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Research highlights 2019/20

During the past year we worked on 34 projects and continued to extend our expertise and experience to make a significant contribution to practice and policy development in a wide range of family wellbeing areas.

Families in Australia Survey: Life during COVID-19

The Families in Australia Survey is AIFS’ own comprehensive survey that explores the current contexts of family life in Australia. Its scope is every person in every type of family. The current focus of the survey is to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of Australian families.

We ran the first wave of data collection in May–June 2020, when all states were in various stages of lockdown. There were 7,306 respondents. We plan to run a number of waves of the survey in 2020/21 to paint a picture of how people are coping with and adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the greatest health, social and economic challenges in the last century. It will also document how families fare after the pandemic emergency and when we move into the recovery phase.

We are sharing the insights drawn from the Families in Australia Survey with the general public and with non-government and government agencies, to help them develop the supports that families need.

Australian Gambling Research Centre

Globally, gambling has expanded at a rapid pace, and related harms are an increasing concern. The Australian Gambling Research Centre (AGRC) undertakes policy-relevant research that enhances understanding of the nature and extent of gambling participation and related harms, and advances knowledge of the ways to prevent and reduce harm among at-risk populations, their families and communities.

Recent restrictions related to the global COVID-19 pandemic led to changes in the availability of gambling in Australia, with land-based gambling (‘pokies’ or electronic gambling machine/EGM) venues temporarily closed and major sporting codes (national and international) suspended. The AGRC has responded to the changing gambling environment and conducted several significant research projects in the past year, including:

  • the Gambling in Australia during COVID-19 Survey, which seeks to improve understanding of the types of products people gambled on before and during the COVID-19 restrictions, and how people’s gambling participation, alcohol consumption and health and wellbeing changed with the restrictions in place.
  • the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering in Australia: Baseline Study, which examines uptake and perceived usefulness of consumer protection measures for online wagering and was commissioned by the Department of Social Services (DSS) as part of a larger four-phase evaluation of the National Consumer Protection Framework.
  • the Pints, Punts 'n' Peers Study, which is a national study exploring the relationship between alcohol consumption and sports betting among young Australians.
  • the Relationship Between Gambling and Domestic Violence Against Women Study, which is a national study investigating the nature of the relationship between gambling and domestic violence, funded by Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety.

Child Care Package Evaluation

The Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) introduced the Child Care Package on 2 July 2018. In December 2017, AIFS was commissioned by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) to lead an evaluation of the Child Care Package, with consortium partners the Centre for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University; the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales; and the Social Research Centre.

In 2019/20, the evaluation consortium undertook several data collection activities with families, services and other stakeholders. We also devoted considerable resources to obtaining and beginning work on the DESE’s administrative data, which are critical to the evaluation reporting. Evaluation activities were disrupted by the bushfires in the summer of 2019/20, and then were further disrupted with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These disruptions affected data collections, such that most planned 2020 data collections were not conducted. The COVID-related disruptions, of course, also affected the DESE, AIFS and consortium partners, and together with the significant impacts of COVID-19 on families and the Early Childhood Education and Care sector, have meant considerable changes to the evaluation. As a result the final rounds of data collection will no longer proceed, and the evaluation will focus on the Child Care Package up until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A draft interim report was prepared and provided to the DESE in June 2019, drawing on some of the data collected and analysis completed at this time, and plans are underway for the completion of the evaluation, including final reporting, in early 2021.

Knowledge Translation and Impact (KTI) Lab

AIFS is committed to ensuring that the research we produce is relevant to those working in policy and practice to best influence positive outcomes for children and families. The KTI Lab builds and supports the capability of our researchers to create and communicate knowledge. The KTI Lab also delivers capability-building projects that help policy makers and service providers to make the best use of evidence. In 2020, the KTI Lab co-hosted Canadian research impact specialist Dr David Phipps to share his insights with a range of research, policy and practice audiences in a capability‑building effort known as Mobilising Melbourne.

Child Family Community Australia (CFCA)

The Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange, funded by the Department of Social Services (DSS), synthesises and translates knowledge to provide resources, publications and support for child, family and community welfare professionals. CFCA is a key part of AIFS’ Knowledge Translation and Impact team’s work in building the sector’s capacity and capability for evidence-informed decision making.

In 2019/20, CFCA focused on enhancing and innovating its products to respond to the sector after conducting a review to better understand the needs of users. The project has adapted again throughout COVID-19 by prioritising relevant topics and the way we translate and communicate knowledge.

Nearly 23,000 subscribers now receive the fortnightly CFCA News, a 39% increase on 2018/19; with record rates of engagement, particularly during COVID-19. CFCA produced 27 publications and resources this financial year, and its website received over 3.4 million page views. The CFCA webinar program also provided professional development to large numbers of sector professionals (over 14,700 participants across 13 webinars; a 23% increase on 2018/19), with significant increases in attendance rates during COVID-19. Continuous impact measurement has indicated that CFCA content has contributed to improved knowledge of the latest research and increased use of evidence in policy and practice by its users.

Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health

AIFS is a partner of the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health (NWC), which assists professionals and organisations who work with children and families to enhance their skills to identify, assess and support children at risk of mental health difficulties. Activities in 2019/20 include the production of monthly syntheses of recent child mental health research; 17 short articles covering a variety of child mental health issues, and a range of practitioner resources including practice papers for the child and family welfare sector. We also played an important leadership role in the evaluation of the National Workforce Centre, contributing to the design, data collection and analysis of components of the evaluation.

Families and Children Expert Panel

The Expert Panel Project aims to help Families and Children (FaC) Activity service providers to better articulate the evidence underpinning their programs and to build program monitoring and evaluation into their routine.

