National survey of FaRS-funded service providers

Overview of services and service provider perspectives
Research Report – August 2018

4 Service and sector relationships

FaRS and SFVS services do not work in isolation; rather, they form part of wider local and regional networks of services that could be both a source or recipient of client referrals and/or provide additional services to FaRS and SFVS clients.

This section explores:

  • the relationships between services (including between mainstream FaRS and SFVS)
  • referral pathways of FaRS and SFVS services users across metropolitan, regional, and rural and remote areas of Australia
  • the co-location arrangements within DSS and non-DSS funded services.

4.1 Referral intake

FaRS and SFVS services aim to support families and strengthen family relationships. To achieve this, FaRS and SFVS commonly receive referrals from a range of sources. Self-referrals were the biggest source of both FaRS and SFVS clients. The family, friends and neighbours of clients, other professionals based within FaRS and/or SFVS and the legal sector (e.g. legal assistance, family law courts) were also reported as important sources of referrals. However, referrals were also received from a range of other sectors. This reflected the wide range of services that FaRS and/or SFVS clients had often already encountered before their referral and the range of issues that may have brought them into contact with services (see Table 4.1). Due to their focus on family and domestic violence (FDV), and the multiple and complex needs of many FDV clients, SFVS were more likely to receive referrals from police, housing services and specialist drug, alcohol and FDV services than were mainstream FaRS. Nonetheless, self-referrals were still the largest source of referral into SFVS.

The survey data indicated few differences in sources of referrals between metropolitan, regional, and rural and remote areas. However, it was notable that respondents in metropolitan areas reported that their service had fewer referrals from child protection agencies than did those from regional or remote areas (see Appendix A, Table A9). The reasons for this difference are unclear but suggest that regional or remote areas may have a different client population and/or slightly different client needs.

As noted in section 3.3, survey respondents to the online survey indicated that intake and assessment processes are a central component of the work of FaRS and SFVS and constitute a large proportion of their working time (also see Appendix A, Table A6). Information provided from the qualitative interviews indicated that the referral intake was a key factor in setting the direction of support for families and family members. During intake it was determined if the client engaged with FaRS in the first instance or if they were to be immediately referred to SFVS (and/or other services). One interviewee described the intake process conducted by workers called 'Family Advisers'. A family adviser was said to spend up to 20 minutes talking to a new client on the phone. The advisers were required to work from scripts that included a risk assessment protocol to identify violence and safety issues. If any level of violence, abuse, inter-relation harassment, or threat was expressed by the client at this time, the individual was immediately referred into the SFVS where they could receive support from a worker who specialised in family violence.

Table 4.1: Most commonly reported sources of referrals to FaRS and SFVS
  Total (%) SFVS (%) FaRS (%)
Self-referral 45 37 47
Family/friend/neighbour 28 23 29
Other professional at your service 25 24 26
Legal (e.g. legal assistance, family law courts) 24 23 24
Child protection agencies 20 24 19
External family services 18 20 18
Health (e.g. community health centre, mental health) 18 16 18
Specialist (e.g. alcohol or other drugs, gambling, FDV, sexual assault) 16 25 13
Police 15 22 12
Clergy 10 7 11
Education 12 8 13
Housing (e.g. short-term crisis refuge accommodation) 10 17 8
Financial 8 8 7

However, providers also indicated that many clients do not disclose over the telephone the level of violence happening in their family and this could have implications for their service and referral pathway. For example, many 'early intervention' FaRS clients already had violence in their relationship that could not be detected at intake. In these cases, the client could transfer over to SFVS at a later date. However, participants in the qualitive interviews indicated that allocation to either FaRS or SFVS often happened at the first point of contact. Clients who were initially allocated to FaRS but later disclosed incidents of DFV would often remain in the FaRS service, and receive the services they needed there (including referrals to other specialist DFV services), rather than being reallocated to a SFVS. In this way, clients could have continuity of service. There was insufficient data to indicate how widespread these intake and referral practices were.

