Good and innovative practice in service delivery to vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children

CFCA Paper No. 9 – October 2012

Access Strategy analysis

Evidence suggests that vulnerable families and their children often "fall through the gaps" in the service sector (Blakemore & Shipley, 2009; McArthur, Thomson, Winkworth, & Butler, 2010). A law of "inverse care" is observed, where those that are in most need of services are sometimes the least likely to receive them. In response, governments are increasingly looking to wrap-around or joined-up services to support vulnerable families and create positive outcomes for young children.

For this reason, FSP providers were asked to prepare and submit their strategies for improving access to their services, including through collaboration with other services, and FaHCSIA undertook to share with the sector examples of promising practice in this area.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) was commissioned by FaHCSIA, in May 2012, to undertake a desktop analysis of available Access Strategy documents, in order to collate information on existing/current good or innovative practice utilised by organisations to support vulnerable and disadvantaged families.

FaHCSIA provided electronic copies of 277 Access Strategy documents, as completed by provider organisations. FaHCSIA also provided a database (subsequently adapted by AIFS) and additional data items as required for analysis by AIFS. This included items to capture:

  • the transferability of methods to other regions or programs;
  • methods of strengthening relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations;
  • methods of increasing effective collaborative practice across service delivery areas; and
  • evidence of practices/programs that improve accessibility, responsiveness and outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children.

A number of criteria were developed to consider the extent of good and innovative practice in:

  • effective collaboration; and
  • strengthening relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations.

These criteria are provided in Box 2.

Box 2: Criteria for analysis of the Access Strategy documents

Collaborative service delivery

In the new FSP, collaboration between governments, relationship services, and community sectors such as health, mental health, child welfare, family law, or local community networks is accepted as essential for meeting the needs of families and children more effectively. The need for collaborative practice arises as support needs of vulnerable families and children are diverse and require the services of a range of agencies. Therefore collaboration as an integral component in the new FSP model will aim to:

  • provide all families with information about services in other sectors and jurisdictions that they may need;
  • connect vulnerable families to services and support systems as early as possible; and
  • provide timely and well coordinated response to children and families at risk (FaHCSIA, 2011a).

The emphasis on collaboration is based on evidence that siloed and single disciplinary approaches fail to address the multiple and interlinked issues faces by families. Collaborative practice is seen as a way around the complexities and inefficiencies arising from the diversity of policy and practice across the various service sectors and organisations (White & Winkworth, 2012).

To establish the extent to which organisations funded by the FSP provided evidence of collaborative practice in their Access Strategy, the following levels of collaboration were considered (White & Winkworth, 2012):

  • Networking: establish an understanding of the service systems and issues involved and develop a trusting collaborative foundation;
  • Coordination: strong relationships between players, with "champions" leading the action to make information and services more accessible for vulnerable children and families; and
  • Service integration: the ultimate form of high-level collaboration, bringing together service systems and involving families and community leaders in system design.

The following criteria were also considered:

  • Evidence that children and families are at the centre of collaboration.
  • Collaboration is authorised at all levels and governance actively supports this through communication and shared planning mechanisms and protocols.
  • Shared practices that outreach to vulnerable children and families and actively link them to services, including:
  • addressing local barriers to information sharing;
  • providing early intervention services through local services such as clinics, schools, and childcare;
  • using core services such as Centrelink, state housing departments, and schools as venues of information sharing and connecting to services;
  • warm referrals, where a three-way conversation happens in which the family member is introduced and given relevant information; and
  • working with local community organisations and the business sector to increase social inclusion by providing social support, resources and opportunities to network.

Relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations

To establish the extent to which organisations funded by the FSP provided evidence of engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations in their Access Strategy,3 the following criteria were used:

  • Recognise the resilience and diversity of Indigenous communities, the importance of connections to country, spirituality, family and community, and the continuing impact of the history and legacies of colonisation on Indigenous communities today.
  • Strength-based approaches and acknowledgement of Indigenous culture as a source of strength to people, families and communities.
  • A holistic approach that doesn't simply focus on symptoms of the problem (i.e., alcohol or substance abuse).
  • Supports family and kinship structure in building parenting capacity and strengthening family and other relationships. The importance of the wider family network in parenting children in Indigenous communities and other related cultural differences in child rearing practices, compared to non-Indigenous communities, is recognised.
  • It is acknowledged that Indigenous people and organisations may be in unequal situations in forming partnerships with non-Indigenous organisations, and that the two should work together to meet the needs of Indigenous children and families, with Indigenous-specific services having a recognised leadership role.
  • Commitment to informed and meaningful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community engagement in the design, development and delivery of services and recognition that communities should have a sense of ownership and leadership in the design, development, delivery, and evaluation of programs targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Programs are outcome focused, sustainable and responsive (to and from feedback).

Therefore good practice between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations will:

  • build relationships of trust;
  • provide opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to be informed and understand available options for proposals/directions and risks before deciding how to contribute;
  • promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander personal development;
  • provide a source for government to access broader perspective, information and solutions to inform decisions and services; and
  • be mutually beneficial to government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.


It is important to outline the limitations to the analysis and findings. These analyses are reliant on documentation provided by the organisations delivering the programs. There is no capacity to verify the documentation provided against organisational practice or proposed practice. Further, the assessment of good or innovative practice is assessed solely on the documentation provided to AIFS by FaHCSIA. An organisation may in fact be engaging in good and/or innovative practice, but did not include documentation to identify that this is the case.

This analysis is based on documentation received by the department by the due date of 9 December 2011. Since January 2012, FaHCSIA has been providing feedback to organisations regarding the coverage of their Access Strategy and advising whether further work is required in order to meet the department's expectations. As at 31 May 2012, 229 organisations' Access Strategies were not yet agreed with the department and as such this analysis does not fully reflect the final agreed outcomes of the negotiations between the department and providers on their strategies. This has meant that a proportion of the documents analysed may have incomplete or insufficiently described actions to appropriately represent the actual strategies the organisation is pursing or planning to pursue.


3 Based on FaHCSIA (2011b); Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) (2010); Stewart, Lohoar & Higgins (2011).