Research into our MBCPs continued in 2019/20, in partnership with Monash University’s Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI). The research stemmed from the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (Victoria), which highlighted the urgent need for MBCPs to be examined. Our joint rapid review of the content, implementation and impacts of the programs on participants and family outcomes internationally was published in a leading international family violence journal, Trauma, Violence & Abuse.
The findings of the review indicated a limited evidence base of detailed MBCP evaluations, and the information relating to program content covered a wide range of topics not documented in the research. Evaluations that were existing, however, indicated that positive changes were reported in relation to participants’ communication, parenting, interpersonal relationships, empathy, skills development, responsibility for behaviour, self-awareness and cognitive beliefs – as well as their aggression, abuse, power and control tactics, behaviour control and abusiveness patterns. No evaluations examined the links between men’s accountability and responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of women and children. The review also revealed a lack of implementation evaluations, and no assessments of the integrity of program delivery, system processes or evaluations based on program logics.
As a result of this review, a detailed program logic and evaluation plan was developed to enable RAV’s MBCPs to be examined, with 60 program participants and 19 RAV facilitators and family support contact service staff participating in the research.
Following an MBCP, men reported significant improvements in their belief to be able to manage stressful times; understanding of the impact of their use of violence; and their skills to repair the impact of their use of violence on their partner/former partner, children and family members.
Trends in the data showed improvements in the men’s understanding of their own emotional and mental health, understanding of their partner/former partner and family members’ needs and feelings, relationships with their partners/former partners and family members, and understanding that their behaviour in relationships could improve. But, in relation to their children’s needs and feelings, and the impact of their violence on children, responses from men indicated that further attention is needed on how to deliver MBCPs that promote the safety, development and wellbeing of children.
Overall, program facilitators reported the program positively impacted 43 per cent of men, who experienced significant improvements recording changes in their attitudes, levels of accountability and responsibility, and active use of strategies learned in the program.
The research has resulted in recommendations for current and future attention on the further development of MBCPs, staff engagement and additional research into the impact of the programs.
The RA FDR Outcomes Study, which was jointly led by RAV and RA Queensland, was completed this year. RAV led the property component of this national study, which involved collecting survey data at multiple points in time from 1,695 clients across Australia. Interviews with 200 of these clients generated evidence on the outcomes of RA FDR services in both parenting and property disputes.
RAV prepared a qualitative paper to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal that presents client views on the advantages and disadvantages of FDR for property matters, compared to legal methods. While most participants choosing FDR for property matters primarily wanted to avoid the increased costs, stress and levels of acrimony associated with legal processes, many also identified benefits of the mediation process, itself, as key to their choice. These benefits included facilitating communication, both during and outside FDR, and having a skilled and impartial third party to direct negotiations and control emotion.
One of two other papers submitted to the Journal of Family Studies uses interview data to assess reasons for the low use of FDR for property matters in Australia, given the benefits cited above. Among 112 interviewees who had hoped to use FDR to resolve their property matters, only 37 per cent were able to make a serious attempt at a property settlement. The most common reason for participants’ inability to progress with property negotiations was an unwilling former partner. The paper suggests that making FDR mandatory before filing to the court for property matters, as is the case for parenting matters, would increase the likelihood that separating couples can negotiate their disputes; therefore, improving adjustment to separation for both former partners and their children.
Further papers are being prepared by RAV, including for the Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference. A quantitative paper on measuring FDR outcomes will also demonstrate that the benefits of FDR for both parenting and property clients extend beyond reaching agreements, to reducing psychosocial distress and improving adjustment to separation.
In late 2018, Relationships Australia released research entitled Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness? which identifies which Australians are most likely to feel lonely and socially isolated, and when. The research, which is based on the findings from 16 waves of Household Income and Labour Dynamics of Australia survey data from 2001-2016, reveals that one in 10 Australians lack social support and one in six is experiencing emotional loneliness. Click here to read the full report.
In 2019/20, RAV partnered with high-profile academics at the Australian National University and colleagues at RA Canberra and Region, to apply for an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.
The proposed study, which would run for two years, aims to examine the role and effectiveness of separation-related smartphone apps in supporting families to respond to the many challenges of post-separation co-parenting. In an increasingly digital landscape, where poor choices of apps can have serious consequences for families, this knowledge is urgently needed by parents and family law practitioners, including FDR practitioners, to provide an evidence base for recommendations regarding the use of such technologies. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the need for access to effective and safe digital communication tools.
