultants discuss a range of issues with organisation managers, the workers delivering the men’s service and other workers in the organisation, clients, and referral and downstream organisations in the region. The first visits to the first five sites are now completed, and a description of each visit with comment and findings is being progressively added to the evaluation website.
The fifth source of data will be some limited psychometric testing. One of the men’s initiative national projects is enabling services to test a commercially developed separated men’s program known as MENDS. MENDS uses psychometric testing as part of its assessment of the benefit to clients, so some other services dealing with separated men will be asked to encourage their clients, with informed consent, to undergo similar testing. Possible wider use of such testing has been ruled out because of uncertainty about psychometric testing’s usefulness in relation to the type of behaviour change sought by this initiative, and the fact that it will not be applicable to a range of the men attending services because of the nature of the intervention they are undergoing.

Further information: Megan Cook, Family Relationships Branch on (02) 6212 9163 or email megan.cook@facs.gov.au.

Documentation from the evaluation is being added, as it is produced, to the evaluation website at http://www.phoenix-projects.com.au/facseval1.html

Parenting Payment Longitudinal Survey

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