Pathways to prevention

Creating Pathways to Prevention aims to strengthen the development system for children, with a long-term view to reducing youth crime and promoting both human and community development. The basic focus is policy pathways, since the project aims to reorganise government, as well as societal priorities and practices, and move tertiary, punitive responses to social problems (especially for youth crime and substance abuse) to primary prevention - the prevention of problems before they emerge or become entrenched. It is an amalgam of two research streams: the Pathways to Prevention Project and the CREATE Model for community prevention.

The program began in the mid-1990s under the leadership of Professor Ross Homel, AO. The Federal Government report, Pathways to Prevention: Developmental and Early Intervention Approaches to Crime in Australia, was produced in 1999 through an interdisciplinary consortium Professor Homel convened and led. This report has had a major influence in Australia on policies in such diverse fields as mental health, substance abuse, juvenile crime, child protection, and special education.

The initial project began in 2001 and ran until 2011 as a comprehensive service offered through a partnership between national community service agency Mission Australia, seven local primary schools and Griffith University, in several ethnically diverse, socially disadvantaged, and high crime Brisbane suburbs.

An important outcome of the Pathways Project has been a longitudinal database of child outcomes, with data from nearly 5000 children, Department of Education records, and case studies.

The central aim of our Australian Research Council Discovery Project for 2013-2016, Crime, poverty and early prevention: a Longitudinal study of social and development pathways to wellbeing through the Pathways to Prevention Project, was to analyse this data and add official youth justice data for the original preschool cohort (2002-3).

The CREATE Project also emerged from the Pathways to Prevention Project. It is an attempt to strengthen collaborative practices around clear, measurable goals achieved through evidence-based initiatives. CREATE is an acronym: Collaborative; Relationship-driven; Early in the pathway; Accountable; Training-focused; Evidence-driven.

These principles underpin a model of preventative action that:

  • empowers schools and community agencies to transcend system silos.
  • foster ethical practices and respectful relationships.
  • delivers goal-directed, quantitatively evaluated, evidence-based resources that promote child wellbeing in disadvantaged communities.
  • helps deflect children from antisocial and criminal behaviours.

These principles were being applied in 2014-2016 in an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant - Creating the Conditions for Collective Impact: Transforming the Child-Serving System in Disadvantaged Communities (PDF 146k). This project built and tested human and electronic infrastructure to put the CREATE principles into practice.

Many papers and reports have been published that report aspects of the Pathways to Prevention Project or that draw on the project to develop arguments about how to do developmental crime prevention.

The Pathways to Prevention Project

The Pathways to Prevention Project was implemented and evaluated as part of a partnership between Griffith University, the Queensland Department of Education, and Mission Australia.

The project operated in a disadvantaged region of Brisbane for ten years between 2002 and 2011, when Mission Australia brought the community­based family support work to an end. The project team, consisting of a small number of university staff and postgraduate students, the Mission Australia team of approximately 15 full time and part­time community workers, and a range of school principals and classroom and specialist teachers from seven primary schools, responded to the needs of 1,077 families and children.

30% of all children enrolled in one of these seven schools between 2002 and 2011 belonged to a family at least one of whose parents/carers participated in the Pathways family support activities. Within its universal focus, the Pathways model emphasises comprehensive and integrated practice that supports development in a holistic way. Its overriding goal is to create a pathway to wellbeing for all local children as they transit through successive life phases, from conception to youth.

Key features include;

  1. Interventions in one context (e.g., the home) interact with, complement, and support interventions in other contexts (e.g. school)
  2. Relationships, trust and cooperation between staff and clients are valued equally with evidence on what works
  3. Better individual outcomes are achieved by enriching all relevant developmental settings, especially families and schools
  4. Intervention effects are enhanced by focusing on life transitions (such as starting school) when people are both vulnerable and receptive to help
  5. A continuum of age appropriate programmes and resources is used
  6. Integrated practice is achieved through collaborative working partnerships between institutions relevant to child and family wellbeing.

CREATE-ing community capacity: Enabling collaborative action around children's needs

Professor Ross Homel, Dr Kate Freiberg and Dr Sara Branch Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice & Governance, Griffith University

The Need for Collective Impact Prevention science is built on the foundations of carefully designed and rigorously evaluated evidence based programs (EBPs), many of which yield large benefits for disadvantaged children that persist from early childhood into the adolescent years. Despite this, few EBPs have been implemented by the social and education sectors on a large scale, especially in disadvantaged localities.

A big problem is that most EBPs are not system-ready, but nor are most organisations evidence-ready. However, an even bigger problem that the social and education sectors face in tackling concentrated disadvantage is that they remain largely locked into a model of isolated impact, focused on the independent activities of individual organisations. What is needed for complex adaptive problems like youth crime, child maltreatment or educational disengagement is what Kania and Kramer in the Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review call collective impact initiatives: …long-term commitments by a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.

Their actions are supported by a shared measurement system, mutually reinforcing activities, and ongoing communications, and a restaffed by an independent backbone organisation.

Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP140100921

Chief investigator: Ross Homel

Duration: 2013 - ­2015

Summary: Youth crime is concentrated in poor areas because social processes undermine positive development. Family support is widely used in these areas but its crime prevention value is unclear. This project analyses how such services offered by the Pathways to Prevention Project enhanced child and parent wellbeing. It uses interviews, records and case studies, and a longitudinal database of 4858 children aged 4­12 that links Project participation with parent and child outcomes, including youth justice record, to model pathways from preschool for participants and matched non-­participants. By situating pathways in the context of systemic barriers facing families, teachers and agency staff, the project will advance prevention theory and practice.

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