The University of Newcastle, Australia

Keynote Address: From siloes to synergy

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

On the eve of National Families’ Week - Stronger Families, Stronger Communities, it is timely to consider some of the challenges and opportunities for families in modern society. Professor Alan Hayes AM, Distinguished Professor of Family Studies and Director of the Family Action Centre recently delivered the Keynote Address to an international audience at the International Symposium on Family and Community Strengths at City Hall in Newcastle.

Distinguished Professor Alan Hayes AM

An excerpt from his address - From siloes to synergy: Connecting and integrating family and community assets and strengths provides some insight into current challenges and opportunities.

Contemporary chances and challenges

An excerpt from the Keynote Address delivered by Professor Alan Hayes AM, Distinguished Professor of Family Studies and Director of the Family Action Centre at the International Symposium on Family and Community Strengths, Newcastle 2018.

Some of the last Century’s most profound, positive impacts have been in advancing educational opportunity. Education has such a great capacity to increase equity of opportunity and mobilise the talent pool available to contemporary societies. Educational participation and career access, including for girls and women, underpins progress towards equitable life chances, opportunities and prospects. Increasing educational and employment participation have been major achievements and have made wide-reaching differences in development, health and wellbeing. They bring clear benefits that flow to families, communities and societies.  While economic security may be enhanced, work and family balance are major challenges for many families.

Longer lives and smaller families intersect with intergenerational impacts. Families may experience periods of life when they not only have parental responsibilities for their children but also may need to support and care their own elderly parents and relatives. With smaller family size, there is less scope to share the care responsibilities, within the family and, as for child care, dependence on provision of aged care solutions beyond the family is growing.

So, with these advances, come challenges including the intersecting social, educational, health and economic implications of change. Opportunity is not equally distributed across social groups and, despite growing wealth in many countries, too many children, families and communities can miss out or be left behind. Reducing inequality is an increasing policy priority in many countries.

Across the social spectrum, communities and their families may struggle with challenges that include physical and mental ill-health, including chronic illness and disability; substance abuse; and family violence, among others. Disadvantage, especially when entrenched, exacerbates the impacts of these challenges. Families, especially those living in disadvantage tend to experience a package of challenging problems. Addressing these may require a package of supports, across the lifecourse, making short-term interventions of limited assistance.

Communities and their families also confront the impacts of structural economic changes that may flow from global disruptions. Many families and communities face the uncertainties of fragile and insecure employment. In turn, these increase the risk of unemployment.

Caring responsibilities may affect both employment and family income, with resultant widening of the inequality gap. Circumstances such as these may elevate the risk of relationship difficulties that can fracture families. Together, complex packages of problems challenge policy solutions and practice approaches.

The complex needs of communities and their families also span the boundaries of traditional government portfolios and professional disciplines. Moving from siloes to synergy requires an increased focus on cooperation, collaboration and integration of efforts. Several recent developments focus on increasing coordination, collaboration, integration, to achieve collective action and impact. These seek to inform both current and future policy priorities and practice approaches.

Advances in prevention science provide a foundation to guide interventions focused on improving the circumstances and life experiences of children, families and communities.  Such initiatives strive to link evidence-based practices and utilise data resources to monitor and evaluate their impacts and outcomes. The aim is to increase coordination within and between healthcare, community and social services, and educational systems.

While primary and secondary healthcare integration has received substantial attention, more inclusive linkages with social support systems, wellbeing services, and community organisations are vital in framing future policy and practice solutions. The objective should be to improve integration between both upstream, preventative services, commonly offered through community and non-government agencies, as well as the downstream, tertiary intervention services, typically provided by specialist providers.

Whether integrated care or collective action, such approaches enable services to address current and future complex needs that have large-scale social, environmental, or public health impacts. They seek to overcome the growing concerns that services have been isolated, ad hoc or unstructured and lack cohesive alignment and accountability among agencies.

Increasingly, there are calls for innovative, integrative, collective approaches to working with families and communities that create effective synergies that cross the boundaries of traditional approaches. But competitive funding environments and cultures can counter efforts to cooperate. There is a policy contradiction in advocating for partnerships and co-design when procurement processes prioritise competition. Organisational structures that evolved in earlier times can make for further difficulty in moving from siloes to synergy.


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