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Impact case studies

Elder Abuse Research program

  • End users find AIFS’ research relevant to their work
  • Better understanding among stakeholders of the issues facing families

The issue to be addressed

There has been an increased focus on the problems of family violence and child abuse, and growing recognition that similar problems face our elderly citizens. However, there has been limited investigation into elder abuse. There is no clear understanding of the extent of elder abuse in Australia or the frameworks and responses available to address it.

Elder abuse is an important policy concern for the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD), who are working to address these knowledge gaps.

The research program

In 2015/16 we were asked by the AGD to scope the current issues, frameworks and responses to elder abuse in Australia. This piece of work helped to inform the Terms of Reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) inquiry into Commonwealth laws and legal frameworks, and how they might better protect older people from misuse or abuse as well as safeguard their autonomy. The inquiry recommended undertaking a national prevalence study on the nature and extent of elder abuse in Australia.

AIFS, leading a consortium of key organisations, was engaged to complete the groundwork for this study, developing the definitions and measures that would form the basis of the research: Elder Abuse National Research: Strengthening the Evidence Base – Stage One. This was done in consultation with relevant organisations and communities.

AIFS was then commissioned to lead the prevalence study into elder abuse. The National Prevalence Study is the first large-scale effort to assess the nature and extent of elder abuse among those in the Australian population aged 65 and over. AIFS ran two surveys:

  • a survey of 7,000 people aged 65 and over who are living in the community (i.e. those who are not in residential aged care settings) to examine experiences of elder abuse
  • a survey of 3,400 people aged 18–64 years focused on the knowledge of elder abuse, attitudes to older people and the extent to which participants in the survey provide assistance to older people.

Data collection has now been completed.

Benefits and impacts

As mentioned above, the 2015/16 scoping report helped inform the ALRC inquiry’s Terms of Reference.

In addition, stakeholders have told us that the report has been extremely useful to them. It provides an accessible snapshot of the state of evidence at this time. We understand that the report is being used to communicate the size of the problem, the characteristics of perpetrators and the factors involved. The report also helps to communicate why the prevalence study is important.

The impact of the prevalence study, while not yet fully realised, will be significant. While various types of studies have been undertaken internationally, ours is a larger sample than most – in terms of older people AND in the general community component. The two-pronged approach is unique – investigating both prevalence and understanding. It will provide nuanced insight into the extent and dynamics of elder abuse as well as community understandings of this abuse. Understanding community attitudes is critical to informing prevention strategies.

People over 60 will be the ultimate beneficiaries of the evidence generated through this research. The evidence will help to better identify elder abuse, identify ways to support victims and identify paths to prevention. Those delivering services and supporting people in the 60+ age bracket are also major beneficiaries of this research. With a better understanding of elder abuse, these providers will be better equipped to identify it in the course of their work.

Next steps

A report will be released to stakeholders and AIFS will work with them to help them to understand the issue and the impacts/implications for their activities. The report could also help to inform new policy in this area.

Families in Australia Survey (Life during COVID-19)

The Families in Australia Survey is our flagship survey series. The first survey in the series was Life during COVID-19.

  • End users find AIFS’ research relevant to their work
  • Improved capacity of stakeholders to use research to inform policy and service design

The issue to be addressed

This survey was the result of long reflection about how we (AIFS) engage with families. AIFS undertakes so much research and has so much data but we haven’t had a direct mechanism to hear from families outside the terms of specific research projects. We needed to refocus our efforts to align with the key concerns of our main stakeholders: Australian families.

Conversations on how best to directly engage with families were happening pre-COVID-19 but the pandemic provided the impetus to translate these conversations into action.

The research

The Life during COVID-19 survey ran from 1 May to 9 June 2020 and had 7,306 participants. Our aim was to understand how Australian families coped with the COVID-19 pandemic. It asked families how they had:

  • adjusted to the pandemic, and the restrictions and programs that were put in place
  • experienced the social and economic impacts of the pandemic
  • supported each other, even when they didn't, or couldn't, live together
  • protected their physical and mental health.

We wanted to capture what family life looked like at this time and how families were looking after each other across households and generations.

The survey provides a more global review of family experience than our other surveys. It was open to any person over 18, living in Australia. We wanted to use this survey as a platform to promote our message that ‘YOU’ define what constitutes a family. We can’t pick that up from our other research projects. Data threads can be brought together but it’s not a direct insight.

Although a different kind of survey, it is still rigorous. The size of responses gives us opportunities to use the data differently than in our other studies.

We often look at the more extraordinary aspects of life (the stressful aspects). This survey provides insights into the everyday rhythms of life, and that brings important information to the conversation.

Benefits and impacts

These data provide multiple perspectives of people and families beyond the anecdotal. The rapid process gives us a sense of the now (in contrast to our longitudinal studies and the slow data release through these processes).

This survey has contributed to documenting the experience of people in the first wave of the pandemic. AIFS has released a series of quick short reports to get the findings out and into current conversations about the pandemic. In future we will release more in-depth papers.
AIFS is currently the key user. Our collection and use of these data will inform our conversations with governments and communities. We see this survey as a foundation for our connection with families. Helping families to tell us what their experiences and priorities are. How are families faring in their main activities (raising kids, caring, etc.)? And we want to keep listening to families to get a dynamic view of their experience.

Next steps

This survey gave us contemporary information on pertinent issues. If we continue to engage with the right people and groups, and learn from the data we’re collecting, we can remain current and identify emerging issues alongside our longer-term insights.

