Melbourne Citymission Family & Community Links Model

Melbourne Citymission’s Family & Community Links Model at Hartnett House provides client-focused, place-based services to families with children living in Brunswick and surrounding areas.

The model is based around the universal service provided by the Children’s Centre at Harnett House. However the Family & Community Links Model also incorporates Melbourne Citymission programs for families with a child with a disability or developmental delay.

The Family & Community Links Model has three elements:

  • Core service: A place-based service such as a school or childcare centre. The core in this example is Hartnett House Children's Centre.
  • Interrelated services: These services are directly linked to and often collocated with the place-based core service but with potential to compliment and extend its range. The interrelated services in this example are the early childhood intervention service and the strengthening parent support program.
  • Innovative responses: Services are based on needs identified by the community or by workers in the core and interrelated services. They are built on a community development model and are often short-term, designed to meet particular needs such as casual child care or to support other initiatives.

When implemented using a community capacity building approach, this basic framework of core and interrelated services and innovative responses can provide the structure for service models in a variety of contexts and with any population group.

Principles

The vision for the centre sought to develop a facility that would 'offer a range of child and family focused services that meet the needs of the local community and reflect a culture of learning and support'. Being part of a broader resurgence of community development was central to this project vision.

The core principles of the establishment Family & Community Links Model are:

  1. Developing services based on the needs of families and in partnership with the community
    The defining feature of the model is the innovative services, which have been developed in response to consultation with the community. It is intended that these initiatives should become self-sustaining while in operation. However they are not expected to last indefinitely, since they respond to specific needs at specific times.
    Innovative services will be different in different areas due to the varying needs of communities. A sound understanding of local demographics and community needs has therefore been crucial to the development of the model.
  2. Empowering community members for participation in their communities
    The focus of the model for Hartnett House is not just about offering support. It is about empowering people and giving them the confidence and skills to actively participate in their community.
  3. A one-stop shop with a range of services
    Hartnett House is a "one-stop shop" where people from the local community with all abilities, all incomes, all cultures and all faiths can come together in a safe, inclusive, learning environment. The existence of a range of services in one building, with multiple points of entry, is designed to increase opportunities to identify and meet people's needs and to provide them with opportunities for personal development and social interaction.
  4. Bringing together population and place-based programs and approaches
    The Children's Centre is a universal, place-based program. 'Population-based programs' include Strengthening Parent Support, for parents with children with disabilities, and Parenting in Partnership, for parents with a learning disability. The aim is inclusion for all and a mixing of different groups within the various activities.
  5. Fostering learning
    The emphasis on providing opportunities for learning is apparent in the early documents for the model, such as the Community Development Project Brief, the Steering Committee Terms of Reference, and the Media Release, which all speak of creating a ‘culture of learning’ for children and their parents. Specific opportunities for parents have included English classes. Children’s learning is fostered through their participation in the range of childcare services, including the Early Childhood Intervention Service.

Success Factors

Some of the success factors identified by staff include:

  1. The critical role of Child Care Links
    Child Care Links funding uses a community development model to foster child friendly communities, by improving service coordination and enhancing opportunities in childcare centres for community activities.
  2. Physical space for innovative projects
    For redevelopment to succeed, the existing programs needed to be willing to share or give up space in order to create new opportunities at the centre. Flexibility around space is a prerequisite for success, and an indicator of culture change at Hartnett House.
  3. Staff commitment to joined up working
    A critical factor for success has been having people in management or other influential positions who are committed to the model, especially around staff working together.
  4. Resources for casual childcare
    Casual childcare has had a vital role in enabling parents to participate in innovative programs such as the sewing group and English conversation classes, since they can be reassured that their children are being well cared for on the same premises. The funding of this through Child Care Links has thus been very important to the success of Family & Community Links.
  5. Viable core and interrelated services
    In order to provide stability for the model, the core and interrelated services have needed to be or to become viable. It is also important that the innovative programs become self-sustaining.
  6. Connection with the local population
    Building stronger connections with the local community has been a critical factor for success, particularly because it is linked to the viability of services. Local community members using the Children's Centre and paying standard fees effectively subsidize the programs provided to more disadvantaged groups, as well as broadening the mix of populations using Hartnett House.
  7. Effective community engagement
    Input from local, state and federal governments and community organisations have led to the identification of particular needs and responses, such as the playgroups. The needs survey with families using the centre helped to identify potential areas for development during the Scoping Project. Ongoing community engagement has occurred through informal conversations between staff and people using the various services at Hartnett House. This has led to the development of new programs (e.g. sewing group; Spanish-speaking playgroup).

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