National survey of FaRS-funded service providers

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

5 Community needs

I think about when we first started, we had very set, you know, you do this, you do this and you do this. And now we try to be a little bit more adaptive to what's going on at the time, responsive to local community needs … being flexible and responsive to the needs as they're emerging. (Service provider)

In the qualitative interviews, participants indicated that for FaRS and SFVS to be effective, they needed to be embedded within their local communities so that they could identify, and respond to, community needs as they emerged or changed\. Hence, to some extent, although most FaRS and SFVS provided a generally similar range of services regardless of their location (see section 3.3), they also sometimes needed to modify and change the way they provided services in order to ensure they continued to meet community needs. This section describes the ways in which services identified and addressed such community needs.

5.1 Responding to community needs

We're doing some research at the moment about what best practice looks like in a contact centre. There's lots of things around sensory gardens and those sorts of things that we can utilise. (Service provider)

At the client level, FaRS and SFVS survey respondents indicated that the main issues they dealt with in their work were family relationships, family violence, mental health, parenting, exposure of children to family violence, and emotional abuse and/or anger issues (see Table 5.1).

Table 5.1: FaRS and SFVS service user issues, frequency of encounters
How often do you deal with the following issues? Score out of 5
(average of responses)
encounter issue (%)
  Total SFVs FaRS Total SFVs FaRS
Family relationships 4.6 4.7 4.4 97 97 97
Family violence 4.0 3.8 4.4 82 100 76
Alcohol and other drugs 3.4 3.4 3.4 44 43 45
Mental health 3.9 3.9 3.8 77 69 79
Gambling 2.5 2.5 2.5 7 7 7
Homelessness 2.5 2.4 2.8 12 14 12
Parenting 4.3 4.3 4.1 87 83 89
Elder abuse 2.0 1.9 2.1 3 3 3
Legal issues 3.2 3.2 3.3 46 52 44
Adolescent violence 2.7 2.6 3.0 15 21 13
Disability 2.6 2.6 2.5 51 52 51
Cultural issues 3.1 3.2 3.0 32 24 34
Exposure of children to family violence 3.7 3.6 4.1 68 86 63
Child abuse and/or child safety and/or child neglect 3.3 3.3 3.5 45 59 41
Emotional abuse and/or anger issues 4.1 4.0 4.3 88 100 84

Note: Totals based on scale 1-5 with 1 = Never deal with these issues and 5 = Always deal with these issues.

Elder abuse and gambling were much less frequently encountered or addressed in the respondents' services. These results are largely to be expected given that FaRS' and SFVS' key purpose is to provide services to support families and strengthen family relationships. However, reflecting the wide range of issues that FaRS and SFVS clients could present with, or that could be associated with family conflict, staff also reported that their work could entail dealing with issues relating alcohol and other drugs, gambling, homelessness, elder abuse, legal issues, adolescent violence, disability, cultural issues and child abuse or neglect.

Participants in the qualitative interviews indicated that services undertook a range of activities to monitor community needs and the issues that clients most commonly presented with. This, in turn, could inform service practice. For example, one interviewee reported that the service she worked for used community educators, a community house and a comment mechanism on their website to collect community feedback and identify community needs. The findings from these activities were aggregated by the service's research and evaluation team and combined with relevant literature, ABS statistics and local socio-demographic data to build a picture of community needs and inform appropriate service responses. At times, the emergence or identification of new forms of demand presented a challenge, as services attempted to both serve their existing body of clients (or current core service areas) and adapt to changing needs.

In the qualitative interviews, participants from both FaRS and SFVS also identified a range of ways in which they had responded to changing levels of demand or specific community needs. For example, one service, after identifying the high levels of service collaboration required to undertake their work, had created specific staff roles for facilitating service integration and for further service innovation. Another service allocated 'portfolios' to team members, which were then taken to local community stakeholders for consultation.

Services could also give consideration to the role of the physical environment as a means of facilitating engagement with clients. One interviewee reported that the service had created a purpose-built, rooftop garden for young people at one of their service locations. This garden was built after the service identified young people's desire to have a location that was not a standard office but in which they could receive services or participate in group activities.

5.2 Responsiveness to specific community groups

The fact that we've got a refugee health clinic, you know, that really helps. (Service provider)

There are identified groups of people that come into our organisation that if we were to just do the same with them it wouldn't be the best practice. (Service provider)

FaRS and SFVS survey respondents reported that they generally had moderately high levels of ability and skill in providing assistance to specific community groups such as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (ATSI), and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) clients. Slightly lower levels of confidence were reported with respect to addressing the needs of clients with disability. Although the difference was small (and not statistically significant), this may indicate a need for further capacity building (see also Table 5.7).