Our collaborative relationship with Victoria University continued in 2019/20 as a study of the use and misuse of communication technologies in post-separation parenting. This year, we completed the first phase of this project, which was a prevalence survey of separated parents attending RAV’s FRCs about their use of 11 different kinds of technology including email, SMS, instant messenger, social networking sites, online learning and video calls.
Each month Relationships Australia conducts an online survey to capture the Australians' views and opinions on relationship, social and current community issues and concerns. The survey is accessed via the Relationships Australia National website and the Relationships Australia Victoria website homepage. Summaries of survey results on the Relationships Australia National website.
In 2016/17, our Kew Centre participated in a nationwide Department of Social Services Data Exchange Client Survey pilot project, designed to independently measure outcomes for, and satisfaction of, clients in core, funded services, through online client surveys. Responses and feedback from the project will inform the implementation of a longer-term evaluation project.
We are one of 23 government and non-government organisations taking part in the Australian Research Council-funded four-year research project, led by the University of Melbourne and also involving researchers from the universities of South Australia and Western Australia. The project's ultimate aim is to improve the parenting experience of children whose fathers have used domestic and family violence.
The outcomes of our four-year study with La Trobe University, funded by the Australian Research Council, into the impact of family violence on the FDR process has been disseminated and discussed, including through the publication of a peer-reviewed research paper in the Australian Institute of Family Studies Family Matters journal.
The research has attracted international interest, including from academic institutions and policy-makers, and it continues to influence models of practice for working with clients affected by family violence.
We have partnered with Swinburne University of Technology to investigate loneliness in older adults in residential aged care and community settings, through the university's Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults. The project seeks to better understand the prevalence of loneliness, and the predictors of loneliness and emotional wellbeing among older adults. The project's findings will assist counsellors and other health professionals to develop more specific interventions to prevent the negative health consequences associated with loneliness.
Through our membership of the Partnership of Victorian Family Relationship Centres, RAV is participating in an FDR Outcome Measurement Trial, funded by the Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Social Services. The pilot project seeks to identify or develop a tool that measures the parenting outcomes of FDR, such as the development of parenting plans, increased parental awareness of the impact of conflict on children and a reduced need for litigation or the involvement of lawyers.
In 2016/17, we engaged with RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice to undertake research on perpetrator interventions in the criminal justice system. This research will help the sector to better understand and establish an evidence base for interventions with men who use violence.
RAV has been involved in major projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), reaffirming our commitment to research to better inform our clinical practice and service delivery.
RAV has completed a three-year research project with La Trobe University to investigate the long-term benefits of couple counselling and our Good Connecting relationship education course. In addition to producing better outcomes for our clients, this significant study will have national and international impact upon the practice of couple counselling and relationship education.
The Work, Love and Play in Diverse Australian Family Life project ran in partnership with with Relationships Australia National, the University of Melbourne, La Trobe University and The Bouverie Centre.
The five-year study examined same-sex parenting and children's outcomes. It provides a broad and in-depth examination of a variety of factors that can impact on child outcomes: how parents balance their working commitments and domestic arrangements; characteristics and quality of the parents' relationship and how they parent together; and the family's social, financial and practical resources and social networks.
We researched the systemic, organisational and individual factors that optimise or impede effective collaboration. The research aimed to develop evidence-based guidelines for achieving effective collaboration, and the identification of knowledge gaps and areas for future research.
In partnership with Victoria University, and with support from their Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing, we completed research into the effect of social media engagement on relationship satisfaction in 2016. The findings illustrated that relationship satisfaction is impacted by how, rather than how often, social media is used.
In 2016, we undertook a literature review into the most current research on the efficacy of MBCPs. This review forms the foundation of a significant wider research project to evaluate the effectiveness of MBCPs, led by RAV and involving Relationships Australia South Australia and Relationships Australia Western Australia.
In 2011, Relationships Australia National surveyed the population to find out what the main issues and concerns that Australians had in their relationships at the time.
Click here for a copy of the 2011 survey, undertaken in partnership with Credit Union Australia and conducted by Woolcott Research across Australia.
RAV partnered with primary schools, kindergartens and maternal and child health centres to run programs for fathers and children called Fathers Utilising Networks for Kids (FUN for Kids). These programs allowed fathers to examine their parenting styles, establish networks, have more effective communication with their kids, share with other dads and have fun. FUN for Kids is not currently being run.
The Potter Foundation funded an independent evaluation of the program by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). The final report indicates some very positive outcomes for dads, partners, children and communities.