In 2006, the Centre for Health Service Development, University of Wollongong was commissioned by the Victorian Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop a catalogue of evidence-based strategies to improve the health and wellbeing of children aged 0-8 years. The original catalogue focused on 15 early childhood outcome areas. It was created as a resource for Best Start Partnerships which aim to improve the health, safety, development, learning and wellbeing of Victorian children aged up to eight years, with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention. These aims are to be accomplished by supporting communities, parents and service providers to improve early years services so they are more responsive to local needs.
Best Start projects involve collaborations between local government, community health, non government organisations, social service agencies, education providers such as schools, local networks, child care and kindergartens (preschools), and other community organisations such as service clubs and churches. The goals of Best Start are to promote:
- Improvements in access to child and family support, health services and early education for families and children.
- Improvements in parents’ capacity, confidence and enjoyment of family life.
- Communities that are more child- and family-friendly.
In 2008, ten of the original 15 early childhood outcome areas were updated with new evidence and strategies. The catalogue was also extended to incorporate new outcome areas and strategies to prevent disengagement from school and promote success for adolescents who are at risk of leaving school early.
The catalogue now has wider application beyond the Best Start program, and is a complementary resource to the Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS), providing practical guidance to policy makers and program developers on effective strategies for improving outcomes for children 0 to 18 years. Nevertheless, the above goals, priorities and service delivery models remain relevant.
Development of the Catalogue
This catalogue of evidence-based strategies for early intervention in children’s health and wellbeing was originally commissioned in 2006 from the Centre for Health Service Development, University of Wollongong as a key resource for Best Start Partnerships.
A major focus of the Best Start program is building partnerships and collaboration among various government agencies and service providers such as maternal and child health clinics, childcare providers, kindergartens (preschools), health services, schools, local networks and family support services. This means that the kinds of interventions likely to be useful for ‘Best Start’ will be diverse in their approaches and settings. They may involve changes to infrastructure, establishing partnerships between services and community organisations, or promoting community involvement in seeking better outcomes for children, as well as engaging directly with parents and other caregivers.
The early intervention programs provided by Best Start include both universal services and programs targeting specific sections of the population identified as vulnerable or ‘at-risk’. The Breaking cycles, building futures report (Carbone et al., 2004), which was commissioned by Best Start, defined vulnerable families as:
- families on low incomes
- sole-parent families
- families with young parents (under 20 years of age)
- Indigenous families
- families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- families experiencing unstable housing or homelessness
- families with a parent who has a disability, problematic substance use or a mental health problem
- families who have had contact with child protection services or the criminal justice system
- families experiencing domestic violence.
The original catalogue focused on 15 indicators that are used to monitor and measure the outcomes of the Best Start project.
In 2008, ten of the original 15 early childhood outcome areas were updated with new evidence and strategies. The catalogue was also extended to incorporate new outcome areas and strategies, some with a particular focus on preventing disengagement from school and promote success for adolescents who are at risk of leaving school early.
The catalogue now has wider application beyond the Best Start program, and is a complementary resource to the Victorian Child and Adolescent Monitoring System (VCAMS), providing practical guidance to policy makers and program developers on effective strategies for improving outcomes for all children 0 to 18 years. Nevertheless, the above goals, priorities and service delivery models remain relevant.
Overview of methodology
Research methods are described in full in the companion volume, ‘Technical report: Development of the Best Start catalogue of early intervention strategies for children’s health and wellbeing’ (from this point forward referred to as 'the technical report'). To summarise this information briefly, the first step in the project was to review relevant literature to identify early intervention for each of the indicators. The evidence was then evaluated according to a standardised scheme that included the strength of evaluation design and other relevant criteria for quality and applicability in the Victorian context. Three or four strategies were selected for each indicator and a literature review was written, indicating how and why these particular strategies were chosen and (where relevant) describing other promising strategies that did not make the final cut. A template was designed and used to summarise and organise the evidence for each strategy. For more information, see the Technical report (PDF - 835Kb).
Team members worked with a university librarian to develop a set of key words and identify appropriate electronic databases, websites and other sources to search for each indicator. In some cases, the original search was refined and repeated with input from team members after they had read some background information and begun to explore the literature and were able to generate additional, more specific search terms. The searches focused on evaluations of interventions or programs for each of the indicators.
Team members expanded these searches according to the COSI (core, standard, ideal) model (Bidwell and Jensen, 2004). Where relevant, they searched the databases of systematic reviews conducted under the auspices of the Cochrane and Campbell Collaborations. The searching then extended out into the grey literature through a variety of strategies designed to target sources most likely to be useful.
Further details on the search methods are available in the companion volume to this catalogue, the Technical report (PDF - 835Kb). Search strategies specific to particular indicators are also described in the complete reports for updated evidence and new additions to the catalogue, see Summary of Catalogue Strategies.
Evidence evaluation framework
A standardised scheme was adopted for evaluating the evidence on each of the proposed strategies for the catalogue. Development of the evidence evaluation framework is described in full in the companion volume, the technical report.
The evaluation scheme or framework provides an indication of the strength of the evidence and additional information that may be useful in guiding the selection of strategies for program planners and policy makers, namely:
- is the intervention well documented?
- does the intervention have a sound theoretical or empirical basis?
- has the intervention been evaluated independently at more than one site?
- is cost-effectiveness data available?
- has the intervention been evaluated with Indigenous Australian communities, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, or socially disadvantaged families?
For more information, see the Technical report (PDF - 835Kb).