Table 5.4: Respondent assessments of services' ability and skills in assisting specific community groups
  Score out of 5
(average of responses)
Responses agree/
strongly agree (%)
  Total SFVs FaRS Total SFVs FaRS
Our service has the ability and skills to assist CALD clients 3.9 3.8 3.9 75 74 75
Our service has the ability and skills to assist ATSI clients 3.9 3.8 4.0 77 72 79
Our service has the ability and skills to assist clients with disability 3.8 3.8 3.8 69 68 74
Our service has the ability and skills to assist LGBTI clients 3.9 3.9 3.9 78 78 77

Note: Totals based on scale 1-5 with 1 = Strongly disagree and 5 = Strongly agree.

The qualitative interviews provided further insight into the challenges of meeting the needs of specific community groups. One interviewee reported that her service had noticed an increase in demand from the CALD community within the last 18 months to two years. This awareness of a growing need arose from the manager's connections within the local CALD community. After one of the community elders had flagged a need, the service undertook research into how the program could be delivered and eventually this resulted in the service obtaining a grant to run an eight-week pilot parenting program for the Sudanese community that focused on differing cultural traditions, beliefs about parenting and attitudes towards education. Due to the amount of work required to start up and run the pilot program, the service ran at a loss. Hence, although providers and funders felt that the pilot was successful in meeting the needs of this specific local community group, no further funding was granted for its continuation.

Providers in the qualitative interviews also identified the elderly as a community group who could require specific responses to a complex set of needs. When describing how many clients require a range of complex issues to be dealt with simultaneously, rather than in isolation, one provider used elder relationship support services as an example. She reported that there had been an increase in the number of older people ringing the service seeking support of various kinds but that when exploring the conflict issues, the service often discovered instances of abuse or violence. However, in many instances, the older person was not able to name the behaviour as abuse or violence, or they had not considered the conflict issue that they presented with at the service to be abuse or violence. Hence, providers needed to be aware that they may be required to explore beyond the issues that these clients sought assistance with.

5.3 Service capability to meet and manage community needs

When I first started in the early days of being CEO, we had an average fee of $60 a session. Now most people pay $20. And most, more than 30% pay nothing, so the median in other words is $20, so our fee income has massively dropped. That's one way we know that we're working with a different population. (Service provider)

We're trying to be innovative and responsive to who the audience is that we're getting approached by. (Service provider)

FaRS and SFVS services work with a range of community groups, many of them with complex needs; as a result, providers can face a range of challenges in identifying and meeting local community needs. On the whole, managers and practitioners in FaRS and SFVS were confident about the ability (in terms of skills and knowledge) of their service to carry out their core work in meeting community needs and rated their own professional competence high on most items. There was little difference between regions in this regard, with survey respondents in outer regional and remote regions generally expressing the similar levels of confidence about skills and knowledge as those in metropolitan areas.

In terms of the overall service, FaRS and SFVS survey respondents expressed the highest levels of confidence in their service's skills and knowledge with respect to core service delivery activities such as counselling of families, individuals and children as well as intake and assessment (see Table 5.5). Both SFVS' and FaRS' ability to undertake work outside their core service delivery functions were rated less highly. In particular, survey respondents appeared to express some reservations about their service's ability to undertake prevention, early intervention, and client follow-up, or to trial innovative approaches to service provision. These different ratings do not necessarily relate directly to the services' objective competence in these areas but rather can reflect provider perceptions of what they currently do well versus those areas where they feel that they could do better (or would like to do more) but have limited opportunities, limited resources (see section 6) or require further capacity building and training.

Both FaRS and SFVS survey respondents also rated their own professional competency relatively highly. More specifically, they rated highly their skills and knowledge in providing services related to family relationships, parenting, complex needs, and in making appropriate referrals (see Table 5.6).

Despite survey respondents in both SFVS and FaRS generally rating their skill levels as high, they were less likely to highly rate their skills and knowledge in providing services to clients who use violence. This indicates a potential need for capacity building in these areas. It is notable that when asked to identify their capacity-building needs, FaRS providers most commonly identified a need for training and capacity building in working with perpetrators of violence. In contrast, a much smaller proportion of SFVS providers indicated a need for capacity building in this area (see Table 5.7). Again, it should be noted that these self-ratings do not necessarily reflect objective levels of skill or knowledge but rather practitioner perceptions of what they do best and where they could develop further capacity.