Providers also indicated that referral intake could be a time-consuming process and that managing waiting lists was an ongoing challenge for FaRS and SFVS services. Providers indicated that clients had to be triaged to ensure that no-one is at risk; however, this in turn placed additional demands on staff skills and capacity as risk assessment became a skill that all staff needed to have in order to keep up with service user demands. This could also require services to periodically reassess and develop their referral and intake procedures in order to manage demand.

Probably three or four years ago, we started this transition to a central intake model, because we were realising that pretty much every program was doing their own intake and a client could come in 42 different pathways … so it was working out what's best for the client. From that, we've built an interim client database to capture the data that we need, and to understand what we actually need to build, so we have one client database. (Service provider)

4.2 Referral pathways and engagement

I think people always do the very best they can to work towards a common goal. (Service provider)

In providing support to families, FaRS and SFVS services referred their clients to a range of other services. Referrals to other services from metro, inner regional, and outer regional and remote FaRS and SFVS were generally similar. However, just as services in outer regional and remote areas were more likely to gain referrals from child protection services, they were also more likely than metropolitan-based services to refer into child protection services, as well as into health, housing, education, police and specialist services (e.g. alcohol and other drugs, gambling, specialist FDV and sexual assault). These referral pathways may reflect differences in client populations and/or the types of issues that clients present with at FaRS and SFVS services in the outer regional and remote areas. In contrast, survey respondents in outer regional and remote areas reported fewer referrals to children and parenting support services compared to survey respondents in metro and inner regional areas (see Table 4.2).

For the most part, FaRS and SFVS services most commonly engaged with, and referred to, other community family services as well as child protection agencies. Liaison and referral with other service sector types did occur but this work did not appear to comprise the core business of FaRS and SFVS services. These other sectors included financial assistance, legal services (e.g. legal assistance, family law courts), health (e.g. community health centres, mental health services), housing (e.g. short-term crisis refuge accommodation), education, police and specialist services (e.g. alcohol or other drugs, gambling, specialist FDV, sexual assault). There was little difference in the types of other services available in the local catchment areas of metro, regional, and outer regional and remote areas (see Appendix A, Table A11).

The following example drawn from the qualitative interviews illustrates the range of entry points into FaRS and SFVS services as well as the complexity of some referral pathways as clients engage and work with a range of service providers.

We do have elderly people come through - if they're looking for a specific service … so for elder abuse, where there's family violence, gambling, because we have the Gamblers' Help program and financial counselling; they may have come through their program - and our housing programs, we probably get a number of people come through our doors because of that. (Service provider)

Table 4.2: Most frequent destination services for FaRS and SFVS referrals, by geographic remoteness
  Metro (%) Inner regional (%) Outer regional/
remote (%)
Family and Relationship Services (FaRS) 36 42 39
Specialised Family Violence Services (SFVS) 29 24 15
Family Law Services 23 24 20
Communities for Children Facilitating Partner 10 6 10
Children and Parenting Support 26 30 20
Intensive Family Support Services 14 17 16
Other DSS funded services 18 15 20
Family services 15 14 16
Child protection agencies 13 13 20
Financial 15 13 22
Legal (e.g. legal assistance, family law courts) 29 22 25
Health (e.g. community health centre, mental health) 21 14 28
Housing (e.g. short-term crisis refuge accommodation) 13 14 22
Education 15 10 21
Police 16 12 21
Specialist: alcohol or other drugs, gambling, specialist FDV, sexual assault 20 21 22
Other 12 7 8

4.3 Relationships with DSS and non-DSS funded services

We work with the Family Relationship Centre and also the [service] who work across mediation, it's one of the things that we do really well, simply because we're co-located. (Service provider)

Ninety-one per cent of FaRS and SFVS services reported that they were co-located with at least one other service (both DSS funded and non-DSS services). This indicates that co-location is the 'normal' arrangement. Not surprisingly, this co-location was most common with other similar services including family and relationship services, Family Law Services and services offering support to parents and children. Table 4.3 shows a breakdown of the type of other DSS funded services with which FaRS and SFVS were co-located. For the most part there was little significant variation between regional areas with regards to the types of services with which FaRS were co-located. However, respondents from outer regional/remote areas were somewhat more likely to be co-located with Intensive Family Support services than were those from metro or inner regional areas. Respondents from metro areas were slightly less likely to be co-located with housing services than were non-metro areas (see Appendix A, Table A13).

