June 20, 2023
12:30pm to 2pm

This OPEN forum brought together two collaborative placed-based initiatives, which utilise cross-service collaboration to strengthen the outcomes delivered for children and families. This session highlighted the strategies used to collaborate, co-design and successfully deliver programs in their local communities.

The presentations featured the Yarra Communities that Care (CTC) initiative, a collaborative project of local agencies delivering evidence-based programs through local community organisations. MerriHealth’s Set, Prep! and School Ties: Schools programs, shared learnings from their work, bringing together services and community to work together to support early childhood development and wellbeing in norther Merri-bek.

Watch the recording of this event here!

Presentation title: A collaborative approach to strengthening family relationships in the City of Yarra


  • Sandra Opoku, Manager Evaluation and Social Impact, Relationships Australia Victoria
  • Bella Laidlaw, Yarra Communities that Care Program Leader, Yarra City Council
  • Naomi Gilbert, Community Liaison Officer, Relationships Australia Victoria


This presentation highlighted a collaboration among local schools, community partners, and the City of Yarra known as Communities That Care (CTC). The collaboration focuses on supporting the healthy development of 8 to 14-year-olds and strengthening family relationships in the City of Yarra, through implementation of an evidence-based program. The team demonstrated the importance of community-led, evidence-informed planning, and a respectful, collaborative approach when working with children, young people and their families to strengthen family relationships, enhance emotional wellbeing and strengthen school engagement.

Key messages

  • Communities That Care (CTC), involving over 30 partner organizations, found a range of foundational factors as key to their success. These included: a shared vision, strong governance, evidence-informed strategies, a community board and working groups – as well as genuine partnership with young people, schools, and parents.
  • The work was underpinned by an extensive survey with over 1000 responses from young people, schools, practitioners, and families, with engagement supported by ongoing follow up and strong relationships throughout the school.
  • The collaborative approach has led to improved outcomes, stronger connections between parents and service providers, parent-to-parent connections, improved practice, and improved outcomes for families and organisations.

Presentation title: Ready, Set, Prep! and School Ties: Schools, services and community working together to support early childhood development and wellbeing in norther Merri-bek

Speakers: MerriHealth’s Community Wellbeing Team – Kat Thorne (Health Promotion Officer) and Annabel Barbara (School Ties Project Officer)


Ready, Set, Prep! was initiated in 2017 to address the specific needs of the Fawkner community, facing socio-economic disadvantage, cultural diversity, and high levels of developmental vulnerability among children. The project aimed to improve service quality, access, and learning opportunities for families and children in northern Merri-bek, involving collaboration between schools, early years services, community members, and MerriHealth to maximize impact.

The School Ties project, a 12-month initiative, builds upon the achievements of Ready, Set, Prep!, focusing on improving educational outcomes, health, and well-being for foundation to grade three students. The project extends its support to the early years within the school environment, further leveraging the Community Champions model to ensure ongoing connectivity with the community.

Key messages

  • Community-led aspects, such as working groups and community champions, played a crucial role in co-designing resources, addressing challenges, and increasing community involvement.
  • Lessons include the significance of community input and leadership, utilising diverse indicators to track progress, celebrating incremental achievements, and providing multiple entry points for families based on their preferences and needs.
  • Community involvement and leadership were crucial, resulting in positive outcomes such as increased knowledge and reduced vulnerability.
  • Evaluation results showed positive outcomes, including increased knowledge of services, improved communication, and decreased vulnerability among children starting school in Fawkner.
  • By identifying community needs, fostering partnerships, and implementing targeted activities, these projects have achieved positive outcomes.

Some additional resources from our presenters

Further resources

  • The Whole of Victorian Government’s Place-based Agenda team recently developed and launched two resources: a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) toolkit and a funding toolkit. These toolkits are now available on the Place-based website, for use by practitioners working in place-based contexts.

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