Early childhood interventions – cooperation, networking and dialogue to support families in need
Sabine Haas, Sociologist; since 1995 at the Austrian Institute for Public Health (now Gesundheit Österreich GmbH - GÖG); deputy head of the health and society department; head of the National Centre for Early Childhood Interventions.
After many years of work, first on HIV/AIDS and then on drugs and addiction, she has in recent years dealt mainly with the basics of (structural) prevention and health promotion, public health governance with special focus on strategies for intersectoral co-operation for health (in particular health target development and health impact assessment) as well as with the socio-economic determinants of health and the topic of health equity; since 2011 she has been intensively involved with the topic of early childhood interventions.
Regional networks to support families in need in early childhood are the core element of the Austrian model for early childhood intervention. The networks build on the available services of a region and reach out to families actively and systematically by sensitizing potential referrers. Over a longer period of time, family supporters assist the families mainly in the form of home visits and organize the necessary support services. Thus, cooperation, networking and dialogue with families as well as network partners are central.
Since 2015, regional early childhood intervention networks have been set up or expanded in all Austrian provinces according to the uniform model. At the end of 2018, 63 of the 116 political districts in Austria were covered by regional networks. The implementation is supported by the National Centre for Early Childhood Interventions, which promotes and supports nationwide coordination and networking, quality assurance of implementation as well as knowledge transfer and public relations work. Early Childhood Interventions are already anchored in numerous political strategies. Currently, there is an important focus on work towards sustainable and nationwide establishment.
The documentation shows a rapid increase in the number of families supported by the regional networks. The intended target groups are reached very well and in many cases pleasingly early: Many families enter the program during pregnancy or in the first months of life of the youngest child. Compared to the total population, (significantly) more single parents, families at risk of poverty and families with a migration background as well as main care-givers with a maximum of compulsory schooling are being reached.
According to the evaluation, the establishment of regional networks has already been very successful and the families as well as the family supporters see many positive effects of early childhood interventions. They observe an increase in available resources and a reduction in burdens; as a result, parent-child bonding and interaction improve and the development of the child is promoted. Resource-oriented support for families promotes a good basis of trust, relationship and attachment, which contributes to strengthening the family. Thus, dialogue is a way of empowering families in need.