2M The first 1000 days
Early matters, driving change through a whole community approach
Early Matters is an innovative primary prevention five-year pilot program targeting not only the first 1000 days of life but also three key transition points; birth, kinder to school, and transitioning from primary to secondary school. The Early Matters program developed by Relationships Australia Victoria has now been running for three years and offers early intervention and primary prevention services in universal settings, to families and children at these critical and often stressful transition points where resilience is tested. The program is specifically designed to support families and children in order to divert them from entering tertiary services. It seeks to promote and strengthen healthy and safe relationships, engaging parents to support child and youth wellbeing, and to ensure learning outcomes around emotional intelligence and healthy relationships.
The group work component incorporates two parent programs and two children’s programs in universal services to support health and wellbeing of families. By offering these programs in settings such as hospitals, maternal child health centres, kinders and schools we ensure that no one is left behind and that not just a small target group is captured. More recently this program acknowledged that teachers in schools where we are working with the children have some gaps in knowledge and would benefit from some specific training in order to ensure that primary prevention in schools is embedded holistically. We are about to trial some experiential work with teachers to further assist them to understand the impacts that family violence, trauma and sensory issues have on children in their day-to-day world.
Our home visiting model comprises multi-risk assessments, encouraging parenting practices that promote healthy relationships, and working to shift the balance between risk and protective factors, therefore building resilience. Referral criteria are broad ensuring flexibility for families in our funded areas.
Utilising this universal approach allows potentially at-risk families to be identified early and creates the opportunity to support families to strengthen protective and resilience factors, and to address mental health and psychosocial concerns as early as possible. A significant proportion of families come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and the Early Matters team are skilled at creatively altering our programs to fit for these families.
Relationships Australia Victoria has a significant focus on research and evidence-based practice. Throughout this pilot project, ongoing data and evaluation has occurred to ensure the service offered is effective.
This presentation will draw on the skills and passion of the Early Matters team to showcase the program at a grass roots level, and to offer a new paradigm for supporting families through a whole community approach, ensuring no one is left behind.
Shelley Fallowfield has worked supporting parents’ and their children for over 20 years, in mental health, D&A, FV, and parent assessment and skills development. Utilising her Psychology and Education background Shelley co-ordinates the early matters program at Relationships Australia Victoria. These community primary prevention, universal service programs are all underpinned by mental health promotion, family violence and gender equity.