Collaborative practice in child and family welfare

Building practitioners’ competence

Content type
Event date

18 March 2020, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm (AEST)


Nicole Paterson, Toni Cash, Chloe Warrell




This webinar was held on Wednesday 18 March 2020.

Practitioners working with children and families often need to collaborate with other welfare professionals as part of their everyday practice. Collaboration across sectors – child protection, child and family welfare, youth services, mental health, housing, family violence – is recognised as a way to improve not only service coordination but, ultimately, outcomes for children and families. While various policy and practice frameworks encourage collaboration, less attention is given to the practitioner skills needed to collaborate at the grassroots – that is, a practitioner’s ‘collaborative competence’.

This webinar summarised recent research on what works to strengthen practitioners’ collaborative competence. Drawing on a recent paper by CFCA, it outlined three strategies for developing collaborative competence:

  • understanding the differences between sectors
  • clarifying the specifics of collaboration
  • communicating with collaborative partners.

A case study of a partnership between child protection and a community outreach service for high-risk young people in Queensland illustrated how these strategies can be applied in practice; and specifically, how they are translated into shared values and principles that guide collaborative practice between practitioners.

This webinar is of interest to professionals working in child protection, child and family welfare, mental health, housing, alcohol and other drugs, family violence, youth services and related services.

Audio transcripts (edited)

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today's webinar which is titled 'Collaborative Practice in Child and Family Welfare, Building Practitioners Competence.' My name is Rhys Price-Robertson, and I'm a workforce development manager here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, or AIFS as we like to call it. I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting in Melbourne, this is the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present and to the Elders from other communities who may be participating today. In today's webinar we are discussing collaborative approaches for practitioners working in the welfare sector. We know collaboration can lead to better outcome so today we're going to talk about the skills needed to build a practitioner's collaborative competence. Our presenters will summarise the research in this field and discuss a partnership between a child protection agency and a community outreach service for high-risk young people in Queensland which will provide a good example of how collaboration is working in practice.

I'd like to take a minute to acknowledge that we're participating in this webinar during a very difficult and uncertain time, just as the Coronavirus is having a big impact on all of our lives. I imagine that the working arrangements of many of you who are involved today will be changing or in some kind of flux. So our suggestion for today is that we don't try to bracket out this uncertainty in flux, so let's allow it into our conversation to the extent that we can. This webinar was prepared before Coronavirus but that doesn't mean that we can't use it to reflect on the current state of things. So some questions you might want to hold in mind as you listen are what does effective collaboration look like now in these circumstances. How might collaboration be different over the next few months and what does this whole situation tell us about the need for concepts like collaborative competence. Hopefully in our question time at the end we can come back to these things. All right so to our presenters. With me here in the AIFS studio is Nicky Paterson. Hello Nicky.

MS PATERSON: Hello everyone.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Nicky is a Research Officer at AIFS working on the CFCA and Emerging Minds projects. Our next two presenters are going to - really going to walk the walk of collaboration today and present their section of the webinar together. So we have Toni Cash, Manager of Practice Advice and Support at the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women in Queensland. And we have Chloe Warrell, Team Leader at BEROS-Community Living Association in Brisbane. They will discuss their approach to partnership and how effective partnerships can be brokered between government and non-government organisations. Okay, now I'll hand over to Nicky.

MS PATERSON: Okay hello everyone, I'm Nicky Paterson and I'm a Research Officer here at AIFS, and like Rhys said, I'm working across both the CFCA team and the Emerging Minds project. So my part of the presentation today is going to be based on a new practice paper that we've released here at AIFS and this is it up on the slide here. It's called, 'Working Together to Keep Children and Families Safe: Strategies for Developing Collaborative Competence'. So this paper was written by a number of researchers here at AIFS including Rhys and also Adam Dean who is here with us today. And the paper was co-produced by these two teams, so CFCA and Emerging Minds. This is a really interesting paper for us to put together. We did a number of stakeholder consultations with people doing the actual frontline work in the sector early last year and that included people who are working both in the child protection system as well as those who are working in the child and family welfare services both child and adult-focused. And so just to clarify, when I'm talking about child and family welfare services today, it's going to be broadly referring to roles such as family support workers, family violence works, mental health workers, alcohol and other drug workers and so on. So really anyone working with children or families who have multiple and complex needs in a non-statutory capacity but who are likely to be interacting with those statutory child protection roles.

