The first Family Studies Discipline in Australia emerged from humble beginnings.  Over 30 years ago a philanthropic organisation called the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) became interested in investigating and supporting the lives of families who lived permanently in caravan parks in NSW.

The resulting Hunter Caravan Project (now known as the Hunter Outreach Project) pioneered  a model that combined service delivery with advocacy for policy change to address the needs of a very disenfranchised community.

Emerging workplace culture

Encouraged by a work-place culture of cooperation and vision, safety in risk taking and creative problem solving, a centre emerged that nurtured the ongoing development of innovative projects, research and ultimately a discipline of Family Studies.

Reflecting on the past to create a better future

The pages in this history section of the Family Action Centre (FAC) website tell the stories of the multitude of projects, initiatives and work-place principles that grew out of the early work that have sustained the FAC over time. It has been a reflective process undertaken by former staff who were part of the journey from the beginning.

University commitment to community engagement

With the support of an emerging university commitment to community engagement, the FAC continues as a unique and innovative centre committed to improving policy and practice of family and community work through direct service, teaching and research.

A legacy to inspire

In capturing the history, we hope this legacy inspires others to emulate a culture that sustains and invigorates their family and community work, and in turn contributes to the promotion of a truly civil society.

Organisational Culture - Inspired Beginnings

This section of our history shares some of the tools and strategies that built an organisation based on human values, where individuals could bring their full creative potential, were comfortable with risk taking and flexibility, and were committed to a shared vision.

In sharing some of the tools and strategies it is hoped that others will be inspired to create their own work-place culture where staff are valued, affirmed, encouraged and in love with their work!

Discipline of Family Studies

Throughout its evolution from a single project to a centre integrating service, research, and advocacy, the Family Action Centre navigated a pathway that bridged its university context and its community engagement focus. The missing piece of the picture was a contribution to formal, professional university education as a long-term strategy to influence policy and practice relating to families. An opportunity emerged in 2008 to change this situation, and so began the journey towards establishing the Discipline of Family Studies at the University of Newcastle.

This section of our history pages explains the rationale, experience and learnings associated with the development of Family Studies at UoN.

In 2015, Professor Alan Hayes, OAM, was appointed as the inaugural Professor of Family Studies and Director of the Family Action Centre (FAC) at the University of Newcastle (UoN). What is Family Studies? Why has UoN embraced Family Studies? What has been achieved in the process?

From its early beginnings, the University of Newcastle’s Family Action Centre (FAC) has been a pioneer in identifying and responding to issues that impact on families in their community contexts. Over time, the FAC has had the opportunity to add undergraduate and postgraduate teaching to the mix, and has progressively become a Centre that integrates services and programs, research and teaching, with the ultimate aim of strengthening families and communities.

In 2008 the FAC was invited by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to be a foundation member of a consortium seeking to develop the field of Family Studies internationally. Through participation in the Global Consortium for International Family Studies (GCIFS), the FAC came to understand that the field of Family Studies provides a unifying framework for all its work. The FAC also saw that unlike in the US, Family Studies is not well established as an academic discipline in Australian universities. This is despite the increasing demand in policy and practice for family-focused professional expertise across health, education and other human services.

As a result, the FAC embarked on a strategy to promote Family Studies nationally as well as internationally, with the aim of being a national leader in the field. Central to this strategy was securing the University’s agreement to establish a professorial position to lead the discipline, which, along with the FAC, would be based in the School of Health Sciences in the Faculty of Health and Medicine. And so began the process to appoint the first university-based Professor of Family Studies in Australia. Who better to take up this role than the then Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies – Professor Alan Hayes, OAM.

The development of postgraduate programs in Family Studies, open to professionals across the wide range of health and human services was another key initiative in growing the discipline in the university context. Over time undergraduate courses have been developed as offerings in a range of undergraduate programs, so that the discipline is teaching across the spectrum of undergraduate, postgraduate coursework, and research higher degrees.


  • Family, like the economy, the law, and health, deserves recognition as a unique field of applied study.
  • Family Studies promotes the application of deep knowledge to working with families in diverse health, education and human services settings.
  • Family Studies respects and promotes the integration of practice, research and teaching in the field of families.
  • Academic leadership is important to recognizing and growing the field.

Organisational Culture - Inspired Beginnings

The Family Action Centre had the unusual situation of being a fully self-funded centre in a university context.  Survival depended on (mostly short term) external grants from philanthropic foundations and government departments.

The resulting insecurity and uncertainty meant that the future of virtually every program and worker was dependent on securing on-going funding. It was recognised that a strong organisational culture would insulate against the resulting job insecurity and fears for program sustainability.

To counter these serious challenges it seemed essential to develop an organisational culture based on notions of abundance rather than scarcity, and cooperation rather than competition.  Developing a strong, shared vision, understanding the power of a positive mindset, creative problem solving, becoming comfortable with risk taking, and developing confidence in both the individual and the organization became important components of the culture.

