Creating Better Futures

ARC DECRA: Creating better futures for children through effective parent education

$370,000 from Australian Research Council, DECRA 2015, Project Number DE150100365

@BetterFutureUTS #CreatingBetterFutures

Children born into circumstances of socioeconomic disadvantage are at risk of missing out on the developmental, educational and social opportunities that give them the best possible start in life. By helping parents in disadvantaged families to cope with adversity, parent education services can mitigate these risks, build resilience in families, and change children’s prospects for the future. This project will identify the most effective ways that parent educators can create lasting positive impacts for families. It will also find out what needs to change to make these best practices more widespread and cost effective, including learning from study of low-cost community-based services.

I wrote a piece for The Conversation that summarises how parenting and issues of social justice, disadvantage, inequality and resilience are linked. It’s not about blaming or judging parents. Nor it is about blaming parents. But it is about harnessing what we know: that parenting is one of the most powerful levers for change; that all parents want the best for their children, but not all are in circumstances that make this easy to do.These important issues, and the project, are also featured in the Australian Association for Research in Education blog, EduResearch Matters.

A summary of how the project links to a wider social problem, using an adaptation of Hammersley’s framework (see my blog and videos), is available here as a CBF one page summary. The project has been featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, and in Brink. The same article also appeared in the Brisbane Times and Medical Express. It was also covered in ‘Education Research Insights’ (the School of Education newsletter).

Things we’ve learned from this project have been included in a Podcast series called ‘Where Parents Fear to Tread‘ by Rebecca Huntley on Kinderling Radio (which recently won best digital radio station in Australia). In Episode 1 there’s a segment where Nick talks about why resilience is important, and things we’ve seen effective services doing to support parents (from about 11:45 onwards, but the whole episode is well worth a listen!).  In Episode 3, I talk about parents’ decisions relating to kids’ screen time and the importance of their own self-care (from 14:30 onwards) and in Episode 4 I talk about decisions relating to children starting school (from about 7:10 onwards).

Nick was also quoted in this Sydney Morning Herald article about support for parents who are struggling – giving comments based on findings from this project.

For regular updates about the progress of this project, see the Creating Better Futures News Room.

Project team and partners

I am leading this project as the ARC DECRA recipient. Dr Teena Clerke is working with me as a Research Associate.

The first two phases will be based in New South Wales. Three major providers of services for children and families are currently working with us as collaborators – KaritaneTresillian and Northern Sydney Local Health District.

The Centre for Parent and Child Support (CPCS) is also working with us. The CPCS is the global home of the Family Partnership Model (FPM) – the approach to supporting families that has been adopted in many services across Australia (as well as in Europe). I am also a member of the national FPM group in Australia.

Aims, concepts and questions

As stated in the proposal to the ARC, the aims of the Creating Better Futures project are:

Aim 1: Identify the most effective practices for bringing about lasting positive change for disadvantaged families through reciprocal learning between parent educators and parents.

Aim 2: Identify systemic aspects of parent education services that enable and constrain this reciprocal learning and thus best practices, including learning from low-cost models.

Our specific research questions translate these aims through relevant concepts, to inform our empirical work.

Theoretically, the study draws on cultural historical theory, particularly the work of Anne Edwards. We seek to understand partnership as a process of collaborative work between professionals and parents, building resilience in families by transforming the way parents interpret and act on complex problems.

The theory enables us to frame many questions that guide what we are looking for in our fieldwork, and how we will analyse the data. Here are some examples:

How are different kinds of professional expertise put to work in effective partnership work? This relates specifically to Edwards’ concepts of common knowledge (mutual understanding of what matters to families),  relational expertise, and relational agency.

What concepts and artefacts can be introduced by professionals to mediate parents’ understandings of and responses to the challenges they experience? Here we are interested in (i) everyday and scientific concepts, including categories, (ii) tertiary artefacts that go beyond representing the past to helping parents and professionals imagine new possibilities – acting as ‘Why?’ and ‘Where to?’ tools (after Engestrom’s 2007 work).

How do professionals bring parents’ into their zone of proximal development (zpd), and what kind of zpd is this? The zpd is a core Vygotskian concept that relates to what someone can do when working in collaboration with others. It is key to how partnership work is conceived in the Creating Better Futures project (see Hopwood 2013, Hopwood & Clerke 2012). We want to know how professionals use their expertise to present an appropriate level of challenge to parents, to provide effective support or scaffolding, and then to time its withdrawal so parents can continue independently in the future.

How do our answers to these questions vary across service contexts? What are the implications for enhancing outcomes and increasing service effectiveness and efficiency? As explained below, we will be collecting data from a range of sites, and following partnership practices in a range of different services, including home visiting, parenting circles, toddler clinics, and community volunteer programs. We want to use this opportunity to find what is working best in different contexts so that services across Australia and elsewhere can benefit.


Creating Better Futures works on a three-phase design.

Phase 1 (2015) was based in NSW and involved shadowing professionals as they visit families in their homes. We observed what happens, looking out for instances that relate to the concepts and questions above. It was important to begin with observation, because enabled us to know what questions to ask in subsequent interview-based phases.

Phase 2 (2016) is again based in NSW, and will involve tracking the relationship between professionals and families over several months. This allows us to trace longer term outcomes for families and how they come about. We will do this through a sequence of three interviews with both professionals and parents.

Phase 3 will involve data collection in NSW and hopefully two other Australian States. Here we will use one-off interviews to collect stories of positive change. In this phase we will spread fieldwork over a wide range of services and sites.

Outputs and outcomes

Hopwood N & Gottschalk B (in press) Double stimulation “in the wild”: Services for families with children at risk. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction.

Hopwood N & Edwards A (2017) How common knowledge is constructed and why it matters in collaboration between professionals and clients. International Journal of Educational Research 83, 107-119. doi: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.02.007 Available for free download until 12 May 2017 from here:

Clerke, T., Hopwood, N., Chavasse, F., Fowler, C., Lee, S., & Rogers, J. (2017). Using professional expertise in partnership with families: a new model of capacity-building. Journal of Child Health Care, 21(1), 74-84. doi:10.1177/1367493516686202

Hopwood N & Clerke T (2016) Professional pedagogies of parenting that build resilience through partnership with families at risk: a cultural-historical approach. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 24(4), 599–615. doi:10.1080/14681366.2016.1197299

Hopwood N, Day C & Edwards A (2016) Partnership practice as collaborative knowledge work: overcoming common dilemmas through an augmented view of professional expertise. Journal of Children’s Services 11(2), 111–123 doi: 10.1108/JCS-08-2015-0027

3 thoughts on “Creating Better Futures

  1. Pingback: Early intervention new research: it’s not just about services by professionals | EduResearch Matters

  2. Susan Krieg

    Very interested in your research. Not sure if you have looked at my study but there are many possibilities of connecting.
    Maybe we could collaborate?

    1. nickhopwood Post author

      Hi Susan!

      Thank you for your comment – please do get in touch and email me some stuff about your study. I would be most interested to learn more about it 🙂



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