02nd July 2021

Book in Focus

Building Stronger Communities with Children and Families (2nd Edition)

Edited by Karl Brettig

The importance of shifting the focus from crisis intervention to early intervention and prevention is clear when we look at the economics and data in relation to attempting to maintain child protection systems. However, demands on governments to respond to the never-ending problems and resulting crisis management of our failing child protection, family support and mental health systems continue to create barriers to the implementation of an effective early intervention and prevention approach. A genuine attempt at preventing the next generation of entrenched disadvantage by supporting families with children at risk of vulnerability from birth with wrap-around support wanes under the weight of political constraints driven by a need to respond to public outcries that engage media attention. Our fragmented and complex web of support services fails to improve outcomes for children and families, communities continue to disintegrate, and intergenerational trauma and disadvantage perpetuate.

We are living in a time of accelerating change. How are families coping with such rapid social changes in urban environments brought about by new technology, infrastructure and modern lifestyles? Does electronic social media networking represent a new way of connecting in place of the decline of other community initiatives? Many children who are in ‘out of home care’ are there because their parents have significant substance misuse, domestic violence or mental health issues, or, more likely, a combination of these. How might we go about developing a more holistic, whole-of-family, integrated approach to working with children and families impacted by these issues?

If we are to optimise child and family support services so that families most in need of them receive the kind of support that leads to improved outcomes, then we need to break down the barriers that stand in the way of this happening. We need to develop child- and family-friendly services in ways that engage those who need them on a scale and intensity that addresses barriers at every level. The Australian Communities for Children initiative is an approach that attempts to do this, and this book looks at some of the ways it is being implemented.

The debate about universal and targeted support for families has continued because both are important. Whole communities, service providers and families need to work together in an integrated way in order to raise children effectively. This is particularly important in preconception care, in utero and in the first three years of life. As such, this book considers some encouraging developments in terms of implementing a whole-of-family, government and community approach.

Developments in neuroscience are changing the way we think about child development. Working with children in classrooms needs to be trauma-responsive if the kind of support that will optimise learning is to take shape. How can the education sector implement changes in the way we go about facilitating learning experiences that include social and emotional learning, and at the same time achieve academic progress? Research looking at promising outcomes of the initiative including social-emotional learning and bullying behaviour is included in the book.

Implementing a whole-of-community approach presents us with a significant challenge in terms of how we measure the outcomes. As such, the book looks at how we can incorporate principles that inform service delivery into our evaluation process. It also considers measuring resulting population outcomes using the Salisbury Communities for Children journey as an example of using a principles-based developmental evaluation approach

Based on community development principles, listening to the voices of children and families has been fundamental to engaging well with local communities. The book documents promising outcomes that have been measured in implementing the approach at Salisbury in the northern suburbs of Adelaide in South Australia. It highlights that the development of family support hubs and social-emotional learning in schools has been integral.

This text has resulted from practitioners and researchers working together collaboratively with local communities over an extended period of time to improve outcomes with children and their families through early intervention and prevention. Chapters on the practice of collaborative leadership, multi-agency services, developing strategic plans, facilitating communities of practice and building child-friendly communities are also included.


“Possibly the most impressive aspect of Communities for Children is the fact that it has persisted through many political and economic climates and continues to grow and to learn about what works for young children and their families. This accumulated knowledge and practice wisdom continues to help families to enjoy their children and feel more confident as parents. It is available here in this book and presented in a very readable way.”
Dr Sue Packer, AM
Paediatrician and Senior Australian of the Year 2019

“This book adopts a strong evidence-based approach that covers a wide range of contexts and situations from a variety of perspectives and lenses of analysis. It reveals the benefits of moving from proprietorial professionalism not only to better collaborative arrangements, but to integrated approaches between external stakeholders in engaging with the communities where they work.”
Hon. Dr Lynn Arnold, AO
Former Premier and Minister of Education; CE of World Vision Australia and Anglicare SA

“Reading this book made my heart sing. It both challenges and inspires thinking around possibilities for the child, family and community, and provides service providers and practitioners with information to become stronger advocates for co-producing services with children, families and communities.”
Joan Gilbert
President Early Childhood SA; Director Education and Care Café Enfield

Karl Brettig is Manager of Salisbury Communities for Children, a community development initiative of the Australian Government facilitated by The Salvation Army at Ingle Farm in South Australia. The Salisbury team, in collaboration with community partners, has developed integrated support services for families at risk of vulnerability including family centres, an innovative early childhood parenting community and a whole of school based social/emotional learning initiative. Together with a number of child and family support stakeholders, he convened the Children Communities Connections Learning Network to bring together practitioners, policy makers and researchers to resource integrated and holistic support for children and their families. He is the co-editor of Building Integrated Connections for Children their Families and Communities (with Professor Margaret Sims, 2011).

Building Stronger Communities with Children and Families (2nd Edition) is available now in Paperback at a 25% discount. Enter PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.