Let’s Start Parent-Child Program
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

The investment of the Let's Start program into building relationships with families and members of the local community provides the focus of this promising practice. The program has maximised opportunities to gain community support for the program while enlisting the expert advice of other agencies to deliver evidence informed responses to child development and family support in an effective way.

Delivered by

Menzies School of Health Research: An independent medical and research institute, and the Centre for Child Development and Education.

The information provided for this Promising Practice Profile was supplied by the Program Coordinator at Let's Start.

Service type

The Let’s Start Parent-Child Program is a therapeutically oriented group work program that focuses on supporting children’s social-emotional development during the period of transition to school for ages 4-7. The Program is delivered by two professionally trained group leaders and one or two members of the local community. It works with parents to develop their strengths and capacities in managing children’s behaviour by promoting reflection on their children’s needs and experience and by supporting them to engage with their children in collaborative play and learning. It draws on social learning, attachment, narrative and systems theories and aims to build models for reflective, evidence-based practice for work with families and communities in the Northern Territory.

Location(s)

Tiwi Islands and Victoria-Daly Shire, Northern Territory.

Description

The Tiwi Health Board implemented the Exploring Together Preschool Program (ETPP) on the Tiwi Islands from 1999-2004 to respond to concerns about the dramatic rise in suicides and the quality of parenting in families under stress. The program was named, “Ngaripirliga’ajirri” (“clearing a path for the future”) and worked with children aged from 6-11 years and their parents in the three Tiwi primary schools. Over the first 3 years, approximately 60 children completed the program with their parents.

After the success of Ngaripirliga’ajirri, the next stage was implemented for younger children aged 4-6 years who attended Indigenous preschools. The program was named "Let’s Start: Exploring Together" and operated in Tiwi schools and schools in Darwin and Palmerston between 2006-2010.
By the end of 2009, Let’s Start had been expanded to sites in Jabiru and Palumpa (Nganmarriyanga) with over 40 schools referring children to the program at different times. Based on ten years of experience delivering and evaluating Ngaripirliga’ajirri and Let’s Start: Exploring Together, the program has been adapted and redeveloped as the Let’s Start Parent-Child Program.

There is a substantial body of evidence indicating the increased risk of poor developmental outcomes faced by many Aboriginal children, particularly those in remote community contexts, highlighting the need for interventions that are accessible and effective in addressing and ameliorating these risks for young Aboriginal children and their families. The Let’s Start Parent-Child Program works with parents to develop their strengths and capacities in managing their children’s behaviour by:

  • promoting reflection on their children’s needs and experience;
  • supporting them to engage with their children in collaborative play and learning; and,
  • drawing on a number of approaches to child development and parenting, including social learning theory, attachment theory and family systems theory.

The specific aims of the 10-week Let’s Start Parent-Child Program are to:

  • improve parenting knowledge skills, as well as parental confidence, self-efficacy and mental health;
  • enhance the quality of parent-child relationships by helping parents to understand and respond to their child’s experience, both by sharing with other parents and through enjoyable interactions between the parents and their children;
  • improve children’s functioning at home, at school, and with peers; and,
  • build communication between parents and schools.

The intended outcomes of the project will firstly be in the delivery of a therapeutic service and the provision of support to over 100 parents and families over the life of the project. Secondly, parents needing additional support will be assisted to access mainstream and specialist services. Other outcomes of the project will include:

  • the provision of ongoing support to schools to facilitate opportunities for secure treatment for children considered to be at risk, and whose classroom performance and school behaviour are affected; and,
  • to build capacity and skills transfer in Indigenous communities, through partnerships with local community organisations and training of local staff.
Resourcing

Funding for the Tiwi Islands Shire communities is provided by the Commonwealth Department of Families & Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) through the Family Support Program and Stronger Futures.

For the Victoria Daly Shire communities funding is provided by the Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education & Workplace Relations (DEEWR), therough the Parental and Community Engagement (PaCE) initiative.

