Piloting social interventions that lead to practical pathways out of disadvantage and transform human capabilities
Within the Life Course Centre, our work in the Social Transformations program focuses on building evidence based policies and practices, with a range of different types of projects: from small scale, highly targeted interventions that test and evaluate new ideas (such as Walk of Life) to upscaling promising approaches that have already showed promise as proof of concept programs (such as the Ability School Engagement Program) to research and evaluation contributions that engage in meaningful and impactful ways with complex, long term and multi-faceted interventions (such as the Every Family Project).
The Life Course Centre Social Transformations program targets a diverse range of high risk correlates and causes of disadvantage such as truancy, early onset offending, teen pregnancy, impulsivity and risk taking, at risk parents (including imprisoned mothers), poor access to quality early childhood education, lack of trust in authorities (including police and schools), lack of financial literacy and poor communication between parents and schools. Each of the Life Course Centre supported social interventions are highly targeted to specific disadvantage risk factors and Life Course Centre teams are using a variety of methods (including systematic reviews, randomised field trials, quasi experiments and process evaluation methods) to develop and test the efficacy of the different programs supported through the Social Transformations portfolio.
The Life Course Centre is deeply committed to working with our industry partners and social service providers across Australia to transform our research and intervention ideas into evidence based social policies and practice that achieve real impact in reducing the causes and correlates of disadvantage
– Program Leader Lorraine Mazerolle
Wide-ranging benefits flow from school truancy intervention. Our funding of follow-up research of the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP) continues to deliver detailed findings on the project’s outcomes, impact and potential for upscaling to larger populations. ASEP brings together communities, schools and police in a third party policing partnership to tackle the problem of school truancy, which is highly correlated with delinquency, contact with the criminal justice system and negative life outcomes. New research finds that ASEP weakens the effects of some of the risk factors for violent offending over time. Participation in the consensus-based program also impacts self-reported antisocial behaviour over time through changes in perceptions of police legitimacy. Research has examined parental attachment in truanting students’ rationalisation of their anti-social behaviour, and explored perceptions of the legitimacy of authorities in the ASEP context.
Cardwell, S. M., Mazerolle, L., & Piquero, A.R. (2019). Truancy intervention and violent offending: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 49, 101308.
Mazerolle, L., Antrobus, E., Cardwell, S., Piquero, A. R., & Bennett, S. (2019). Harmonizing legal socialization to reduce antisocial behavior: Results from a randomized field trial of truanting young people. Justice Quarterly.
Antrobus, E., Bennett, S., Mazerolle, L., & Eggins, E. (2019). Parental and student perceptions of procedural justice and legitimacy in the context of truancy: results from a randomized field trial. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 52(4): 534–557.
Why fussy eating can be a big problem in low-income households. Our researchers are examining the impact of fussy child eating behaviours in low-income households. This research finds that providing fussy eaters with a narrow range of foods that they will like and accept in order to avoid waste can inadvertently limit children’s exposure to a variety of healthy foods. This ‘risk aversion’ among low-income mothers to food rejection by their fussy children is strongest in food-insecure households, where finances and resources are strained. This study represents Stage 1 of the Mealtimes Matter research project focussed on structuring early healthy eating habits in young children. It surveyed mothers of pre-school children residing in a low-income community, with 11 per cent reporting as food insecure. This group was less likely to have fruit available in their homes, compared to low-income families that were nevertheless food secure.
Harris, H. A., Staton, S., Morawska, A., Gallegos, D., Oakes, C., & Thorpe, K. (2019). A comparison of maternal feeding responses to child fussy eating in low-income food secure and food insecure households. Appetite, 137: 259–266.
Promises and rewards to tackle Indigenous students’ school absenteeism. Rewarding an effort commitment is a novel approach to addressing school absenteeism, and this concept was put to the test in research examining the effectiveness of an innovative ‘promise program’ for Indigenous students. This study divided students into two groups. Students in the ‘standard program’ group received a reward only once they achieved a minimum school attendance rate of 90 per cent. Students in the ‘promise program’ group were given the option at the outset to commit to put their best effort to achieve a minimum 90 per cent attendance rate, and they were rewarded upfront for this commitment. The results showed there were fewer unexplained absences among students in the promise program. This research is a collaboration with Former Origin Greats (FOGS), a non-government group that runs incentive-based programs for Indigenous students.
