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About Healthy Start

Australian Supported Parenting Consortium

Healthy Start is an initiative of the Australian Supported Parenting Consortium (ASPC). The ASPC is a collaboration between the following two organisations:

  • Parenting Research Centre
  • Australian Family and Disability Studies Research Collaboration (Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney).

Parenting Research Centre

The Parenting Research Centre (PRC) is an independent research and development organisation focused on conducting research into parenting, developing parenting support capacity in the community, and developing and disseminating parenting programs and resources. 

PRC programs, projects and information products cover a wide range of needs but share one goal: providing real outcomes for children by supporting parents, carers and professionals. We do this by creating scientific knowledge of effective parenting, creating research-based resources for parents and offering solutions to contemporary parenting challenges. We also build on community capacity to support parenting.

For more details about our other programs and projects visit the PRC website.

Australian Family and Disability Studies Research Collaboration

The aim of the Australian Family and Disability Studies Research Collaboration (AFDSRC) is to actively promote the full participation of families where a parent or child has a disability in community life. It does this in the following ways:

  • Engages in the task of understanding the shared experience of family and disability.
  • Reveals processes and practices that restrict parent and child participation in developing their support needs.
  • Promotes practices that engage parents and children in understanding and planning for their support needs.
  • Identifies the support and service needs of families with special needs.

For more details visit the AFDSRC website.


Phase 4: 2011-14

During the final funding phase, Healthy Start continued to increase service system capacity to better enable practitioners to support parents with learning difficulties and their children. The project did this by providing ways for service providers and practitioners, researchers, and policy makers to:

  • exchange ideas and share expertise to enhance professional knowledge and skills
  • access research and practice evidence about supporting parents and children
  • access, mentor or become well-networked leaders promoting best practice.

Phase 3: 2009-11

The third phase of Healthy Start focused on strengthening collaboration within the national Practice Network to encourage greater interaction and exchange between members of Network and to increase their capacity to share resources. Our vision was to support service providers and community leaders who are confident in their capability to advocate for families, and to promote use of best practice programs and service delivery to families.

Phase three also included supporting the Healthy Start Practice Network through training, online study opportunities and to develop local resources. At the same time, the Parenting Research Centre and University of Sydney teams conducted a research program to develop new Healthy Start resources. Research topics included:

  • fathering with intellectual disability
  • school-age children of parents with intellectual disability
  • representation of parents with learning difficulties in policy and media
  • pre- and post-service learning modules
  • group delivery mode of Healthy and Safe
  • experience of children of parents with learning difficulties.

During phase three the Healthy Start website was revamped to improve usability and to introduce a service for practitioners to easily make contact with colleagues. An online network platform was added to support professionals, practitioners and researchers to communicate and collaborate and share ideas and resources for working with parents with learning difficulties.

The Healthy Start online Practice Network is designed to allow users to sign up and connect with others, join discussions or share information and invite colleagues in their networks to join.

Phase 2: 2008-09

The second phase of Healthy Start saw a strengthened focus on local Practice Network conveners as leaders on parenting with intellectual disability. During this phase Healthy Start was active in the following ways:

  • offered online studies through the University of Sydney
  • provided small grants for practice networks to act on local solutions to identified gaps or needs for families in their community
  • developed and trialled Step by Step Baby Care DVD; Step by Step Everyday Interactions DVD; and the Understanding and Planning Support report.

Phase 1: 2005-08

Healthy Start achieved three major tasks during the first development phase:

  1. built local leadership and a national Healthy Start network
  2. trained 400 practitioners in evidence-based parent education and support programs
  3. developed and evaluated innovative resources

Building leadership involved identifying leaders in each Australian state and territory to help set up Healthy Start in their local areas. These leaders completed online studies in parenting with intellectual disability through the University of Sydney.

Over the first three and a half years of Healthy Start, over 400 practitioners were trained in evidence-based parent education and support programs. Workers received training in Parenting Young Children and Healthy and Safe: An Australian Parent Education Kit.

During this phase Healthy Start also developed and evaluated two new innovative resources:

  1. Healthy Start for Me and My Baby
  2. The Australian Supported Learning Program: Me and My Community.

Test Home Page

  Healthy Start is a national capacity building strategy which aims to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for children whose parents have learning difficulties 


The Healthy Start initiative

Healthy Start was developed in 2005 to build Australia’s capacity to support the healthy and happy development of children whose parents have learning difficulties. Service providers reported feeling challenged in supporting mothers and fathers with learning difficulties and they wanted strategies that work.

Parents with learning difficulties tend to have fewer social supports, so the service system can be a critical source of support for family functioning. Healthy Start was designed to be responsive to the needs of service providers supporting parents with learning difficulties.

The Healthy Start initiative has now extended to become a Practice Network, a strategy to make research evidence more available and responsive to the needs of service providers and foster exchange between professionals in health, education and welfare.

Management and funding

Healthy Start is a joint initiative between the Parenting Research Centre and the Australian Family and Disability Studies Research Collaboration, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney. Read more about this collaboration.

Healthy Start was initially funded for three and a half years from 2005. This funding was extended in 2008 and 2009. Subsequently in 2011, the Australian Government confirmed funding for a further 3 years to December 2014.

As of 2015, Healthy Start has not been funded by the Australian Government, instead it has been an unfunded initiative exclusively providing consultation and support for organisations and practitioners.

Our Approach

Healthy Start is based on the following principles:

  • Thinking about the whole child, whole family and whole community to ensure safe and supportive environments for young children of parents with learning difficulties.
  • Being aware of critical periods in the life-course, to provide effective and timely support for parents with learning difficulties and their children from the antenatal period and early childhood development onwards.
  • Recognising  and acknowledging the strengths of parents with learning difficulties, and appreciating that these are the foundations for learning new parenting skills.
  • Valuing an evidence-based approach, which means using and sharing research-based programs, contributing to new knowledge, and evaluating outcomes.

What do we mean by parents with learning difficulties?

Healthy Start uses the term ‘learning difficulties’ in a specific way: as indicating a need for education of skills that most people learn incidentally to enable them to participate fully in the community, without supervision. Other terms that are commonly used include ‘learning disability’ and ‘intellectual disability’.

Healthy Start defines the following groups of mothers and fathers as having learning difficulties:

  • parents with a diagnosed intellectual impairment
  • parents who self-identify as having learning difficulties
  • parents who are identified by a practitioner as having a cognitive impairment that affects their learning.

Learning difficulties can affect independent participation in daily life to different degrees. Services can support parents to succeed in the parenting role when the focus is on helping parents find solutions to problems and on developing parents’ existing strengths. Programs are most effective when they have the following qualities:

  • family-centred
  • involve parent participation
  • focused on strength and ability
  • involve parents in goal-setting and decision-making
  • focus on performance rather than knowledge.

The Parenting Research Centre acknowledges and respects the diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country and the Elders of the past, present and future.