Activities in 2019/20 included:

  • continuing to work with Communities for Children Facilitating Partner service providers to assess programs in relation to the evidence-based criteria
  • providing direct support to FaC Activity service providers in relation to program planning activities
  • redesigning the evaluation and outcomes measurement workshop content for wider publication on the Expert Panel website, and the publication of two instructional videos: A guided tour through: program logic models and A guided tour through: measuring outcomes
  • working with the Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI) to deliver three workshops focusing on program implementation and the development of a complementary video resource
  • continued implementation of the ‘Building effective partnerships between non‑Indigenous FaC providers and Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations (ACCOs)’ project, in partnership with SNAICC
  • completion of Phase 2 of the Evaluation of the Expert Panel Project.

Family law research

Family law continues to be a key research area for the Institute. Key projects the team have worked on in 2019/20 include:

  • the Elder Abuse Prevalence Study – commissioned by the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) – more information in Research Highlights
  • the Evaluation of the Small Claims Property Pilot (a new court-based model for small value family law property matters that is being trialled in four Federal Circuit Court Registries) – commissioned by the AGD
  • the Lawyer-assisted Property Mediation: Legal Aid Commission Trial commissioned by the AGD – more information in Research Highlights.
  • examination of the family law enforcement regime – collaboration with Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS).

The research team also continues to be engaged in research activities for the Singapore Ministry of Family and Social Development aimed at understanding trends of co-parenting in Singapore, and engages in stakeholder engagement activities in the family law sector. In addition to making a submission and giving evidence to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System, members of the family law team have participated in activities with key stakeholders in the family law sector, including participating in the Family Law Forums hosted by the AGD following the completion of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of the family law system.

Data Linkage and Integration Authority (DLIA)

The Institute is an accredited Commonwealth Integrating Authority, authorised to undertake high‑risk data linkage projects involving Commonwealth data for statistical and research purposes. The Data Linkage and Integration Authority (DLIA) team is able to negotiate and arrange access to a rich array of administrative and other data sources. This linking of datasets provides valuable new information for research and policy making in a secure, privacy-preserving manner.

A highlight of 2019 was AIFS receiving a direct invitation to present at the 6th International Conference of Crime Observation and Criminal Analysis in Brussels, Belgium. A representative from the AIFS DLIA team attended the conference in November and presented on the emerging landscape of access to data and information in Australia. The presentation focused on AIFS’ role in linking government agencies’ datasets for research and evaluation, and bridging the gaps between academia and data custodians in data linkage projects in Australia.

Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies

We have continued to build significant expertise in longitudinal research by conducting, leading and collaborating with several large-scale longitudinal research studies. As leaders in this field, the Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies (LLS) team is often sought out on a national and international level to advise and/or collaborate on longitudinal research projects. Some of the advisory roles LLS holds include:

  • Member of National Research Advisory Group on National Children’s Digital Health Collaborative
  • Advisory role on Australian Youth Development Index Expert Panel
  • International Coordinator for Growing Ups Around the World
  • Member of International Advisory Group for EuroCohort
  • Invited by GESIS Panel (Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Germany) to be Co-Investigators on the ‘PARI Panel – A longitudinal and multi perspective survey infrastructure on the psychology of refugee integration’ (PARI = Psychological Antecedents of Refugee Integration).

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)

Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) follows the development of 10,000 children and their families in urban and rural areas and continues to provide insights into the paths Australian children and their families take through life. Data are collected from two cohorts every two years. The first cohort of 5,000 children was aged 0–1 (B cohort) year in 2003–04, and the second cohort of 5,000 children was aged 4–5 years in 2003–04 (K cohort).

Key activities in 2019 involved the testing and finalisation of survey instrument and fieldwork procedures for Wave 9 data collection for both B and K cohorts. As face-to-face interviews were about to commence in March 2020, they were immediately halted due to health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. In response, the Growing Up in Australia team redesigned the Wave 9 survey instrument and developed Wave 9C. While continuing to ask questions that track participants’ development and wellbeing, ensuring the longitudinal nature of the study remains intact, Wave 9C will focus on the impacts of COVID-19 and recent natural disasters. A 30-minute online survey called Wave 9C1 will be administered to young people and parents from both B and K cohorts, from early October to early December 2020. A follow-up online survey called Wave 9C2 is planned for early 2021.

Wave 8 data will be released in September–October 2020.

Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health

Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health is the first national longitudinal study in Australia focusing exclusively on male health and wellbeing. The study aims to fill the gaps in knowledge about male health and wellbeing across the life course and to contribute to the development of health programs and policies targeted to the special health needs of men and boys.

Key Ten to Men activities in 2019/20 included the pilot phase of Wave 3 data collection, where testing of survey instruments and fieldwork procedures and pre-wave contact activities took place. In March 2020, due to the health and safety concerns around COVID-19, planning for the face-to-face interview component of Wave 3 data collection (due to commence in May 2020) was halted. The project team quickly re-evaluated and worked to revise the survey content and methodology to enable contactless interviewing. Some new content surrounding the impacts of COVID-19 and recent effects of natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods, were incorporated into the revised survey. The Wave 3 fieldwork will comprise an online survey phase, a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) phase, and a paper survey mailout. The online survey went live at the end of July 2020 with data collection concluding in December 2020.

Building a New Life in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants (BNLA)

Building a New Life in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants (BNLA) is a long-term research project examining how humanitarian migrants settle into a new life in Australia. Close to 2,400 individuals and families living in communities around Australia and who have been granted permanent humanitarian visas are taking part in the study.

BNLA Wave 5 data were released in late 2019 and, along with the first four waves of data, are available to approved researchers from government, academic institutions and non‑profit organisations.