Evaluating Safe Kids, Families Together
In response to the high rates of child protection involvement and placement of children in out-of-home care in South Australia, the South Australian government devised a Safe and Well: Supporting Families, Protecting Children strategy. Delivered by AnglicareSA in northern metropolitan Adelaide, the Safe Kids, Families Together pilot program was part of this strategy, and was designed to facilitate system- and service-level change for highly vulnerable families.
The Department of Human Services South Australia (DHS) asked us to evaluate the program to determine how well it was being implemented, how effective it was for improving child outcomes, such as preventing placement of children in out-of-home care, and to determine its cost-effectiveness.
Who we worked with
DHS commissioned us in partnership with the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia and Deakin Health Economics at Deakin University to conduct the evaluation.
What we did
We used a mixed-methods approach to examine program implementation, outcomes and cost-effectiveness.
Intervention group-only data were used to assess program implementation and changes over time in outcomes data collected by AnglicareSA.
We compared child protection outcomes for children in Safe Kids, Families Together to a matched sample of children not involved in the program. Costs associated with running the program were analysed in relation to outcomes.
We also conducted semi-structured interviews with caregivers, and staff and managers from AnglicareSA and Department of Child Protection (DCP) regarding their experiences of the program.
Building a positive, transparent, and collegial relationships between frontline workers from AnglicareSA and DCP was reported to be critical for successful delivery of the program. Overall, we found the program was implemented as intended, although AnglicareSA also made several program improvements, including appointing a clinical psychologist to support children, families and other practitioners. COVID-19 and sector-wide staffing shortages presented notable service delivery challenges, which also may have impacted family outcomes.
Outcomes data suggest several families in the program experienced improvements in family functioning from program entry to exit. More than half of the families with moderate to severe concerns related to family functioning experienced clinically significant improvements by the time they completed the full program.
We also found children in the program had significantly fewer DCP notifications and substantiations compared to children in the matched sample. However, there was no intervention effect on child placement in out-of-home care.
DHS and AnglicareSA regularly drew on interim evaluation findings to make adjustments to service provision, such as introducing a database for managing client data, increasing the complement of Aboriginal staff, and increasing flexibility in program duration.
Findings and recommendations from our evaluation were used to plan and re-tender for the next phase of service provision for this population.