So in these consultations, we asked workers to tell us about their experiences of collaboration between child protection and child and family welfare. We asked them what they felt was working, what they felt wasn't working and what they thought we could try to do to support them in their efforts. And really despite any of the challenges, at the end of the day practitioners working both in statutory and non-statutory roles were wanting the same thing, which was positive outcomes for their clients, so children and families. So this is what I'm going to be really focusing in on today, how we can support you as practitioners to collaborate as best you can across the statutory and non-statutory roles.

So why did we focus on collaboration between child protection and child and family services? First of all the evidence tells us that this particular collaboration is really essential to effective practice for children and families. In saying that however, in our consultations with practitioners and other professionals, we were really hearing that they were having difficulties trying to work together collaboratively across roles and there seemed to be a tension that was particularly felt between child protection and child and family welfare services. So that's when those statutory and non-statutory roles were coming together, we were hearing that this wasn't always working that well. This can really have a negative impact on the workers who are trying their best to do these pretty difficult jobs but even more importantly it can impact the children who are involved and who are really relying on that cohesive and wraparound support.

It became clear to us through the consultations, and we also confirmed this in our literature search that these cross-sectoral tensions as we're kind of calling them, were really mostly the product of structural level difficulties. So this could be things like not having enough time or resources to work together effectively, practitioners having to act outside their roles, not enough services to refer clients to, not enough information and so on. So while the sector was really kind of trying to move towards better collaboration, it seems like practitioners were saying they were feeling like they were left in the dark to work this out on their own. And they often had little guidance or kind of practical advice on how to do this. And as I'm sure any frontline workers listening in today already know, it can be really difficult to try and collaborate within a service system that's fragmented or operating these kinds of silos.

So in saying that there are some things that you can do in the meantime as individual practitioners. And this is really the skillset that I'm going to hone in on today and what we're going to be referring to is collaborative competence. So this is a term that's been increasingly used in the literature and really it describes an individual practitioner's skill in developing and being able to sustain these cross-sectoral relationships in the real world. So it kind of does sound a bit jargony but really it's drawing down on the idea of inter-professional expertise. So being able to navigate this kind of grey area in practice that's not really just about following protocols or procedures, but also not really just about requiring sort of technical skills as you can see in the quote on the slide.

So collaborative competence as we are calling it is a skillset that practitioners can hone and cultivate on their own and the idea is that this is something practitioners can really draw on to work effectively with other practitioners, even when that structural system maybe is not working that well to formally support these collaborations. And I just want to say this kind of goes to Rhys's point about the current climate that we're all experiencing where things are really rapidly changing due to the Coronavirus. Workplaces are changing, and the way that we have to think about working with our clients might also be changing out of necessity, so just try to keep in mind how concepts like this collaborative competence idea might work for you, or might be able to help you continue to work as best you can whilst we're in these uncertain circumstances. And just quickly I just want to say that ideally this is all happening in conjunction with improvements to the structural barriers as well but we really need both the structural and practitioner level approaches to working together. But we really just wanted to do something that would help support practitioners with where they're at right now, and how they can really navigate the current system that we're in.

So collaborative competence can mean different things for people that are in different sectors but when looking specifically at child protection and child and family welfare practitioners, my colleagues and I found that collaborative competence can be strengthened by these three broad strategies, so up on the slide here. And they were understanding, clarifying and communicating. It is really likely that you're doing a lot of these already and I just want to acknowledge that, but this is kind of a concept that's really just about promoting discussion, reinforcing good practice that you're already doing, and maybe just giving you ideas or other strategies if you feel like that might be helpful. It's important that you can trust your own expertise and really just use this webinar to reflect on what might be a fit for you in your particular role.

So both the research and in our round tables we found that a major barrier to collaboration was when practitioners had some limits to their understanding of the other sectors, and to the realistic scope of each other's roles. So when practitioners felt that other workers may be misunderstood what they could realistically be doing in their roles, this relationship tension was likely to get magnified. The decisions or behaviours of workers could then be at risk of being misinterpreted and this could lead to feelings of mistrust in the relationship which can be quite damaging. So as each role will have its own conceptual framework that informs their practice, it's important that practitioners really understand the scope of their partner organisations. So the aims of the organisation's practice, their roles and responsibilities, how they understand and respond to client needs and even things like who their primary client really is.

