Chain Reaction Foundation was established in 2002 to encourage the development of social cohesion and inclusion both nationally and locally. The organisation's principal project, Mt Druitt Learning Ground, a behavioural change management centre for seriously disadvantaged young people 10 – 18 years and their families designed to offer social cohesion and inclusion to marginalised families, and to create a sense of self-esteem and belonging leading to confidence to take up study, work options, and normalised living within a community.
The Centre conducts programs daily throughout the school year. Young people attend Learning Ground one day per week and are expected to attend school the other four days. Referrals are made to the program by schools, courts, local police, government family support programs, health and juvenile justice. Families also self-refer with agreements from local schools.
The learning program is carefully crafted based on educational psychology and Aboriginal traditional and contemporary thought and is offered to indigenous and non-indigenous young people alike. The decision to use this methodology is the result of an intensive piece of participatory research interviewing both indigenous and non-indigenous families resulting in a deep understanding of indigenous “connection” and non-indigenous deep longing for connection.
The Ian Potter Foundation provided funding in 2015 for an independent Evaluation of the program by a team of researchers from Western Sydney University.
Aims & Objectives
Chain Reaction Foundation was seeking an independent evaluation of the Learning Ground program. The organisation had seen the program’s effectiveness since 2006, having worked with over 1,300 young people and their families and seeing over 80% success rate in young people returning to school or work and being able to take their place in mainstream living. However, an independent evaluation by leading researchers would provide the evidence base often sought by funders in making assessments of potential funding.
The evaluation was conducted over six months and included weekly attendance by researchers to Learning Ground’s behavioural change program. Interviews were conducted to investigate the program's impacts with program participants, community agencies and schools that work with Learning Ground. The researchers conducted a detailed review of the content and materials in the program in relation to being practical, socially relevant, culturally sensitive, ethical and theoretically based. A mixed-methods approach was used in the evaluation allowing both quantitative analysis of outcomes and qualitative analysis of the particular experiences of participants in their own voices.
Since the report was released in 2016, Chain Reaction Foundation has been able to enclose copies of this evaluation with every funding application they have made. They say it is probably the most important document they use when applying for funding. Potential funders regard the evaluation as the evidence base they look for when making an assessment of potential funding. The organisation also uses it in presentations to government departments and to schools all of which are looking for proof that a program is worthwhile.
This grant also led to the funding of a documentary "Saving Young Lives" showing the work and the success of Learning Ground and includes presentations from the senior researchers from Western Sydney University who were involved in the research work, and interviews with young people who had completed the program.
This documentary is also used as a teaching tool in at least three universities in NSW. Chain Reaction Foundation also uses the documentary as a teaching tool when working with teachers, parents and community workers.
Importantly, the evaluation resulted in the conclusion of a 7-year previously unsuccessful negotiation with Department of Education of NSW leading to a funded position for a teacher to become a part-time addition to the Learning Ground staff, facilitating a direct link with the head of the Department's Head of School Operations. This link has proved invaluable in demonstrating the value of the work of Learning Ground to schools in the area.
As a result of the research and evaluation, Chain Reaction Foundation has developed a three-year pilot program to be carried out in partnership with Western Sydney University to extend Learning Ground's work from a single centre to being conducted in schools. The program now has the keen interest and encouragement of the NSW Department of Education.
Chain Reaction Foundation has received funding for the first year of the operation of this project and is now seeking support for the next two years of the pilot program. If the pilot program proves to be successful it hopes to receive on-going funding from the NSW Department of Education through their Links to Learning Program to offer the program across NSW and potentially interstate.
The funding that The Ian Potter Foundation made available to carry out the research done by Western Sydney University on the efficacy of the work of Learning Ground has been invaluable.
The evidenced-based report is very clear in its findings and has made proof of the value of our work at Learning Ground abundantly clear. We have been able to use the report for all our discussions with potential funders, Department of Education NSW, any media outreach, and schools considering enrolling students in the program.
The increased confidence in Learning Ground inspired by the research grant has taken us to the next stage where we are working on a 3-year rollout proposal to establish "Learning Ground in School" a project that would further enhance the opportunity to share the behavioural work with teenagers well beyond a single centre regardless of geographic location.
Dr Margaret Bell AM
This evaluation was sharp - a detailed fractal analysis that left no doubt about the positive impact of Learning Ground. The fact that Dr Margaret Bell AM could submit the evaluation to funders and receive funding serves as a clear example of the value of a strong, well=written evaluation.
Dr Squirrel Main, Research & Evaluation Manager