Practice

MOST promising aspect

Partnerships and collaboration with Aboriginal community organisatons and members have built the capacity of the Let's Start Program to deliver effective service for children and families.

The refinement and piloting of the Let's Start project has been conducted in partnership with Aboriginal community organisations, including the Tiwi Health and Education Boards, Tiwi Land Council, Danila Dilba Aboriginal Medical Service and Aboriginal community schools. Let’s Start participates in community meetings and collaborations with other providers in community early childhood forums. The current project extends these relationships to include the Vic-Daly and Tiwi Shire Councils, Tiwi Land Council, Deewin Kurim (Peppimenarti), Mutchirr (Palumpa), and Nauiyu Nambiyu Inc. (Daly River). Traditional owners and Indigenous Elders are engaged in all communities and act as advisors to the Let's Start Project Coordinator and team for that community. These partners have been consulted in the course of development of this proposal and have provided letters of support. Local Indigenous community members working with the project are also key participants in the community engagement strategy.

Implementation and establishment of the program takes an average of six months in any new community. This is critical to engage the support of the program from community members and local services and organisations and to identify individuals, resources and groups that can contribute to program implementation.

Other promising aspects

The primary obligation of the intervention is to recognise families and children as individual members of communities that have distinct cultural traditions and needs. Team members work to establish trust through sensitive engagement that takes time on the basis of informed consent and the acknowledgement of establishing ongoing relationships with participating family members. The researchers and leaders within Let’s Start are proud of the relationships they have been able to build and sustain with Aboriginal families and communities. Evidence for this is shown in the strong commitment of many families to the program, such as the large number of parents and grandparents who re-engage with the program as their children reach school age. The program now has links to children in their late teens who had previously participated in the program and their younger siblings are now attending the program for the first time.

Let’s Start is a strengths-based intervention. The program acknowledges that families and communities have strengths and that they know most about their children and about childrearing in their own context. Let’s Start primarily works to help participants reflect on and build upon these strengths while paying respect to the local cultural traditions and values of childrearing that are important to family cohesion.

Evidence base and opportunities

The high degree of investment into a whole-of-community approach to program design, implementation and refinement has provided the Let's Start Parent-Child program with a good capacity to deliver positive outcomes for children and their families. This is aided through the use of a collaborative partnership approach to access existing resources and to source expert advice about evidence-based therapeutic approaches to child development and parenting. Furthermore, by considering Aboriginal community members and local agencies as partners in program delivery and refinement, Let's Start has generated good community support for the program and a sense of community ownership over the program has resulted. This also helps to facilitate the ability of the program to identify the needs of families and communities more readily, and as ongoing community consultation is embedded into the structure of the program, appropriate and timely responses to family and community needs can be delivered.

The time taken to build relationships with families and members of the community has facilitated family engagement in the program and participants are more likely to be retained in the longer-term as a result. Coupled with a strengths-based and culturally appropriate approach to program delivery, these strategies have generated a large degree of trust from families and the broder community in the program. Such trust is known to be a key ingredient in program effectiveness.

Opportunites exist for other interventions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to recognise the importance of spending time to develop community support and to establish trusting relationships with families.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Workshops are an integral part of Let’s Start Parent-Child's engagement strategy and all community members are welcome to attend. The workshops enable group leaders to meet family members in a non-threatening and non-stigmatising setting to encourage those families and other parents and children to attend program. It also provides opportunities for group leaders to introduce core elements of the program content and format. Indigenous community members act as group leaders within the Let’s Start local teams to ensure that the teams are sensitive to local knowledge and values, and that cultural principles are acknowledged wherever they are relevant.

Once Let’s Start establishes community support to deliver the programs extensive and regular community engagement then takes place over a six month period. Again, this engagement occurs through a series of workshops and simultaneoulsy provides opportunities for early childhood community workers to undertake basic training in preparation for program delivery. This reflects the program's significant investment in relationship-building with and within Indigenous communities through the formation of partnerships with community organisations such as local councils, schools and health centres. The collaborative relationships with schools and health centres have been developed and sustained over many years through previous incarnations of the Let's Start program. This involves reciprocal commitments and recognition of local authority, needs and capabilities.