So for example in the child protection sector, the primary client is the child alone, whereas in the child and family welfare sector, practitioners might have equal responsibility for the welfare of the whole family or even just the parent if they're an adult client. A simple misunderstanding in this space can really add to the tension in these relationships and can leave these workers feeling misaligned. So up on the slide we've just got a short summary of some of the key differences between the child protection and child and family welfare sectors, and you can see a more detailed version of this in our paper if you're interested. And just briefly I want to say that this is obviously kind of a basic version of this information and I want to acknowledge that it might be slightly different for different organisations or roles. So understanding also the context of an organisation can help to foster your overall understanding. So each organisation is really going to have its own history, its legislative framework, and then things like organisational identity, its values, languages, cultures and so on. When this is really well understood across both parties, it can be a real asset to collaboration.

So bringing that diversity of perspectives and expertise can be invaluable for working out complex practice issues and it can lead to creative solutions for clients. So the strategy is really about minimising misunderstandings and reducing any unrealistic expectations that might exist on either side of the collaboration. In our paper when we talk about this we also provide some ideas for practice. So this is that kind of more explicit practical advice on how you could apply this information to your own practice context. So these will be relevant for some people listening and kind of not so much for other and they're not meant to be prescriptive, they're really just suggestions for you to consider or to dismiss as is relevant to you. So a couple that we mentioned in the paper included attending interagency meetings if and where possible. Or raising this with your supervisor if it's not available to you. And also drawing on the wisdom of senior practitioners. So, for example, meeting with them to discuss their knowledge of how roles in the sector interact or even asking for specific practical guidance on issues of collaboration.

So the next strategy we had was to clarify. So once practitioners have a good big picture understanding of the sectors, they can really clarify where collaboration is necessary and what this should look like. So things to consider might include questions like would collaboration be beneficial with this particular child and family. What would the roles and responsibilities be for both practitioners involved in the collaboration and what might be the barriers or facilitators to collaboration in a specific case. Research tells us that collaboration tends to be most effective when practitioners have a clear understanding of their own roles as well as a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities that their collaborating partners have. So this is talking about the statutory and non-statutory roles. And also a sense of the ways in which they might be able to collaborate in a particular case scenario. So the confusion that can sometimes be there around whose role or whose responsibility things are during the case planning phase can have quite a negative impact on practice. It can lead to things like duplication, waste of resources and even at an extreme end it can impact assessments of risk or even the provision of services.

Practitioners can feel like they're in a bit of a power struggle with another worker sometimes when these boundaries aren't clear and this can lead to feelings of burnout and stress. So having clarity around your own roles and responsibilities is really important. You could ask questions like for example, 'What are the decision-making processes I'm expected to follow?' 'What procedures should I follow when I have concerns about the safety of children or families that I'm working with?' 'How do existing protocols and regulations affect the scope of this work?' And it's important to also know the same about your collaborative partners. So this can all help to contribute to a more effective working relationship. You might even find it useful if possible to bring all parties together to discuss their roles and responsibilities, particularly when you're able to reiterate shared goals. So remembering that role clarification can really be an ongoing process, and this might be something that needs to be kind of consistently negotiated and also reinforced.

So again we had a couple of ideas for practice with this one. And some of them, for example, were checking in with your supervisor if you feel like the reality of your daily workload isn't really reflected in your role statement. This might be something that needs to be discussed and reviewed. So this is when you really feel like you're working outside the scope of your role, and this was something that came up a lot in the forums that we ran with practitioners last year. Other ideas included mapping out services in your area and trying to keep this information as up to date as possible. And also again to just reiterate your shared goals. So try and keep in mind that even when it doesn't feel like it, it is likely that there is a shared goal between practitioners and also with your clients which will be about keeping children safe. It's likely that everyone is trying to do their best to achieve these goals and it can be helpful to articulate this when there's some tension within that relationship.

So the last strategy we had was communicate. Once practitioners really understand the sector, sorry understand the other sector, once they're clear about the role they can play in collaboration and the roles that others can play, then they're in a really good position to communicate effectively about that collaboration. So not really talking about the kind of microskills of communication here, more like the broad actions that practitioners can take to communicate more effectively within those relationships. So as well as things that I'm sure you're already doing like active listening and nonverbal communication, these are some of the points to remember as part of your ongoing interaction. So up here on the slide. So they could be things like naming the process, so what is and isn't working, that can be really helpful particularly if the relationship is feeling a bit stuck. And I also just want to highlight that point about sharing joint successes which can be really important. And again we had some practical ideas for improving these high-level communication skills, including a couple, for example, meeting face to face wherever possible. This can help to build rapport and really minimise miscommunications. And clearly delegating tasks during the case planning phase, particularly when those tasks come up that might not fit into anyone's specific role.

