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No 14 (Dec 2002)

Departmental research updates

Departmental seminars

New publications

Forthcoming conferences

Next issue

FaCS Research News              Page 1 of 14
 Kids’ money: better outcomes for Indigenous

Evaluation report
This report evaluates the Extended Family Care (EFC) Pilot, a program designed to trial more
flexible payment delivery methods for family payments to better support child raising in non-
nuclear family structures.

The program involved pilot arrangements whereby relatives formed ‘care groups’, and agreed
to pass on or share family payments they receive, or goods in lieu, to the person with the
current care of each child. This was in response to the demands of Indigenous customers for
some way of ensuring Family Tax Benefit (FTB) could follow each child as he or she moved
from carer to carer within an extended family network.

Evaluation objectives
The objective of evaluating the EFC pilot was to judge whether the approach had any direct
beneficial impact on the children in participating Indigenous family groups. The effectiveness
of the approach were measured by whether:

   participating families honoured their agreement to contribute FTB and other resources to
    each new carer tasked with raising a child within care groups
   the approach facilitated beneficial outcomes for children in families with shared child
    raising patterns
   indigenous families were empowered by the approach to operate cooperatively within
    care groups
   there were fewer family disputes relating to the use of money received as FTB, and more
   families involved in the pilot have been able to address issues that negatively affect the
    social outcomes of Indigenous children (such as poor nutrition, family violence and high
    levels of child protection intervention).

Customer questionnaires: Of the 63 questionnaires sought, 36 were returned, covering 21
care groups relating to 22 children (from 2-15 years of age)

Responses varied in comprehensiveness, but reported the views of 16 primary carers and 20
secondary carers (from an actual total of 25 primary carers and 38 secondary carers) who had
participated in the pilot. A response of more than half to a written questionnaire targeting a
mobile sample was considered adequate to provide indicative data.

FaCS Research News            Page 2 of 14
Centrelink’s Indigenous Servicing staff involved in conducting the pilot, were asked to
interview FTB recipients and their care group members and transcribe their answers onto
questionnaires. FTB recipients and care group members were asked to answer questions in
relation to a specific child, as there was usually more than one child in a care group. The
feedback that was obtained was filtered by Centrelink staff transcribing their answers.

Staff surveys: The second stage surveyed Centrelink staff who conducted the pilot on the
ground. In July 2001, all local pilot project team members were asked to complete questions
seeking their views on pilot outcomes.

Summary of key findings

   Many Indigenous children change carer many times a year. Current payment procedures
    for FTB do not cater well to the interests of these children.
   The EFC approach acknowledged traditional values of child raising in selected
    Indigenous communities while reducing the incidence of disputes over use and misuse of
    FTB money. With few exceptions, participants honoured their commitments.
   Overall children appear to have better outcomes when family payments meant for their
    support are redirected to current carers without delays arising from contacts with
   Questionnaires noted some reduction in substance abuse among EFC participants, along
    with significant improvements in the care of their children.
   The EFC approach also appears to have strengthened family relationships and through
    this, some believed, reduced the likelihood of children being removed from their families.
   The project appears to have improved understanding of FTB payment requirements in
    both participating customers and FaCS/Centrelink staff.
   The program may also have some potential to reduce the need for some teenage
    Indigenous youth to apply for the independent rate of Youth Allowance.
   Care groups formed by family members during the pilot developed as support
    mechanisms for the children as they moved from one carer to another. This contributed to
    increasing community and family capacity for autonomous problem solving.
   Some participating families reported that the process of agreeing strategies to improve the
    care of their children significantly empowered individuals, while reducing family
    disputes. This empowerment was especially strong for women.
   A few FTB recipients breached agreements and did not pass on FTB monies as the child
    moved between carers. Some participants believed agreement defaults would be
    minimised if the Centrepay facility were available.
   The program appears to offer some scope for administrative savings, through reducing the
    volume of Centrelink processing relating to changes of care. Anecdotal evidence suggests
    some participants declined to comply with the demands for more paperwork in the
    evaluation process, which provides further argument to adopt a more minimalist approach
    to these formalities.