This section of our history pages shares some of the tools and strategies that built an organisation based on human values, and on a staffing ethos that promoted creativity, risk-taking, flexibility, and commitment to a shared vision. It is our hope that others will be inspired and encouraged to create their own dynamic, joyful, positive work-place cultures.

The following links detail some of the strategies that were applied and that may assist others to create a similar workplace culture, including:

  • Creating a Powerful Vision - shared vision propels us towards our goals
  • The Co-operative Mode - a tool to transform communication, relationships and organisations
  • Check In - a simple process to build trust, empathy and cohesion
  • Guiding Principles and Practices to keep a learning organisation on track to reach its potential
  • Five Key Elements for survival of organisational in uncertain political and financial circumstances
  • Guidelines for Being Together – A tool to develop a culture of caring, empathy and personal responsibility
  • FAC Patrons - Influential friends to help out in challenging times
  • Contribution to the Australian Community - Annual FAC Awards for Outstanding community service

In early 1980s the Hunter Region was experiencing a resources boom, and due to severe shortages of rental accommodation, short-term holiday caravan parks progressively provided long term, but illegal, housing for disadvantaged families. Many players, including park managers, services and local councils, were very concerned, and after a summit held at the then Newcastle College of Advanced Education, a successful application for funding was made to the BvLF.

Why the BvLF?

  1. BvLF is an internationally focussed philanthropic organisation that since the mid c20 had focussed their attention on funding projects that worked with young children in the context of their family and community. Find out more about BvLF
  2. BvLF had funded projects in Australia since 1970 and by 1980s they focussed on children who were considered to be living on the margins of Australian society.
  3. BvLF, based in The Hague, The Netherlands supervised and supported the FAC over a 19 year period and were funders who promoted innovation, and effective dissemination. Learn how they achieved such an effective relationship.

Home-Start - a voluntary home visiting program

The Family Action Centre adopted the well-tried and cost effective model of Home-Start and adapted it to the local context in East Lake Macquarie, Newcastle NSW.

The underlying philosophy for this service is to utilize the often-neglectedassets anddiverse resources of families,in particular parents and grandparents, to address factors   affecting the health and wellbeing of families. There is considerable research to suggest the importance of early intervention and prevention strategies to improve parents’ capacity to bring up happy and healthy children.

Home-Start is a simple and effective model. It harnesses the skills and experiences of parents and grandparents to support other parents with young children. The model has the flexibility to adapt to local community needs hence each Home-Start locally and internationally, is different and reflects the community in which it is based. All Home-Starts however adhere to the same guiding principles and practices to ensure the maintenance and integrity of key guiding principles.

Four Critical Keys to Success:

  • Employment of professional staff to train, recruit and support a large number of community volunteers and provide referrals and linkages to service providers when families need further support.  This results in a cost effective model
  • A trained team of caring and dedicated volunteers who visit families in their own homes on a regular basis
  • Comprehensive training provided to volunteers. The positive impact of this training increases their own knowledge of local community agencies and support services and enhances pathways to further education, work and community volunteering opportunities
  • Emphasis on prevention: assisting   more vulnerable families with young children before any crisis situation   arises.

The Family Action Centre’s Home-Start operated from 1989 to 2014 closing only due to changed government funding priorities. Based on the success of this innovative, dynamicand enduring workthe FAC was proactive in developing Home-Start nationally with interested services and communities taking up the establishment and management of this important early intervention and prevention model.

The Family Action Centre mobilized those in a position to make effective change for residents living permanently in caravan parks in Australia.

Philanthropic Foundation funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation for The University of Newcastle’s Hunter Caravan Project (HCP) in 1986 allowed the HCP to examine the needs and issues of families with young children living permanently in caravan parks in the Hunter Region of New South Wales. At this time it was illegal to live permanently in caravan parks in NSW. This meant that residents had to live ‘under the radar’ thereby missing support from helping agencies and constantly at risk of eviction.

Designing innovative strategies to meet those needs   meant engaging residents, park operators and owners in the process of transforming disparate park communities into cohesive communities.

In 1992 the National Dissemination Program was established to communicate this successful dynamic model to a wider audience.  This was achieved by providing links between state and federal government departments, health services, family-oriented associations, park owners, tenancy groups and community services across five states and two territories.

Successful dissemination strategies:

  • Consultation with all levels of government and services
  • Collation and analysis of information to present an overview of the Australian situation
  • Facilitation of training workshops for health and community services personnel
  • Promotion of new research in housing issues for the target population through National Think Tanks and national research consortiums
  • Production of resources for targeted stakeholders
  • Production of quarterly national newsletter “Insite”
  • Organisation of national conferences to share successful strategies
  • Successful funding initiatives at state and federal levels to leverage these stakeholders who were in a position to make effective change for park residents at risk of homelessness

The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.