Potia. A., Silva-Goncalves, J., Torgler, B., & Dulleck, U. (2019). Rewarding commitment to attend school: A field study with Indigenous Australian high school students. Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2019-27.
Examining the world’s first randomised field trial of procedural justice policing – Immigrants are often less trusting of police than non-immigrants because they can feel ill-served by police and the laws they enforce. Procedural justice policing has been regarded as central to improving public trust and confidence in police. Using survey data from citizens exposed to the world’s first randomised field trial of procedural justice policing (Queensland Community Engagement Trial), this paper found that trust in police, but not willingness to report crime to police, was higher among those exposed to the procedural justice condition compared to the control condition. Procedural justice had a more positive effect for immigrants, particularly those younger than 26 years of age. This paper was high cited internationally in 2018.
Murphy, K., Mazerolle, L. (2018). Policing immigrants: Using a randomized control trial of procedural justice policing to promote trust and cooperation. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 51(1).
A population approach to the prevention of child abuse and neglect – This paper sets out how the prevention of child maltreatment can be enhanced by a multi-level, population-based approach in providing evidence-based parenting and family support. Such an approach works by reducing the family-related risk factors associated not only with abuse and neglect but also with a broader array of adverse childhood outcomes, through a blended prevention model that combines universal and targeted positive parenting interventions. However, though parenting programs can have a positive impact, participation needs to be normalised, destigmatised, and made widely accessible through concerted government commitment. Recommendations for policy, practice, and research are presented.
Sanders, M., Higgins, D. and Prinz, R. (2018). A population approach to the prevention of child maltreatment Rationale and implications for research, policy and practice. Family Matters, 100: pp. 62-70.
Truancy intervention also reduces impulsivity and antisocial behaviour – This study examines the extent to which a third-party policing experiment designed to prevent truancy in disadvantaged adolescents is able to weaken the effect of impulsivity on self-reported antisocial behaviour over time. Data are used from the Ability School Engagement Program (ASEP), a randomised controlled trial of 102 high truant youth from Brisbane, Australia who were followed for two years post-randomisation. This study, which was among the top two per cent most cited in its field for 2018, provides evidence that an intervention that was designed to prevent truancy has the additional benefit of hindering the relationship between impulsivity and self-reported antisocial behaviour variety.
Cardwell, S.M., Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S. and Piquero, A.R. (2018). Changing the Relationship Between Impulsivity and Antisocial Behavior: The Impact of a School Engagement Program. Crime and Delinquency.
Newly Funded Projects
The Alliance of Parents and Teachers
Project lead: Julie Hodges
CIs: Grace Kirby and Matt Sanders
The focus of this project is to develop video resources to accompany the Alliance of Parents and Teachers (APT) seminar. The seminar aims to assist parents to foster a positive home-school partnership with both their child’s teacher and school, ultimately benefitting their child’s learning and wellbeing. By providing visual illustrations of key program content, concepts, and strategies in action, it is envisaged that this video resource will be indispensable component of the seminar.
Parenting programs to support mental health
Project lead: Kylie Burke
CIs: Cassandra Dittman
This project aims to assess the efficacy and scalability of parenting interventions that seek to support parents of adolescents with mental health problems. This project will further the development and validation of a suite of four measures suitable for assessing adolescent outcomes and family-based risk and protective factors, as well as extend the existing understanding of the efficacy of parenting programs that target parents of adolescents with a focus on both mental health problem reduction and positive developmental outcomes for adolescents.
Supporting young mothers
Project lead: Janeen Baxter
CIs: Jack Lam, Sara Kalucza, Heidi Hoffmann
This project has two broad aims: to understand the barriers and challenges that young parents face, and to design and implement a pilot intervention to positively impact the life chances of young parents. This phase of the project will build on the evidence base already collected with the aim to develop a suitable and timely intervention that will encourage and enable young parents to develop goals and identify pathways to success. This project involves collaboration with Wesley Mission Queensland and the YHES House.