Table 5.5: Respondent confidence in their services' skills and knowledge
  Score out of 5
(average of responses)
Responses agree/
strongly agree (%)
  Total SFVs FaRS Total SFVs FaRS
Prevention 3.6 3.4 3.7 59 57 60
Intake and assessment 4.2 4.3 4.2 89 95 86
Early intervention 3.6 3.4 3.7 62 57 65
Service delivery (with individuals, couples, families) 4.5 4.5 4.5 96 98 95
Crisis intervention 3.8 4.0 3.7 69 75 66
Client follow-up and assessment of outcomes 3.5 3.4 3.5 54 49 57
Supervision and professional development 4.0 4.0 3.9 80 75 82
Trialling innovative approaches to service provision 3.4 3.2 3.4 51 49 51

Note: Totals based on scale 1-5 with 1 = Strongly disagree (no confidence) and 5 = Strongly agree (high confidence).

Although FaRS and SFVS providers gave similar ratings of their professional skills across a range of domains, there were some notable differences in their responses indicating what capacity building would most help them meet service demands. In particular, staff at FaRS indicated a higher preference for building capacity in working with perpetrators, behaviour change programs and identifying and responding to violence. In contrast, the responses from staff working at SFVS indicated stronger preferences for building capacity in competency, risk assessment and working with older people and people with disability. These differences appear to reflect both the more specialised nature of SFVS, the specific needs of their client groups, and the particular skills and competencies required to undertake this work. Staff at both service types indicated a strong desire for additional capacity building in measuring client outcomes.

Table 5.6: Practitioner self-assessments of current skills and knowledge
  Score out of 5 (average of responses) Responses of excellent/good (%)
Work with individuals, couples and families to improve their relationships 4.4 4.3 97 98
Work with parents to improve their parenting and focus on the needs of their children 4.5 4.2 86 97
Work with individuals, couples and families with complex needs 4.3 4.3 89 88
Work with victims of violence 4.1 4.5 89 77
Work with clients who use violence 3.6 4.0 65 57
Work with families where children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect 3.9 4.2 79 74
Refer clients in cases involving family violence to appropriate services 4.3 4.6 89 87
Refer clients who may be suicidal or at immediate risk of self-harm to appropriate services, if necessary 4.3 4.5 93 92
Refer clients in cases where child abuse and/or neglect is apparent 4.3 4.5 91 93

Note: Totals based on scale 1-5 with 1 = very poor (level of skills and/or knowledge) and 5 = Excellent (level of skills and/or knowledge).

Managing risk and safety for service users and themselves is a further significant element of the work of respondents in meeting service user needs. FaRS and SFVS survey respondents again expressed generally high levels of confidence in their service's procedures and protocols for identifying and managing risk and safety issues for service users (see Appendix A, Table A16). However, survey respondents also reported that their services faced high levels of demand and this could lead to practitioners feeling overwhelmed by their caseloads and/or the demands on their service. More specifically, 50% of FaRS and SFVS practitioners reported that they were overwhelmed by their personal caseload at least some of the time, while 42% of FaRS and SFVS managers reported that their service was overwhelmed by client demand at least some of the time (see Appendix A, Table A17; also see section 6.1  on issues relating to staff capacity).

Despite this, survey respondents reported that around three quarters (74%) of clients were seen in a time frame appropriate to meeting their needs (see Appendix A, Table A17). Survey respondents indicated that in the minority of cases where they could not see clients at an appropriate time, this potentially could exacerbate or entrench issues or risks. However, in most of these instances, services were able to refer clients to another service. This finding is consistent with the findings discussed in section 3.3, which indicated that the provision of information, advice and referral is one of the core business activities of FaRS and SFVS.

Table 5.7: Expressed need for capacity building to improve service provision, most common responses
  SFVS (%) FaRS (%) Total (%)
Working with perpetrators 28 50 44
Measuring client outcomes 38 34 35
Behaviour change programs 17 39 33
Risk assessment 15 4 24
Child-centred approaches 23 23 23
Cultural competency 36 16 22
Working with people with a disability 32 16 21
Working with children/young people 25 19 20
Identifying and responding to violence 15 22 20
Working with the elderly 19 9 12