And the last one was to agree on your communication, expectations and processes ahead of time where possible. Okay, so just to sum up. These are the points that I think are the most important take home messages up here on the slide. And really just to emphasise that there are these three broad strategies that can help you to increase your collaborative competence and they are understanding, clarifying and communicating. So keep this in mind as you're listening to the next presentation today and I really encourage you to download the full paper if you want any further detail on this material. So thanks everyone for listening in today and thanks for all the great work you're doing out there in the sector supporting children and families, and now I'll hand over to Toni and Chloe.

MS CASH: Thank you Nicky, and good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us. My name is Toni Cash and I'm the Manager of Practice Advice and Support which is a state-wide team that assists child safety staff and our partners in Queensland, and we work across the State. And - - -

MS WARRELL: I'm Chloe Warrell, I'm the Team Leader for BEROS or Brisbane Emergency Response Outreach Service, a little bit longwinded, in the Brisbane and lower North Coast districts within Queensland.

MS CASH: We – sorry we would like to also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are talking to you from today, for us that is the Yugara and Jagera and Turrbal peoples of Brisbane. We also want to acknowledge past, present and emerging Elders and leaders of those countries but also of all the countries on which you are all listening in across the country today. It's critical to us because we work in the child protection world, myself in the government, Chloe from non-government area, that we acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of every land in Australia cared well for their children the millennia before colonisation occurred and colonisation is what has disrupted those great care practices. And that it's really important for us when we work in this space to continually be paying attention to that and looking for where we can get back to those traditional childcare and child-raising practices. And we want to acknowledge young people and their families who have taught Chloe and I and those that we work with so much over the years of our work. Their stories and their spirit are here with us as we're talking to you today and as together with all of you we think through ethical practice solutions to how we partner with young people with complex behaviours and needs.

Today we are going to just quickly run through some thoughts, we're going to talk to you about what we think working in partnership is, so you know, providing practical example of what Nicky has been talking about. We're going to spend some time looking at the values and principles because that ties back to the ideas of communication and understanding what we've got in common. We're going to talk about working with complexity and barriers. Throughout this 20 minutes or 25 minutes or so we're going to use a case study. It's a case study from BEROS so Chloe will take us in parts through a case study as it relates to each of those things. And then that will be us really, and we will be back over to Rhys for some questions.

MS WARRELL: As Toni said, a large part of our work is centring young people in our practice and how we partner with them in our practice ongoing. So throughout today we'd also like to include some quotes from the young people that we've worked with and support on a daily basis. So they are really good for emotional support and if you need help with the majority of things, like appointments and things like that, they come and pick you up and take you there and make the appointments with you, help you work through the stuff, and yes, they're really supportive with a lot of things.

MS CASH: Sounds like a young person might have said that. We just want to name up with some assumptions that we are holding onto as we speak, so we'd encourage you to be thinking about these assumptions and if something in here makes you think oh we want to you know, explore that idea or that concept a bit more in our teams or in our supervision or myself as an individual, well that would be helpful. So we – we hold values, attitudes and beliefs as being really critical to this type of work. So it's really important that we all do some exercise around our values and beliefs and sometimes you might do that in teams, all sorts of different places. There's an evidence base to our work with young people, so we - just naming the key assumed evidence bases that we're working form. We use trauma, attachment and development as the underpinning evidence basis to the work we do. Our organisations hold different frameworks for practice and we see this difference as a point of strength, not as a point of conflict. And differences in our frameworks gives us a really solid base to get some benefits for children and young people.

Young people experiencing or engaging in high-risk behaviours and complex needs are more vulnerable to having their human rights neglected. This – we're using our act there, but this is true for this cohort of young people anywhere in our country, that because we're so worried about them they're quite vulnerable in that space. And language is critically important to how you do this work well and has the potential to help or hinder our work. So in our work together in our partnership work, we would reach agreements about language, so we would use the language of young person, not describing a young person as a kid, and we would talk about the young person we work with, not our or my young person. And language, that sort of language helps us to be in that common space, it's very important to how we work.

