Volunteer Family Connect: Structured Social Support for Vulnerable Families with Young Children

This presentation reports the results from an Australian study that examined the effectiveness of Volunteer Family Connect, a structured social support early intervention program for families with young children who experience social isolation or a lack of parenting confidence and skills. Volunteer Family Connect, a best practice model of structured social support in the form of volunteer home visiting, was developed by a collaboration of three not-for-profit service organisations, two universities, a corporate partner and a private philanthropist. 

Volunteer home visiting has been a critical part of the service context for many years, both in Australia and internationally, performing a complementary and unique role in the landscape of family support services. However, these programs have come under threat in recent years because of the lack of methodologically rigorous research providing evidence of effectiveness. 

A randomised controlled trial and social return on investment of Volunteer Family Connect was conducted in seven sites across four states of Australia with data collected every three months for 15 months. Intervention families received the program for between 3-12 months depending on their support needs. 

This research makes a significant contribution to the much-needed evidence-base relating to the continuum of services necessary to prevention and early intervention for vulnerable families, and provides an exemplary model of collaboration between volunteers, researchers, service organisations, and community members  .


Dr Rebekah Grace is a Senior Researcher Fellow, School of Nursing and Midwifery Deputy Director of the Translational Research and Social Innovation Group, University of Western Sydney Rebekah’s research work has spanned the health, psychology and education fields, focusing on understanding and addressing the support needs of children and families who are vulnerable. Rebekah’s research is multi-disciplinary in nature and is most often conducted in collaboration with Government and NGO partners to support high quality, evidence-based, service implementation.

Grainne O’Loughlin has over 26 years’ experience in the public healthcare sectors in the UK and Australia. Grainne has held a variety of senior health executive roles and has extensive strategic and operational management experience in acute, sub-acute and not-for-profit healthcare settings. Having completed her Master of Business Administration in 2011 Grainne currently holds Non-Executive and Director appointments on two Boards: the NSW Health Services Association Board (HSA), and the Australasian Association of Parenting and Child Health.  

Dr Jayne Meyer Tucker is an activist, author and alliance ‘whisperer’. Her work draws on her global experience in social transformation and her PhD research exploring the systemic tension between structure (traditional governance) and spontaneity (contemporary governance). Jayne works to forge connections between investment and social impact and to promote a paradigm shift from output-focused to outcome-focused responses to transformation. Jayne works in Executive Board/CEO and consultancy roles with a number of not-for-profit, corporate and government agencies in Australia and internationally.