(Four minutes of extracts from a 27 minute video which can be watched here.)
MASS production and professionalised services built modern prosperity. But in welfare their legacy provides one of the great challenges of our time.
One size might fit all in a factory, but might not work so well solving individual people’s problems. And professionals have heads full of training and expertise, but how much do they understand clients on welfare? Many care deeply about their clients, but what if those clients just don’t relate to them?
Today, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill will launch the evaluation of a new kind of social program that has been pioneered by the Adelaide-based Australian Centre for Social Innovation, which I chair. Called ”Family by Family”, the program’s principal goal is to reduce the prevalence of families falling into crisis and of children requiring state or foster care.
But we’re doing things differently.
The program is a hybrid between a behaviour change and a mentoring program. ”Seeking families” considered at risk of falling into crisis are paired with ”sharing families” who’ve endured hard times but have come through. Sharing families are then coached to mentor seeking families.
The program melds insights from social science, social work and ”design thinking”. Design has powered Apple to be the wealthiest company in the world and the largest consultancy in the world, Deloitte, has put it at the centre of its practice. Where social and professional sciences tend to reduce life to a set of principles – lawyers reduce things to rules, accountants to money – design thinking is a kind of counter-narrative that tries to let the practical wisdom of our life break out of the strictures of professional knowledge. It’s a consciously cross-disciplinary search for insight that values playfulness, improvisation and empathy, creatively understanding and engaging with everyone’s perspective in a system – in this case the kids, the social workers, the families, the schools.
Designers don’t imagine they have the answer to a question when they start. So they prototype solutions and test them, and improve them and prototype them again and again, documenting their progress until they’ve got them as good as they can.
So Family by Family was ”co-designed” with the families it seeks to help. It was endlessly prototyped over many months with the families advising our team how to improve it. We’re more like a start-up than a government agency, which is to say we’re building our service as we build our relationships with potential purchasers of those services – typically those who provide care – from government agencies to philanthropics like Uniting Communities.
Family by Family’s evaluation tells a powerful story of a social program working where other well-intentioned programs have struggled. Ninety per cent of our families said it had helped them achieve their objectives, with 50 per cent reporting it had helped them ”a lot” or ”a whole lot”.
But let me bring it home for you with a story. A single mum approached Family by Family. Her goal? To bond better with her four kids, her kids’ teachers and perhaps others in the local community. With 27 separate statutory ”notifications” of suspicions that she was neglecting her kids, Child Protection was heading for a court order to take them into guardianship.
Her sharing family took her family camping and spent time with them. She learnt many things from them, not least to hug her kids! Their behaviour seems to have turned the corner. Over the last six months and Child Protection has withdrawn the court order. The 30-week program cost around $13,000. If that sounds expensive to you, it’s a fraction of what social workers would have cost, and it looks much more effective. Moving all four kids into care would cost $224,000 per year. So if we’ve steered just one family from the shoals of state intervention, we’ll have saved the state government around $2.5 million before the kids all turn 18, more than the entire cost of the program so far.
And that’s just direct costs to the state, before accounting for all the future costs of the blighted lives in terms of lower aspirations, education and wages and higher rates of crime. That is all those processes by which the problems perpetuate themselves into the next generation and the next … If that’s predestined to happen by default, something tells me we can do a lot better by design!