MS WARRELL: So as Toni said, we have very different practice frameworks between BEROS and Child Safety but there are also some really important key themes that help us to join in our practice a little bit more effectively and understand each other. So we'll just quickly have a bit of a look at our practice frameworks in terms of we both have a heavy focus on relationship. We both talk about working at young – about centred - person-centred practice. And we both – we both sit with a lot of risk, and how we manage this might look a little bit different on the ground but it's really important to think about how we manage this in an ongoing way in partnership. And alongside a young person throughout that practice. Quote No.2, 'So I'm just like it's the best service and just like honestly it's the best service I've ever worked with. Yes with all of the connections through the department and being in care, honestly BEROS and all that definitely my favourite out of all of them. There's just more of a – they just care more. I don't know, it seems more genuine the workers.'

So working in partnership collaborative competence. Toni and I broke this down into about six dot points which I think fits really neatly with what the paper and what Nicky was just discussing earlier today. So understanding the difference in sectors. We see this broken down into managing power dynamics and effective power sharing and accessing resources and strengths. So the sum of our resources and strengths is greater in partnership than individually. I think in all of our workers as social workers, we hold power and there is power dynamics at play, but I think it's important to remember that those power dynamics are not only in play with our clients and with the young people that we're supporting, they're in play with each other. And we need to talk about how we effectively manage those different levels of power. So for example statutory coming in with a non-statutory intervention and what that looks like in our partnerships. As the line says, some of our resources and strengths is greater in partnership than individually. It's about what everyone can bring to the table for the young person including the young person, and acknowledging that we all have different resources and strengths and we need to think about how we can make these neatly fit together for the best outcomes for young people.

Clarifying the specifics of collaboration. So clarity of roles and responsibilities to underpin effective partnership and clarifying who is best positioned to undertake tasks. Again as Nicky referenced, I think taking the opportunity at the beginning of your work together it's really important to clarify the roles and responsibilities not only for ourselves as partners, but for the people, the young people and the people and the families that we're working with. I think we talk a lot about windows of opportunity in our work and we have to be able to clearly support young people when there is a window of opportunity who's going to do what and what roles and responsibilities do we do, do we take on. And clarifying who is best positioned to undertake these tasks. It ties in heavily with this and would be part of the same conversation, but it's more about who's going to do that practical day to day stuff. So for example if their office is supporting a young person and has a relationship with the young person that child safety doesn't, how can we do a housing application but in practice we still need child safety to join us in that and do something called a joint action plan. So who is best positioned to do what and who is best positioned to work with the young person in a direct capacity versus maybe a bit more of a back seat and how do we use those different roles.

Communicating with collaborative partners. So developing effective communication processes and pathways including the management of conflict when it arises, which as we've discussed it inevitably will. And reflecting on our successes and challenges to keep improving. So again joining in on those celebrations like Nicky was talking about. I think what happens when communication isn't working well, I'm hoping that in good collaborative competence we're all doing that at the start of our practice together and that we've hopefully built relationship with each other and not just the young person to be able to revisit those communication processes down the line.

MS CASH: So here we go with part 1 of the case study that Chloe is going to talk about throughout this little bit of time.

MS WARRELL: So we've attempted to link each part of the case study to the thing we've just talked about. So talking about working in partnership and how we start setting that up at the beginning of our work. So this is a referral for a 14 year old young woman who's been self-placing for a number of months across locations including family and peer networks, heavily disengaged from her CSO and the other people around her and hadn't physically been sighted for a number of months. Child Safety identified concerns around drug use, usually methamphetamines and specifically intravenous use, disconnection from supports, Youth Justice involvement, breaching orders, potential exploitation and transactional sex occurring for drugs and housing.

So what did this look like in practice for us at the start of our practice. It was about Child Safety providing the information and contacts around the young person's identified safe networks in order for us to effectively start engaging the young person. Child Safety providing updates to BEROS if they had contact or any new information which may be helpful around BEROS engagement. For example court dates where we might be able to pop our face in, meet a young person. BEROS communicating with Child Safety about all attempts made to contact the young person, and some very sometimes challenging conversations around what our role was going to be in the support and how our practice might look very different on the ground being a non-statutory involvement. Acknowledging that the young person there was lots of risks and lots of worries from Child Safety's end and all of our ends, but how does our practice framework work a little bit differently to engage this group of young people.