Table 4.3: DSS funded services most commonly co-located with respondents' service (by service type)
(n = 146)
(n = 66)
(n = 212)
  n % n % n %
Co-located with ANY DSS service 122 84 53 80 175 83
Type of DSS co-located service
Family Law Services 62 42 34 52 96 45
Other FaRS 61 42 30 45 91 43
Children and Parenting Support 40 27 25 38 65 31
Financial Counselling, Wellbeing and Capability 25 17 18 27 43 20
Other SFVS 18 12 15 23 33 16
Emergency Relief 18 12 14 21 32 15
Intensive Family Support Services 22 15 8 12 30 14
Communities for Children Facilitating Partner 9 6 9 14 18 8
Community Mental Health 8 5 8 12 16 8
Personal Helpers and Mentors Service (PHaMS) 10 7 3 5 13 6

The qualitative interviews indicated that co-location or proximity could influence referral pathways or collaborative service delivery. For example, one interviewee reported that her service was located near a range of Family Law Services and this enabled them to form beneficial relationships, and work with, those services. In this instance, the FaRS service she worked for often took referrals from the Family Relationship Centre or the Children's Contact Service. In these cases, where parents were often going through separation and divorce, and/or where family violence had been identified, the FaRS team would provide counsellors to work with individuals within that family.

Information from the qualitative interviews also indicated that 'co-location' did not always entail entire services being located at the same site. For example, one interviewee described arrangements where individual workers were situated at particular organisations. As part of an outreach program in a metro area, workers were located in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations in the jails, in the youth detention centre and in child and family centres funded by the state government. These workers provided community services such as child health, maternal health, dentists, physios, play groups and child care. They could be based at these locations from anywhere between one day a fortnight to one or two days a week.

More than half of survey respondents reported that the service they worked for was co-located with a non-DSS funded service, indicating this is also a common arrangement, particularly with other family services and those that have a similar specialist focus (see Table 4.4). There was relatively little difference between the types of services that FaRS and SFVS services were co-located with, with family services the largest grouping for both service types. SFVS were slightly more often co-located with other FDV and housing services - which may reflect their specialist focus and the finding that SFVS more often referred into or out of such services than did mainstream FaRS - however, the difference between services was small.

Although FaRS and SFVS most often referred to or from, worked and/or were co-located with similar types of family services, the wide range of service types with which they reported connections was indicative of the complex needs of their clients and the wide range of relationships required to meet client needs. Participants in the qualitative interviews described multi-service and multi-disciplinary work as a key part of their service. Such collaborative working most often arose as interviewees attempted to respond to the needs of clients as they emerged.

We obviously work with the client as with where they're currently at and what their needs are and if there's a service that we think can benefit the client and support them … we'll obviously refer people into those services and then our staff will work together in that kind of case management model to support the client and it might be that I would say, 'Well, actually, right at this moment in time we think you need to go and have some family counselling or mediation and then come back and deal with other things, because that's where you're at the moment. (Service provider)

Table 4.4: Non-DSS funded services most commonly co-located with respondents' service (by service type)
(n = 146)
(n = 66)
(n = 212)
  n % n % n %
Co-located with ANY non-DSS service 102 70 48 73 151 71
Type of co-located service
Family services 48 33 26 39 74 35
Specialist: alcohol or other drugs, gambling, specialist FDV, sexual assault 29 20 20 30 49 23
Housing (e.g. short-term crisis refuge accommodation) 23 16 16 24 39 18
Youth services 24 16 10 15 34 16
Out-of-home care 16 11 6 9 22 10
Financial 15 10 10 15 25 12
Education 15 10 2 3 17 8
Disability 13 9 4 6 17 8
Health (e.g. community health centre, mental health) 12 8 8 12 20 9
Child protection agencies 12 8 5 8 17 8
Employment 9 6 1 2 10 5
Legal (e.g. legal assistance, family law, courts) 2 1 3 5 5 2
Police 2 1 1 2 3 1