FaCS Research News            Page 3 of 14
The overall findings were that all of the project objectives were met for at least some families
who took part in the pilots. The majority of families said that forming care groups worked for
them and their children. Importantly, they were, in general, extremely positive about the
specific and overall effects on the children involved.

More broadly, the results suggest that considerable benefits flowed not only to the children,
but in some cases through to the wider community in the form of increased empowerment for
participants, reduced disputes over money, and increased community capacity for
autonomous problem solving.

The results of this evaluation suggest that more flexible arrangements could also be beneficial
for other FaCS payments received by Indigenous customers. It is likely that the concept and
principles underpinning the project could also well be applied to other groups within
Australia’s diverse society.

For further information:
Jo Holburn, Policy Development Section, Family Payments and Child Support Policy
Branch, tel (02) 6212 9272 or email

Departmental research updates

Electronic service delivery: consultations with
NGO service providers
Partnership and Service Delivery Branch recently commissioned Quantum Market Research
to undertake consultations with non-government organisation (NGO) service providers to
investigate their views and capacity to use Information Technology (IT) and Electronic
Service Delivery (ESD) in their interactions with government agencies.

The objectives of the consultations were to:

   identify the major issues that NGO service providers have regarding ESD and IT
   provide input into a common framework for the development of ESD, by discussing key
    areas which might be delivered online
   inform both the Customer Information Scoping Study and the FaCS Online Funding
    Management System on current service provider issues.

The study, conducted from May to June 2002, used a mix of qualitative and quantitative
methods to survey 523 NGOs delivering a range of FaCS services. Specifically, the
consultations consisted of:

FaCS Research News            Page 4 of 14
   face-to-face in-depth interviews with 15 NGOs from Victoria, Queensland, Australian
    Capital Territory and South Australia
   phone in-depth interviews with eight NGOs from Tasmania, Northern Territory and
    Western Australia
   a 15 minute phone survey with 500 NGOs from across Australia.

Overall, the consultations found that although the majority of NGOs had sufficient IT
equipment and expertise, there was still a small proportion who did not have a computer, or
may have some PC equipment but little or no ability to use it (approximately 5 per cent). In
addition, nearly half of the computers (47 per cent) in use were older than three years (the
typical interval over which the asset value of computers is amortised).

Conversely, some of the larger, well-established NGOs have quite sophisticated IT networks,
systems and supporting infrastructure.

The profiles of the NGOs surveyed were diverse, in terms of the software they use, their
available resources, their IT competence, and the nature or extent of the services they deliver.
In framing any strategies for e-government or ESD, the key challenge for FaCS will be
understanding and meeting the wide range of needs and capabilities within the community

The digital divide is a significant issue for FaCS in terms of dealing with its NGO service
providers and their clients. Overcoming perceived and actual barriers to the use of the
internet (in terms of privacy, security and speed), and ensuring that all NGOs feel their needs
have been considered when implementing new systems, will be key factors in ensuring full
engagement. A proportion of the NGOs funded by FaCS will find it difficult to participate in
even the most basic way in an increased ESD environment, without some additional

Encouragingly, the consultations show that the majority of NGOs surveyed expressed an
interest in IT and online services playing a bigger role in their interactions with FaCS and
other government agencies. They recognise the benefits to be gained, but also wish to ensure
that technology does not interfere with their ability to deliver services to clients in a ‘human

For further information:
Renina Boyd, External Service Policy Team, Business Improvement and Governance Branch,
tel (02) 6244 7901or email

Historical changes in social security
A compendium recording legislative changes contained in the Social Security Act for the
period 1983 to 2000 is progressing well with drafts for the calendar years 1983 to 1996

FaCS Research News             Page 5 of 14
completed and a final draft expected by the end of the year. Changes will be in chronological
order by amending Act and in the order they occur within the Acts.