MS CASH: So this idea of values and principles and being able to articulate those is really helpful to collaborative partnership. Helps us to work out as Nicky reference, what do we have in common. So these are our sorts of values and principles around this work. So we know that some young people need a different response because of the complexity of their behaviours. So that helps us to stop trying to with some young people to stop using our traditional ways and go to a different way of working. We want our casework to be responsible to the individual needs and circumstances of each young person and so that should tell us some of what our practice looks like going back to the case study in terms of thinking that it might – it would be very pragmatic some of what we would be talking about.

We know that relational practice is effective in working with young people with complex needs, so we're vesting in that both with the young people but with each other. And with all the other people in young people's lives that can help them to live better safer lives. We understand that these complex behaviours while they look dangerous and destructive to us, are there because they are meeting a need for the young person. And so we've got some respect and understanding for the behaviour. We do have this thing in common, we all want every young person we work with to be safe and to have their belonging and wellbeing needs met. So in that inevitable time when we are splitting and having some conflict, that we return to this commonality that we all have.

And over to our other slide. Together we bring a variety of skills and resources that we can use to build that relationship so that's the purpose of this, that we've got skills and resources to build relationship, provide support, get better help, you know, to better outcomes. We use the difference in our frameworks to allow us to have a critical and reflective lens to the work that we do because this work is very high risk and very complex, we will get into that space where there's conflict but actually our difference means that we've got people looking at this from different perspectives, and that's really helpful to us. The collaborative partnerships and collaborative competence, our value around this is that no one can actually work with this level of complexity and danger and risk on their own. That partnership approaches are the only way that we can do this work safely, so we're heavily invested into that. And the partnership is the way in which we can provide meaningful difference as our colleague Paul Whitney would say, for young people having a different way of help and asking for help and receiving help. And we also know that this type of complex work takes its toll on those who are directly working with and caring for young people. So the partnership has to look after those people and manage the toll it's going to take on us all as we do this work.

MS WARRELL: Yes they don't tell Child Safety or anyone anything unless I feel like I'm in danger. It feels good. I've told the worker a lot of things and I feel safe. So this young person is directly referencing our little bit of a different approach to confidentiality which is also one of the things that we find sometimes the most difficult to navigate in our partnership. So this part of the case study starts talking about our values and our principles that we bring into practice. So after a number of months where I was engaging with a young person's ex-foster carer who was her one safe person she would regularly return and referred to as Mum, the young person had the opportunity to meet BEROS and begin engaging in case management support. It became apparent that the young person was not only disengaged from Child Safety but was actually finding herself in a highly conflictual relationship with her CSO and team leader, resulting in punitive responses to the young person's choices and access to resources.

The young person continued to engage with BEROS but would often refuse to engage with Child Safety and on occasions where BEROS supported the young person to attend the Child Safety service centre there were significant practice concerns. So for example on one occasion the CSO grabbed the young person's arm in reception to see if there had been any recent intravenous drug use. So I think this comes back to one, our overwhelming fear and worry for the young people that we support, and then we do sometimes see unhelpful practices occur due to this overwhelming fear. We also had very different perspectives in this piece of work about engaging with the ex-foster carer. So the young person had actually been removed from this person at one state, Child Safety no longer deemed them appropriate as a carer and would only utilise them when they needed information about the young person. However we'd seen a real passion for the young person returning to the carer, they'd been in her care since they were six weeks old until they were 12 or 13, and they were her one safe consistent person. So we decided that in the interests of acknowledging who was important in her life, it was really important that we supported that relationship and used that relationship as a way to engage with the young person but also to build safety around her.

MS CASH: Okay so next is some strategies we've found successful in working with complexity and so these are practical things, hope you enjoy them. We've already touched on this idea of relationship-based practice, that is continuing all the way through. So things like being in physical contact with each other when we can and celebrating with meals together or having meals together or you know doing a range of things that build our relationship. The growing of young people's genuine participation in the process is really important. So we're often needing the skills of scaffolding young people around that. It wouldn't be uncommon for us to see young people not at all participating in any planning in their lives at the beginning, and what we're trying to do is gradually move them through you know, starting to give some feedback into planning processes, to coming along to the, you know planning meetings until some of the young people that we've worked with run their own planning meetings as you would hope by the end of or along the pathway of our work.

