Effective integration of local early years services is essential for ensuring that children and families receive comprehensive support to meet their diverse needs. “The glue” in this context refers to the core components that help to unite services and supports across health, social and education-related contexts to enable a more connected, effective and accessible system — particularly for those with complex needs or those experiencing disadvantage.
This article explores ‘the glue’, highlighting its core components, the key factors for success and its potential for enhancing the wellbeing of children and families.
The South Australian Royal Commission into Early Childhood Education and Care presents a bold and significant agenda to improve child development outcomes for South Australian children and ensure more South Australian children start school developmentally on-track. The recommendations set out a plan for delivering a connected early years system in South Australia, for which the Royal Commission should be commended.
In response, the South Australian Government has accepted 13 of the Commission’s 43 recommendations and noted a further six recommendations that require ongoing discussion with the Commonwealth Government. Three recommendations not immediately accepted or noted by the South Australian Government, relate to improving localised service integration and delivery to improve child outcomes during the first 1000 days of a child’s life.
What is ‘the glue’?
A core component of these three recommendations, is what the Royal Commission terms ‘the glue’.
‘The glue’ refers to the elements of a service system that enables a comprehensive, holistic and integrated service response for children and their families – incorporating the people, partnerships, knowledge and systems that are essential to improving children’s outcomes in the places where children live, learn and grow.
The Royal Commission, whilst acknowledging the importance of the ‘the glue’ as an under-recognised and under-funded part of the early years system, only provides some insights to what the ‘the glue’ entails.
The National Child and Family Hubs Network, of which the Centre is a collaborative partner, has considered the research and evidence and identified the essential components of ‘the glue’ as:
- A clear governance framework incorporating all partners and family representatives.
- Contracting with a single lead agency who is accountable for all performance measures and sub-contracts any partnership-related work.
- Dedicated funding for social care to avoid further fragmentation of services.
- Coordinator position to lead collaboration/integration within the hub and a ‘navigator’ role to establish and support networks and referrals with other relevant services.
- A multi-disciplinary workforce which includes staff with either lived experience and/or cultural background that is shared with the families the Hub services and supports.
- Funding time for each Hub practitioner to support workforce development and ongoing learning, professional supervision and allow collaboration across disciplines.
- Funding time for each Hub practitioner to support ongoing Hub quality improvement and development.
- Other business and operational supports that staff need to perform their jobs properly.
- Funding to support co-design with the local community, families, children, and Hub staff, which is then continuously improved upon with ongoing community, family and child involvement and guidance.
- Resources required to support families to attend a Hub or to be able to participate in a broader range of supports offered. This includes resources such as, the use of artworks to humanise, enliven and engage families with the Hub, additional staff, vehicles and brokerage of client supports such as emergency housing.
Shared information and technology systems:
- The necessary hardware, software, and capability that a Hub needs, including a data capture system, data sharing capability between services and supports to build data collection and analysis capabilities.
- Information technology infrastructure and personnel capacity and capability to better collect, analyse, interpret and use data for monitoring and continuous improvement, across services. This includes agreed data governance and processes for what and how data is captured, used, recorded and shared to inform quality improvement, decision making and action.
The components of ‘the glue’ are not ‘one size fits all’ and can be adjusted to meet local needs and resources. Research has identified a number of conditions for success in implementing ‘the glue’. These include:
- Sufficient resourcing, particularly for staff.
- Funding allocations to ‘the glue’ that are flexible to respond to both changing community need over time, the differences in needs between communities and the implementation maturity of the early years service. For example, a new service will require to use its ‘glue’ funding differently in the establishment phase in comparison to a mature service.
- Shared practice frameworks that enable the allocation of ‘glue’ funding to support the implementation and evaluation of these frameworks and optimise success in achieving integrated supports for children and families.
- Time allocation to participate in initiatives that will contribute to successful implementation of ‘the glue’ and service delivery such as multidisciplinary team meetings and quality improvement activities.
- Resourcing for monitoring and evaluation to ensure the glue resources are being used effectively.
Some of these conditions align with the above core components such as shared information and technology systems. The core components and conditions for success should therefore be actioned together in enabling the successful functioning and impact of ‘the glue’. The components and conditions of the ‘the glue’ are essential across many early years response settings such as place-based initiatives, child and family hubs, localised service coordination and quality improvements initiatives and to individual service organisations. When ‘the glue’ forms part of a holistic early years response, services and programs are effective, efficient and less fragmented.
The Commission’s recommendation to embed ‘the glue’ as part of Recommendation 16 – Localised responses are better able to meet the needs of children and families via the delivery of universal three-year-old preschool through locally based implementation teams – is an important first step to embed ‘the glue’ and realise impactful and sustained local responses to improving child outcomes.
If ‘the glue’ is overlooked there is a risk that improvements in service responses and subsequently child developmental outcomes will be impacted.
Ensuring adequate investment in the components and conditions for ‘the glue’ will be an important piece of the comprehensive response needed for the South Australian Government to achieve its 20-year goal to reduce the proportion of children developmentally vulnerable by the time they start school to 15 per cent.
For further information, contact Dr Trina Hinkley: Trina.Hinkley@rch.org.au