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Domain 5
Connection and belonging

Yarra Communities That Care: Improving community connections and support 

Yarra Communities That Care® is a network of 24 local partner agencies who share a commitment to support the healthy development of young people in the City of Yarra. Since 2017, our Melbourne Family Relationship Centre’s Community Liaison Officer has led the ‘Strengthen Family Relationships’ priority area for the initiative. This involves coordinating the delivery of the Tuning in to Teens™ program, information webinars for parents and a facilitator network. 

Tuning in to Teens™ is an evidence-based program for parents of adolescents aged 10–18 years. The program has been shown to improve parenting knowledge and skills and parent–teen relationships, and reduce family conflict. Randomised control trials of the broader ‘Tuning in’ suite of programs have also demonstrated that early adolescents with parents who completed the program have lower levels of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression (Havighurst et. al, 2020).

We conduct routine evaluations of our Tuning in to Teens™ programs delivered through the Yarra initiative. In 2022–23 these evaluations, which involve parents’ self-report, indicated improvements in emotional literacy and parent-child relationships: 

  • 100% were doing things differently as a parent
  • 88% had a stronger connection with their child
  • 98% had a better understanding of their child’s emotions and behaviours
  • 98% were more confident to respond to their child’s emotions.

Building on the positive feedback and program achievements, our organisation is leading an evaluation to understand the collaborative and placed-based approach of the Yarra network. Informed by a comprehensive theory of change, we are finding evidence of systemic change in the community that is being achieved by fostering genuine collaboration between partner agencies and authentic partnerships with schools, and further improving models of practice across agencies and practitioners in the City of Yarra.

Focus groups and interviews: Collaboration and support

As part of this evaluation, 4 focus groups and interviews were held in early 2023, with 9 parenting group facilitators in the Facilitator Network. The facilitators came from a variety of partner organisations: cohealth, Department of Education, drummond street services, Victoria Police, RAV and Yarra City Council. 

These feedback sessions provided insight into how the network had created a working environment for facilitators that enabled them to grow a sense of belonging and investment in the program and in the facilitator community. Three main themes were constructed from these interviews, each of which reflect the overarching importance of collaboration and support in the approach of the Yarra Communities
That Care® Facilitator Network. 

One of the main ways facilitators felt supported, particularly in the initial stages of the initiative, was through the active coordination provided by our Community Liaison Officer. Facilitators highlighted how this support had both practical and emotional components. The practical components removed some of the more onerous, administrative tasks from the facilitators, enabling them to focus on their interactions with parents and schools. The emotional support provided validation, encouragement and social connections to bolster their confidence and sense of belonging.

The key takeaways from the facilitator feedback provide a useful guide for implementing programs
in geographically bound, yet diverse and siloed, organisations. Inter-organisation communication is key,
as it leads to group cohesion, a broader understanding of available services and practice approaches, and wider reach for program implementation. This process of communication and collaboration requires scaffolding and support, by having both a central person or group who can act as coordinator until the connections are strong enough to be self-sustaining, and through a non-hierarchical structure with
a culture of openness and respect. 

A full report is being prepared for release in late 2023. Moving forward, as an organisation we will draw on the lessons and achievements of the Yarra Communities That Care® initiative to inform the implementation of other place-based approaches. 

‘If all [stakeholders] collaborate toward the shared vision, and are guided by a sufficiently equipped facilitating partner, then enabling conditions for systemic changes can be created and realised. Over time, community and systems-level changes occur, and this will ultimately lead to sustainable and positive changes for people living in the area of the [place-based approach].’

Dart, 2018

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