National survey of FaRS-funded service providers

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

7 Discussion

Somehow, we just get more trauma cases in all our programs too. I'm not exactly sure how that works but maybe that just means we're getting better at understanding trauma as an issue for a lot of the people … so in other words then, we're seeing people for longer too. So, you know, the actual idea of early intervention … as the name is really not exactly correct. I mean it is in one sense but you know, we have got a different population than we did before. (Service provider)

The role of FaRS and SFVS services is to support families, strengthen family relationships, prevent family breakdown and ensure family and child wellbeing. In this context, the purpose of the study was to develop a better understanding of the services offered by FaRS and SFVS services and, in particular, how they deal with domestic and family violence. Greater insight into the challenges and gaps experienced in delivering these services was also sought, along with an understanding of how FaRS and SFVS services work with each other and with non-funded DSS family services.

The sample size achieved in this study allowed for an indicative description of the kinds of activities undertaken by FaRS and SFVS, and of the issues commonly addressed during service delivery and when meeting client needs. However, the study population was not necessarily representative of the entire FaRS and SFVS population and so the results of the survey (and qualitative interviews) need to be interpreted with care.

On the whole, the FaRS and SFVS delivered a similar range of centre-based programs (predominantly counselling services) and information, advice and referral services. Service delivery outside service centres, such as outreach and home-based services, were less common but were offered by many services, especially those in regional or remote areas where clients could potentially live some distance from the service centre. Because the SFVS are embedded within the broader FaRS it is unsurprising that the broad activity types undertaken in each site - counselling, group work, etc. - were similar in their outline. However, the specialised nature of SFVS, and their clients' particular suite of needs, meant that they did have different referral pathways into and out of the service and somewhat different needs for staff capacity building. There were also some observed differences in referral paths between metropolitan and regional and remote areas, with the latter more likely to be involved with child protection services. Because of the relatively small number of non-metropolitan services participating in the study, it is unclear if this difference reflected a real difference in client needs or presenting issues or if it was simply an artefact of the small sample.

For all services types, referral and intake processes (including risk assessment) were a central part of their job and played a significant role in the referral pathway of clients and in determining the kinds of services they received. Moreover, although early intervention was identified in several measures as something that services had limited time or staff capacity to perform, it appears that 'early intervention' could cross over with intake and referral processes. Because clients rarely presented at FaRS and SFVS services before violence occurred, or in the early stages of relationship difficulties, providers had limited opportunities to intervene very early. However, when clients disclosed issues during intake, providers were able to identify client needs and refer them appropriately. This was in itself a form of early intervention. However, this also meant that services were reliant to some degree on clients disclosing issues early; when they did not do so, this could have implications for their subsequent referral pathways and the types and timing of the services they received.

Respondents to the survey generally depicted FaRS and SFVS, in all geographical areas, as being highly competent in their core activities, in most domains of professional skill and in their service's procedures and protocols to manage community needs. Almost all participants also indicated that their service was embedded in the local community, both in terms of their connections to other services and in their attempts to be responsive to local community needs. Indeed, despite survey respondents indicating that they had limited time to undertake service innovation, and relatively low confidence in their ability to do so, provider descriptions (in the qualitative interviews) of their attempts to meet changing local community needs, and the survey respondents' awareness of the need to 'do things differently', suggested sometimes high levels of innovation.

Co-location with other services also proved to be the norm in all geographical areas and clients' sometimes complex needs meant that collaborative approaches were also common. Such collaborative approaches were important not only for meeting client needs but also allowed services to manage their workloads by referring clients to other services when they lacked capacity.

However, although survey respondents generally described their service and themselves as doing a good job and meeting community needs, they also identified several challenges and areas for capacity building. In particular, survey respondents identified a lack of staff capacity to undertake a range of service activities, particularly early intervention and client follow-up. Further, both FaRS and SFVS survey respondents indicated that their services were finding it increasingly challenging to address what they perceived as the growing complexity of family needs in addition to identifying and meeting the emerging needs of specific community groups. In this context, although early intervention, client follow-up and innovative approaches to service provision were regarded as an important aspiration, they were made increasingly difficult by issues with service capacity, staff retention and increased client needs.