AIFS is committed to investing in this project for the next 12 months, which will include two more waves. We’re planning to transition the project from its beginnings, with a strong COVID-19 focus, to a more general measure of family experiences. We want to provide valuable and rigorous work but also a timely voice.

Scoping for future capacity-building activities

  • End users find AIFS’ research relevant to their work
  • Improved capability and capacity of stakeholders and audience to use research to inform policy and service design

The issue to be addressed

We identified that AIFS, through a review of the CFCA and Expert Panel projects, was reaching a significant number of professionals in the child, family and welfare sector but not maximising the potential of this reach. The question then was, could we do more in how we delivered these projects to have greater impact on our stakeholders and audience?

Knowledge translation requires insight into the needs of end users and how they will use evidence in their decision making and practice. We wanted to create a platform that provided a value proposition for the end user, by combining the production of research with the capacity-building function for evidence-informed decision making.

The research

The aim of the Scoping Study was to:

  • understand how our stakeholders and audience are using AIFS’ research and resources in their practice
  • identify how our research and resources could improve users’ evidence-based decision making.

The study used human-centred design, to allow us to put the user at the centre of the service to understand their issues and experiences. We asked our users: What value do you put on evidence and how do you see that evidence being used in your work?

Benefits and impacts

This work enabled us to better understand the sector; and equipped us to better engage with our stakeholders. It has taught us to be cautious of making assumptions about the needs and preferred solutions for how our stakeholders and audiences engage with our research and products – we cannot design a service purely from the inside out. It has also improved our relationship with our funder, the Department of Social Services, to create a shared vision for these projects.

Next steps

The learnings from this work have been used to inform our approach of knowledge translation at AIFS. As a project team, we put a spotlight on each of our products and examined how they could be improved. From this, we developed a work plan to innovate these services using the insights from this study, especially in response to changes required during COVID-19.

We have:

  • upgraded and innovated the content and design of our products (webinars, publications and newsletter)
  • improved our impact metrics and the way we collect them to obtain ongoing insight about the needs of our (approx. 27,000 subscriber) audience
  • created a new consultation and reporting mechanism focused on impact and continuous improvement.

Families in Focus webinar series: June 2020

  • Platforms and opportunities for cross-sector dialogue and collaboration
  • End users seek out AIFS research, resources and expertise

What was the situation?

The AIFS 2020 Conference was scheduled to take place between 9 and 12 June 2020. It regularly attracts more than 500 delegates. The biennial conference brings together the collective expertise of policy makers, researchers, and service providers across a range of sectors to connect them to the latest knowledge and insights about families. The coronavirus pandemic hit three months prior to the conference, and the subsequent ban on mass gatherings meant that the conference was postponed until June 2021.

What did we do to respond?

At very short notice we staged a series of webinars across the month of June. The rationale for the series was to invite high profile presenters who would have been presenting at the AIFS conference. Each presenter was invited to participate in a webinar on the topic they had nominated but to contextualise it in relation to COVID-19.

This enabled us to deliver on our promise of providing access to research and expertise, for the benefit of people who work in the interests of families, across a variety of sectors and professions.
What’s been the result? What’s been achieved and what’s been the benefit?

Six webinars were held in the series, free of charge. Five of the webinars took place in June 2020, with the final webinar scheduled on 2 July 2020.

  • The six webinars attracted a total of 1,974 participants
  • 91% of participants rated the quality of the webinars as ‘very good or excellent’.
  • 78% of participants said the webinars added to their knowledge base (webinars either ‘met’ or ‘exceeded’ their expectations).

10 June: What will it take for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to live vibrant, joyful lives? Presenter: Richard Weston, CEO, SNAICC – National Voice for our Children
‘Richard spoke the truth regarding some of our issues. I especially liked that he pointed out that our Indigenous Australians can come up with our own initiatives to assist our mob, rather than having to follow what other countries like NZ have done.’

16 June: Progressing New Zealand’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy in a COVID-19 context Presenter: Maree Brown, Director Child Wellbeing Unit, New Zealand Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet
‘It's wonderful to see such a holistic, child-and-youth-centred wellbeing strategy developed and endorsed at the system level, to help enhance wellbeing for children and young people across the country.’

23 June: How young people are experiencing the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 Panel: Katherine Ellis, CEO YACVic with youth members of YACVic Annika McCaffrey and Fadak Alfayadh
‘Well convened; good pace; practical ideas and policy discussed; excellent.’

25 June: COVID-19 and its impact on the family violence legal and service system Presenter: Angela Lynch AM, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Aid
‘Very informative, I will be downloading the slides of the presentation and sharing with work colleagues.’

30 June: A new early childhood system for Australia Presenter: Jay Weatherill, CEO, Thrive by Five, Minderoo Foundation
‘This was fantastic and I think we need to have continual updates and ways to get seriously involved.’

2 July: Findings from the Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19 Presenter: Kelly Hand, Deputy Director (Research), AIFS
‘Thank you for a fantastic webinar and presentation of findings that have helped me to crystallise what families may be experiencing during this difficult time.’

What are the next steps? What will AIFS do to maintain or keep building on the achievements?

Considerable uncertainty remains about what the pandemic will mean for travel and gatherings over the next year, and what this may mean for our rescheduled conference. This webinar series has allowed us to test a different delivery method from our traditional face-to-face conference format. It may lead to us implementing a ‘virtual’ option for our conference to expand access to our content, or supplementing smaller face‑to‑face events with virtual events to allow us to provide platforms for sharing knowledge in a COVID-safe manner.