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A three year research project has secured $1.4 million of Government funding to strengthen ways for social services to engage with families/whānau.

The project will improve the health, education and general wellbeing of high needs families such as high-risk parents with young families, Pasifika youth with emerging mental health needs, and people facing family violence, alcohol and drug use or anger management issues, by helping them make better use of existing support services.

Project leader, Dr Jeff Foote from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), said the project will work with three service providers, Family Help Trust, He Waka Tapu, and Q-nique Pacific Navigation Team, to help find ways social service providers can improve how they deliver their services.

“Social services are delivered by a broad range of government and non-government agencies, iwi and community organisations, but they often struggle to connect with those they are trying to help,” Dr Foote said.

Dr Jeremy Robertson from The Families Commission’s Social Policy and Evaluation Research Unit (SuPERU) said he was very pleased to be part of such an important project.

“By working closely with families at risk, and the organisations that work with them, we can develop an in-depth understanding of what the barriers are and develop practical models to improve the way services are designed and delivered.

“The research will enable service providers and practitioners to better appraise their existing practice, deepen their understanding of what is working and why, and help them to create service improvements and innovations.

“At the national level, the research will provide evidence to support contracting, evaluating and improving services for hard to reach populations,” Dr Robertson said.

Dr Joerg Finsterwalder from the University of Canterbury said the team would be using a service systems approach for the project.

“We treat service as a system rather than as a simple provider – recipient transaction.

“The approach draws on systems thinking and service science. It analyses service outcomes as the result of interactions between critical actors and resources including those for whom services are intended.

“It also maps the critical actors and resources and identifies what matters most for these actors.

“This research project is not only relevant nationally but also globally because research related to improving wellbeing has been named one of the top ten research priorities,” Dr Finsterwalder said.

The University of Canterbury’s Dr Annabel Taylor said that from a social work perspective, the research has potential to be integral to the profession in developing a model of evaluation that evolves from service users and which connects with the principles of empowerment and social justice that underpin social work practice.

“Social work is positioned critically in the public-private interface and to be effective needs to demonstrate models and practices that reach diverse populations,” Dr Taylor said.

The project is funded by the 2013 Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Health and Society Research Investment Round and is led by ESR, in collaboration with the University of Canterbury, the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (SuPERU) within the Families Commission, Q-nique and He Oranga Pounamu.

The project will run until September 2016.

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