Senior community members are important sources of guidance for the program in all communities. The establishment of the program in new communities engages community leaders in initial promotion, developing community acceptance and in forming a local identity for the program. Where appropriate this includes the translation of key ideas and materials for use in the program and involves Indigenous participation in monitoring/reference group activities of the project governance framework.

Let’s Start works in collaboration with other community agencies and organisations to ensure that there is no inadvertent risk of harm to, or pressure on, local communities to adopt or respond to inappropriate demands or disruption to existing patterns of life.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

An internal evaluation has been completed and is publically available electronically and in hard copy: Robinson, G., & Tyler, B. (2006). Ngaripirliga’ajirri: An early intervention program on the Tiwi islands, final evaluation report (pp. 163). Darwin: School for Social and Policy Research, Institute of Advanced Studies, Charles Darwin University.

Link to evaluation

An electronic version of the evaluation report is available from the Centre for Child Development and Education website.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

The internal evaluation of the Let's Start program and learning from experience indicate that:

  • participation in Let’s Start increased parental confidence and assertiveness and stronger parent-child relationships;
  • participation in Let’s Start led to significant improvement in children’s behaviour and social skills, as reported by teachers and parents, at program completion and at six month follow up;
  • Let’s Start can support the transition to school for many children;
  • Let’s Start helps build communication between teachers and parents;
  • Let’s Start can support improvements in parental mental health; and,
  • post-program follow-up can help parents to access other services.

The benefits of the project for Indigenous children and families are significant in that it extends access to a program of early intervention to individuals who were not previously able to access it, and extends the number of communities participating in the prgram.

Let’s Start is a unique parenting program specifically developed for Aboriginal children and families for which there is evidence of effectiveness. Drawing on social learning theory, attachment theory and family systems theory, the program has an integrated focus on child development, early learning and parenting and on the emotional wellbeing of both parent and child.

Other evidence

Let’s Start works with a high proportion of families who are not active users of services, despite having many difficulties, and who may be shy or reluctant to seek outside help. Individuals are contacted through home visits and later follow-up and as a result, families are able to stay in touch with the program.

Building community partnerships and capacity means working with services and individuals to identify existing agencies and individuals in the community who are most able to take responsibility for running the program. For example, partnerships with local schools and councils provides access to people, resources, time and space for delivering the program and to facilitate group leader training. Fitting the processes of program delivery to timelines of work, school, availability of childcare, paydays and local ceremonies and customs is essential to the successful implementation and delivery of the program. The provision of training by the Let’s Start team both in Darwin and in participating communities provides opportunities to develop and refine these processes, which also leads to greater capacity of the program to deliver outcomes for children and families.

Teachers from schools involved the program have reported improved classroom behaviour in those children who attended the program regularly. Regular attendance enabled program leaders to encourage the use of behaviour management strategies in the classroom that had proven useful for those children during the program. While improvement was less evident in those children who only attended a limited number of sessions (usually due to parent’s inability to attend), teachers have expressed the desire to see those children involved in future Let’s Start programs.

Feedback from teachers post-program also demonstrates that communication between Let’s Start group leaders and school teachers is important to helps teachers reinforce children's positive behaviour both in the classroom and when talking with parents. Some teachers also reported that Let’s Start has helped them to communicate in a more positive way with parents by its emphasis on noticing positive behaviour in children.

Becoming increasingly aware of the link between family circumstances, parenting and problem behaviour in the children has also led some teachers and other services to become more alert to children’s well-being and welfare and how to act on concerns that may arise. By being in contact with a number of early childhood and family support services both within and outside of the community, Let’s Start can facilitate strengthened community support networks for children and families.

 

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