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The power of working together: when health and financial wellbeing services join forces

6 Sep 2023 | Healthier Wealthier Families Australia

In the series, we will explore three different models of children and families’ services delivering interventions to tackle the root causes of child poverty. This second blog details how the ‘Healthier Wealthier Families’ (HWF) pilot in Australia is helping families to reduce financial hardship.

More and more Australians are affected by rising interest rates and increasing costs of living. One in six children live in poverty, and at least double are missing out on material basics that are essential for health, such as food, stable housing, and healthcare. For families raising young children, this is challenging and stressful. Fortunately, financial wellbeing services have emerged as a beacon of hope. By offering essential support and guidance, they can reduce stress and anxiety for parents and caregivers who are trying to provide for their families. Innovative programs like Healthier Wealthier Families play a vital role in connecting families with young children with financial supports.

Money matters for children’s development and family wellbeing

From conception up to the first two years of a child's life are incredibly important, as it’s when the brain develops faster than any other time. Paradoxically, it is also the time when household income drops and expenses go up. For many families struggling with financial hardship, this time can be tough. We know that the proportion of parents experiencing poor mental health triples for those experiencing financial hardship.

When families receive the right financial support early on, it sets the stage for a bright future. Children raised in households with higher incomes tend to have better access to education, health care and nutritious food. Parents can help support their children to grow and learn without worrying about money problems. This is why action to minimise financial hardship is critical. Supporting families to build strong foundations in the early years delivers enduring individual and community benefits.

The evolution of financial wellbeing services in Australia

When times are financially tough for families, financial wellbeing services offer a crucial support system. These services are like a helping hand when people feel overwhelmed with money troubles. In Australia, trained professionals called financial counsellors offer expert advice and personalized support to individuals and families experiencing financial hardship.

The origins of financial counselling in Australia can be traced back to the 1970s when the nation experienced a surge in consumer credit and rising personal debt. The need for a support system to assist individuals facing financial difficulties became evident, leading to the establishment of several community-based organizations and non-profit entities offering financial guidance.

In the early years, financial counselling predominantly operated on a voluntary basis, with dedicated individuals offering their time and expertise to help those in need. As the demand for these services grew, the government recognized the importance of professionalising the sector. Consequently, Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) was established, providing a unified platform for financial counsellors, and enhancing the effectiveness and reach of their services. In 2023, FCA celebrated their 40th birthday.

Financial counselling provides options, information and advocacy (e.g., with creditors, essential service providers and government departments) to people experiencing financial hardship. It takes a holistic counselling approach to clients’ rights and obligations under Social Security, Consumer and Consumer Credit Laws and assists with creating budgets, ongoing debt management and saving strategies. Ultimately financial wellbeing services work in partnership with clients, empowering them to manage and control their own financial situations. 

When health and financial wellbeing services work together

Healthier Wealthier Children in Scotland is a prime example of a program that has played a transformative role in addressing financial hardship. In Australia, collaborators across the country worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-22) to adapt the Scottish model to the local service system. The “Healthier Wealthier Families” (HWF) pilot aimed to connect Australia’s Child and Family Health nursing services (which are freely available to all families from birth) to the financial wellbeing supports delivered by non-government organizations (also free of charge to use). While previous, individual local partnerships have offered co-location of a financial counsellor in places like a hospital or children’s centre, HWF is the first Australian initiative to try and link universal healthcare and financial wellbeing services in a systematic way.

We encountered substantial barriers to implementation including stigma, lack of knowledge of financial counselling, low financial literacy, and research burden, which were exacerbated by the pandemic disruption. Through committed partnership, a small pilot was successful in an outer metropolitan, culturally-diverse Victorian region, where one quarter of children live in poverty. Here, 44 families engaged with the financial counsellor, and HWF reduced family stress, and improved knowledge and empowerment. It also increased average annual income by $6,500, predominately through helping families access benefits they were missing. Key ingredients enabling the program’s feasibility included direct, low burden referral between services, underpinned by strong partnerships. It was also important for the referral to add value to the health practitioner’s work, e.g., by helping clients access benefits (known as Centrelink in Australia), which involve complex and time-consuming processes.

Boosting financial wellbeing for more families

To reduce financial hardship for more families and understand the cost-benefit of the approach, we need to make HWF available to more families and communities. In a time of increasing financial hardship and cost-of-living pressures, financial wellbeing services are more critical than ever, empowering families with young children to overcome financial challenges, build resilience, and secure a brighter financial future for themselves and their families. By investing in and promoting financial wellbeing services, Australia takes a significant step towards fostering a more economically inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.


The authors of this piece are Melissa Stone (Financial Counsellor), Jane Caldwell (Enhanced Maternal and Child Health Nurse), Natalie White (HWF Pilot Coordinator) and Anna Price (HWF Lead). For more information, please visit or contact

The other blogs in the series can be accessed here:

Working towards a Best Start and Bright Futures: reflections on an NHS child poverty partnership 

With a little detour via Australia, Healthier Wealthier Families makes it to Sweden

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V is for value, A is for action: Values-based Approaches with communities

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