14 SES 03 C JS, Interventions to Promote Wellbeing: Schools and Community
Joint Paper Session NW 08 and NW 14
The purpose of this paper is to explain an approach being undertaken in Australia, based on developments in prevention science over the past 20 years, to transform the functioning of partnerships of community agencies and schools in disadvantaged communities to improve the wellbeing and life trajectories of children and young people (Feinberg et al., 2004; Homel et al., 2015). Current work is directed at building and testing a Prevention Translation and Support System (PTSS) that empowers schools and community agencies to transcend system silos through collaborative coalitions that foster respectful relationships and deliver goal-directed, quantitatively evaluated, evidence-based resources that promote child social-emotional wellbeing, including school engagement and academic success (Wandersman et al., 2008).
Just on fifty years ago, Coleman and his colleagues (1966) undertook what has become recognised as seminal research into schools in severely disadvantaged communities in the United States. With its focus on Equality of Educational Opportunity, the report explained that the major influences on variations in student achievement at school were to be found in the communities in which schools were located. Factors such as family background, socio-economic status and race were identified as more significant in accounting for differences in student performance than in-school factors. Notwithstanding this finding, the study found ‘outlier’ schools in some low SES communities. In these schools, students performed unexpectedly well. This encouraging finding for educators contributed to the momentum for what is now known as the ‘Effective Schools Movement’. Research over the past fifty years has been dominated by studies of actions taken inside the school grounds to make schools, teachers and their leaders more effective in meeting the needs of students who pass through the school gate. The micro-context within the school has been the major focus, reducing interest significantly in what Coleman et al (1966) had indicated were the most important influences on students’ achievement, namely factors external to the school.
Research since the Coleman report (for example, Berman & Mclaughlin, 1974; Leithwood & Riehl, 2005; Gamoran & Long, 2006; Leithwood, 2011) has confirmed the substance of the original work, but this has not spawned corresponding efforts by education researchers to design studies or interventions which might bring outside and inside school conditions together in the interests of disadvantaged children and young people. This paper reports on one such contemporary effort by a group of criminologists, psychologists, social workers and educators, working in partnership with a wide range of government departments, community agencies and other NGOs. This initiative starts with the assumption that the isolated efforts of individual organizations cannot solve problems caused by system failures, and that what is needed is action to achieve collective impact, understood as “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 are staffed by an independent backbone organization.” (Kania & Kramer, 2010, p. 39). However, a major weakness of the collective impact movement so far, a movement that is rapidly growing in North America, Australia, and parts of Europe, is that despite its emphasis on a shared measurement system few of its proponents draw on the wealth of prevention science research that can help ensure that community coalitions are empowered to deliver evidence-based services and supports for children and families that achieve measurable improvements in child wellbeing, particularly at a population level.
Through the development, testing and widespread implementation and evaluation of a PTSS in disadvantaged communities the research endeavours to achieve a collective impact on child wellbeing using the best science available.
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