The compendium will be a companion document to Developments in Social Security: A
Compendium of Legislative Changes Since 1908, published as Research Paper No. 20 in June
1983 by the (then) Department of Social Security. The earlier compendium covered
legislative changes from 1908 to the end of 1982.

The updated compendium will cover all policy-related legislative changes, including
administrative changes with policy relevance. While written in a non-legalistic style, the
descriptions will be comprehensive and cover all aspects of the legislation. The content of the
document will be factual and not deal with policy objectives, but explanations of changes will
be provided where necessary to ensure that they can be readily understood.

It is considered that the document should contain sufficient detail to be the sole source for
factual information for most policy-related purposes. For those who need to examine the
exact wording of amending legislation, detailed references to the relevant sections of the
legislation will be provided for each record.

For further information:
James Kemp, Research Coordination and Communication Section, Strategic Policy and
Knowledge Branch, tel (02) 6244 6063 or email

FaCS Research News             Page 6 of 14
Seminar reviews

Social Policy Research Series
Does matching methods overcome LaLonde's critique of non-
experimental methods?

7 August 2002
Seminar by Professor Jeffrey Smith, University of Maryland
Review by Marion Terrill, Strategic Policy and Knowledge Branch

Corresponding to the increasing focus on rigorous program evaluation in government has
been a level of uncertainty about how to go about it. There are genuine dilemmas in
identifying even a broad approach.

The problem is that to work out whether or not a program is effective, you need to establish
what difference it makes. This is usually done in one of two ways. The first is to run a pilot or
experiment, where some people go through the program while others, a control group, do not,
and various techniques are used to compare their outcomes. The second way is non-
experimental; here the program is available to everyone. Working out the program impact
again involves construction of a comparison group of non-participants, but the problems of
obtaining a comparable reference group are more complex.

Policy makers are not alone in facing the dilemma of how to evaluate. There has been an
academic debate for some decades now over the relative strengths of experimental and non-
experimental techniques. Professor Smith’s seminar on 7 August was an opportunity to hear a
leader in the field of program evaluation discussing some of the techniques and their relative
strengths, and tackling this highly technical topic in a remarkably clear and accessible way.
Professor Smith was visiting Australia from the University of Maryland in the United States,
and has distinguished credentials in this field.

Professor Smith is best known for his work on non-experimental estimators of program
impacts. His seminar follows one late last year by Gary Burtless, who visited from the
Brookings Institution and is an advocate and leading practitioner of experimental evaluation.
Professor Smith’s paper was concerned with comparing experimental and non-experimental
techniques and the results they yield.

A number of FaCS staff know from experience that experimental techniques of program
evaluation are very expensive, very time-consuming, hard to implement, and rife with ethical
issues of exclusion. However, we also know that non-experimental techniques can be hard to
understand and therefore not always very persuasive. Professor Smith’s paper was concerned
with how experiments are often taken as the ‘gold standard’ of accuracy, and therefore used
as a benchmark to determine the accuracy of various non-experimental estimators.
Nevertheless, experimental designs can have problems such as randomisation bias,
imperfectly implemented randomisation, and the confusion that results when close substitutes

FaCS Research News             Page 7 of 14
for treatment are available. Experiments only answer limited questions relating to mean
impacts, and do not provide information on the reasons why interventions succeed or fail.

Professor Smith spent most of his time discussing matching estimators and how well they
perform. He made a number of comparisons, varying the restrictions on the sample, the
propensity score model, and the type of matching estimator. The restrictions on the sample
entailed limiting those parts of the data that lack a counterpart in the comparison group and
other data quality improvements. Professor Smith’s assessment is that any non-experimental
technique would work well on such data. Just as important as the data quality in limiting bias
is the propensity score model. The type of matching estimator, on the other hand, proved less

Most striking is how major advances in this field have invariably come from other statistical
disciplines, despite Professor Smith’s claim that almost all applied economics is a branch of
program evaluation. As a result, early work in this field was sometimes based on decisions
that seem surprisingly naïve, such as failing to draw comparison group members from the
same local labour market or to use the same definition of earnings for the outcome measure.

