Good and innovative practice in service delivery to vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children
Over the last 20 years, there have been gradual but significant changes in the ways services are delivered to families. Social policy in Australia, Britain and the USA has recognised the importance of early intervention and the need for programs to engage with children, parents and communities to build individual and community capacity. The problems faced by children and families are often multiple and inter-connected, requiring more than a single service response (Bromfield, Lamont, Parker, & Horsfall, 2010). Collaboration between service providers and the delivery of "wrap-around" or "joined- up" services are increasingly seen as being more successful in engaging with vulnerable families and providing the multi-layered support that delivers better outcomes for children and their families (Katz & valentine, 2009; McArthur & Thomson, 2011).
Joined-up, wrap-around service delivery has been particularly successful in disadvantaged communities. As a result of broader economic, social and structural factors, some communities are disadvantaged due to deficits in several resource domains. It is the lack of resources, rather than the family or community type, which increases families' vulnerability to poor outcomes. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods and communities - which may be characterised by high unemployment, high crime rates, lack of services and social supports, or poor community and social infrastructure - can compound vulnerability for individuals and families, in particular children. Conversely, strong, cohesive communities can provide important social supports and informal networks which play an important protective role for individuals, families and children and decrease the risk of negative outcomes.
Family Support Program
The Family Support Program (FSP) is an Australian Government initiative that seeks to provide services to support the wellbeing and nurturing of children and families, to enable them to manage life's transitions, ensure children are protected and contribute to building stronger, more resilient communities. The program is administered by FaHCSIA.1 Through the FSP, the government funds community organisations to provide a range of preventative and early intervention family support services, targeted support, and specialist services in around 2,200 outlets across Australia. These organisations deliver programs such as parenting skills development, information, advice, counselling and referral on parenting and family relationships, playgroups, and provide alternatives for families who are separated, separating or in dispute to improve their relationships in the best interests of their children. The program is also a vital part of the Council of Australian Government's National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children (2009-2020) (COAG, 2009).
In recognition of the evidence outlined in the introductory paragraphs, changes implemented to the FSP in 2011 were targeted at better orienting the program to improve accessibility for, and to actively support, vulnerable and disadvantaged families. It is intended that this will be achieved through more effective collaboration between government and the community sector, more effectively coordinated services, and greater flexibility and responsiveness in service design and delivery to meet the needs of families and communities.
Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Client Access Strategy
While the new FSP seeks to ensure access and availability of services to all families, vulnerable and disadvantaged families and children are a specifically targeted group. In 2011, all FSP providers (with a few exceptions) were asked to document and implement the steps they would take to improve service accessibility and responsiveness for vulnerable and disadvantaged families, including Indigenous families, who may experience barriers in accessing their services.
Family Support Program providers were also asked to demonstrate they are adequately providing services to Indigenous people, in line with COAG's Closing the Gap Service Delivery Principles (See Box 1).
Box 1: Closing the Gap
The National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery (Australian National Audit Office, 2012) is an agreement by all governments to a number of principles to guide the design and delivery of Indigenous specific and mainstream government programs and services provided to Indigenous people
The Closing the Gap Service Delivery Principles set expectations about how government agencies and their contracted services providers should behave. The principles below are relevant to the way FSP providers play their part in closing the gap, and are reflected in the Access Strategy documents:
- Indigenous engagement principle: Engagement with Indigenous men, women and children and communities should be central to the design and delivery of programs and services.
- Access principle: Programs and services should be physically and culturally accessible to Indigenous people, recognising the diversity of urban, regional, and remote needs.
- Integration principle: There should be collaboration between and within government at all levels and their agencies to effectively coordinate programs and services.
- Accountability principle: Programs and services should have regular and transparent performance monitoring, review, and evaluation.
Families and children are defined as vulnerable to poor outcomes for the purposes of the FSP due to:
- multiple and complex needs or a lack of resources (financial, physical personal or social) to support wellbeing and positive family functioning; and/or
- current circumstances (e.g., high-conflict separation or divorce).
Some family types, however, have greater difficulty in accessing resources or services that may support family functioning and better outcomes, including Indigenous families, sole parent or blended families, young parent families, families living in locational disadvantage, or families where issues such as housing instability, domestic violence, disability, mental health, or substance abuse issues are present.
Each organisation was asked to record their strategies in a Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Client Access Strategy,2 including an Indigenous Access Plan, which was submitted to FaHCSIA in December 2011. FaHCSIA state and territory departmental representatives subsequently assessed the Access Strategies as either:
- agreed, no further information required;
- agreed, more information required; or
- not agreed, resubmit required.