In the specific case explored in this paper, difference-in-difference matching estimation
proved an effective approach, with the advantage that time-invariant bias is eliminated with
this technique. However, Professor Smith’s contention was not so much a preference for this
approach, as advice always to devise the evaluation strategy in light of the data, the
institutions and the research questions.

IMAGE: Smith4.jpg
CAPTION: Professor Jeffrey Smith at FaCS National Office on 7 August 2002 to present his
paper, ‘Does matching methods overcome LaLonde's critique of non-experimental methods?’

Re-employment dynamics of disabled workers
15 August 2002
Presented by Dr Heilke Buddelmeyer, Institute for the Study of Labour
Review by Ken Oliver, Strategic Policy and Knowledge Branch

The provision of Disability Benefits (DB) in the Netherlands is quite unlike the approach
taken in Australian in that they aim to replace lost earnings capacity, rather than being a
safety net for those unable to work. Despite this dissimilarity, Dr Hielke Buddlemeyer’s
recent seminar on this topic at the National Office in August drew strong interest from FaCS

Dr Buddlemeyer, from the prestigious German Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA),
discussed the effects of changing financial incentives on the labour market outcomes of
Disability Benefits (DB) in the Netherlands. Using a specially commissioned longitudinal
study of DB claimants that tracked them for three years, Dr Buddlemeyer focused on the
known circumstances in which payment varied to identify the effect on their financial
incentives to work. He then employed a search model of labour supply to gauge the effect of
this on the rate of transition to re-employment. He found, not surprisingly, that there was
evidence that payment rate variations did affect the rate of return to work.

FaCS Research News            Page 8 of 14
With modifications, this method is applicable outside of the Netherlands, including Australia,
to evaluate payment changes within systems, even though they may differ widely from the
Dutch example. In particular, using longitudinal data to build a model of job search was a
promising approach for future users of data from FaCS’ HILDA and GCS surveys.

IMAGE: Buddelmeyer2.jpg
CAPTION: Dr Hielke Buddelmeyer at FaCS National Office on 7 August 2002 to present
his paper, ‘Re-employment dynamics of disabled workers’

For further information:
Research Coordination and Communication Section, Strategic Policy and Knowledge
Branch, email

The comments expressed in these reviews are those of the authors and do not represent the
views of the Minister for Family and Community Services or the Department of Family and
Community Services

Australian Housing and Urban Research
Institute (AHURI) seminar series

Demand subsidies for private renters: A comparative review
21 August 2002
Presented by Dr Kath Hulse, AHURI
Review by Leonie Bourke, Housing Support Branch

This paper compares the demand subsidies across Australia, New Zealand, the United States
and Canada. In Australia the demand subsidy is the Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA)
payment. The study compares how these similar countries deal with demand subsidy issues
and what are the outcomes of the various policy differences. This research is currently in

Some general policy issues about CRA raised in this paper include:

   different housing affordability outcomes for different types of households
   different housing affordability outcomes for households faced with substantially different
    rent levels in local housing markets
   the shelter and non-shelter outcomes of rent assistance for private tenants
   the roles and responsibilities of different levels of government.

The report is available at:

FaCS Research News             Page 9 of 14
A spatial analysis of trends in housing markets and changing
patterns of household structure and income
21 August 2002
Presented by Professor Judith Yates, AHURI
Review by Leonie Bourke, Housing Support Branch

This study looks at the change in household formation, income and home ownership
outcomes. It suggests that social and economic restructuring has had a dual impact in
depressing home ownership and concludes that an increasing number of low and moderate
income earners are being excluded from home ownership in high cost metropolitan areas.

The study states that the growth of smaller households and economic changes have resulted
in a disproportionate growth in the numbers of households with no person employed. This
has increased the number of low-income households. At the same time the increase in the
number of two-earner high-income families is resulting in income polarization. According to
the research, these trends have negative impacts on home ownership and consequently places
greater pressures on private and social rental markets.

The results of this report indicate that younger low-income households are having substantial
difficulty accessing home purchase and should be a priority group for assistance.

The full report is available on the AHURI website at:

A shorter paper entitled ‘Housing implications of social spatial and structural change’ is
available in Housing Studies Vol. 17, No.4, 2002 pp 581–618

For further information
AHURI research reports are published at
Additional information is available from the Housing Support Branch, tel (02) 6212 9517 or
(02) 6212 9028

The comments expressed in these reviews are those of the authors and do not represent the
views of the Minister for Family and Community Services or the Department of Family and
Community Services

FaCS Research News            Page 10 of 14
New publications

Occasional Paper 5
Welfare Reform Pilots—Characteristics and participation patterns of three
disadvantaged groups
Chris Carlile, Michael Fuery, Carole Heyworth, Mary Ivec, Kerry Marshall and Marie
Newey, FaCS

The paper provides valuable insight into the patterns of, and barriers to, social and economic
activity among three disadvantaged Centrelink customer groups, for whom there has been
little research and information available to guide policy development. The pilots involved
around 10,500 participants from these three groups:

   mature age jobless people: participants aged 50 years and over, including people on
    Mature Age Allowance, Widow Allowance, Partner Allowance and Newstart Allowance
   very long-term unemployed: people who are unemployed and have been on income
    support for five years or more
   workless families: people in families where no adult has paid work and their children are
    school aged, including people on Newstart Allowance and Parenting Payment (partnered
    and single)

A summary of the paper is also available, ‘Welfare Reform Pilots: First findings—at a

Occasional Paper 6
The Australian system of social protection—an overview (second edition)
Peter Whiteford and Gregory Angenent

Provides an overview of the Australian system of income support within the broader context
of social protection policies. Updating Peter Whiteford's original Policy Research Paper
(published in 2000), the second edition incorporates recent data and reflects a number of
recent policy changes. The paper highlights those features of the Australian income support
system, including its social and institutional issues, which differ from other OECD countries.

FaCS Research News            Page 11 of 14
Forthcoming conferences
(a selection)
Community engagement in policy development
5–6 March 2003
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Further information: International Quality and Productivity Centre

3rd National homelessness conference
6–8 April 2003
Brisbane, Queensland
Papers are invited
Further information: Australian Federation of Homelessness Organisations
tel (02) 6292 9000 or web

HACC service providers state conference
7–8 Apr 2003
Launceston, Tasmania
Further information: Community Options Service

4th International research conference on social security
5–7 May 2003
Brussels, Belgium
Further information: International Social Security Association (ISSA)

Joined up services: linking together for children and families
26–28 June 2003
Dunedin, New Zealand
Further information:

36th World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology
7–11 July 2003
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Further information: International Institute of Sociology

Australian social policy conference—'social inclusion'
9–11 July 2003
University of New South Wales, Sydney
Expressions of interest are invited in organising a forum session or thematic set of
contributed papers.
Further information: Social Policy Research Centre

FaCS Research News            Page 12 of 14

Children: the core of society—Australian Early Childhood
Association conference
10-13 July 2003
Hobart, Tasmania
Further information: Convention Wise

Connections that count: young people, social capital and
11–14 September 2003
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Further information: Faculty of Education, University of Strathclyde

National carers conference
18–19 September 2003
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Further information: Carers Australia

Disclaimer: Readers should confirm details with the contact organisation listed. FaCS
assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of dates, venues or other information presented in
this selection.

To submit details of upcoming seminars or conferences, please email

FaCS Research News            Page 13 of 14
Next issue
HILDA study: release of Wave 1 data

ISSN: 1442-7524

Research Coordination and Communication Section
Strategic Policy and Knowledge Branch
Department of Family and Community Services
Box 7788
Canberra Mail Centre ACT 2610

Editorial enquiries:
Phone (02) 6244 5458
Fax: (02) 6244 7020

                                                  FaCS …

FaCS Research News           Page 14 of 14

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