Using partnership to hold risk, we've already talked about. Our responses are individual to the young people, so making sure we understand their individual circumstances. This we would see in really detailed plans, we would see in discussions about what happens if the plan doesn't work. We would see all of that. How we care for the safety and support network and manage the transference and projection that occurs, if only Child Safety would do this, BEROS just did that, you know that kind of transference projection, how we manage that. Our burnout vulnerability to vicarious trauma is big in this area. The use of networks to hold and contain each other. And supervision and use of specialists, so we've put that one three, consulting with others. And that might include people like drug and alcohol specialists or mental health specialists who are visiting us at times to help us.

MS WARRELL: So I always like to preface this with saying that this was – this case study was not the best example of working in partnership from both perspectives but it is a really good example of how we overcame some very different value positions and ideas around what our roles would look like. So by the end of the support the young person had accessed legal support to make a formal complaint about her CSO and see a new CSO. It was assessed over a long period of time that that relationship was just not helpful for anyone within that safety and support network any longer, and was actually being quite a hindrance for the young person to access the things she needed to thrive. The young person was supported through BEROS service for three years through many different contexts and circumstances. She also experienced a pregnancy whilst in care and an IA that was unsubstantiated and meant she actually got to keep her baby. And her foster carer was a large part in that. So there was a lot of advocacy work with Child Safety and other members of the care team to include the foster carer in safety and support network meetings or stakeholder meetings. And she was even when the young person was not living with her, she would be a part of those meetings and played an ongoing role in the young person's life and her baby's life.

We had to have quite a big management meeting around this particular young person because we were just having a lot of difficulty working through the partnership on the ground and under direct worker level. That meant that there was an eventual decision that predominant case management and casework actually sat with BEROS for a long period of time as the people who had the relationship with the young person. And that Child Safety used their framework and their practice to take a bit of a back seat and support it through a bit of a more disconnected role. And eventually the young person chose to reengage with Child Safety in her own time, was able to engage in antenatal care, reduce her drug use to the point she was no longer using, obtain housing, maintain her relationship with her ex-carer, and maintain the care of her baby post is birth and still to this day. So I think it's a good example of sometimes we just need to talk about who needs to take a step back but how can we still be involved and play a part in that care team, and how do we work through those really difficult times together to get to the best interest of the young person.

MS CASH: The next one.

MS WARRELL: So barriers to working in partnership which I think both sides of the fence, both statutory and non-statutory can see these as issues. So staff turnover. So I think the job safety framework in Queensland especially supports good practice but due to high staff turnover we often see that people slot into their roles and the turnover is so high that we're not seeing some of that good practice filter to the ground on occasions, or that really strong practice framework. Supervision and support. So BEROS is in a very privileged of having really good access to supervision, professional development and in-house support that we need to acknowledge that not all of our partners, all of the time, have equal access to. And that supervision and support really does allow us to work in good partnerships but also with complexity. Ideas around best interests of the child or young person. So what is probably a point of conflict when everyone sitting around the table had different ideas of best interests of the young person. And then there in conflict with what the child or the young person thinks is in their best interests. And how we work through this is always navigating how we get to a point of agreeance and meet each other in the middle.

The statutory authority and power Child Safety hold and when they use this in a really unhelpful manner. The lack of communication. So it's really hard to do our job as non-government partners when calls, emails et cetera regularly go unanswered. But also acknowledging the pressure and time constraints that our Child Safety partners are under. And there is a lot more red tape, a lot higher caseloads, et cetera at that end, and we need to have some empathy and understanding for that as well. Competing agendas. Again when all of the agendas sitting around the table are a little bit different and maybe very different to the young persons and the young person's perspective is not centred to our practice and their voice isn't centred to our practice. And that propensity to tell our partners what to do. So that really unhelpful use of power.

MS CASH: Child Safety are probably a little more vulnerable to that and there's you know it's good to explore some of that idea because in our case BEROS is actually funded by Child Safety. So there's some underpinning power things that we want to name up and be careful that we're not engaged in that sort of conversation and we're a working partnership.

MS WARRELL: Just to - - -

MS CASH: And we just want to probably finish.

MS WARRELL: Yeah just to finish on a young person's vote and - - -

MS CASH: Letting the young person have the last - - -

MS WARRELL: - - - keeping the young person - - -

MS CASH: - - - word.

MS WARRELL: 'I had the option. It was you could work with us or we'll help you out with a lot of the support stuff. Or you could easily just say no and we wouldn't bother you again. And I felt like that was really good because it gave me the choice if I wanted to work with them or not.'

MS CASH: A couple of references, and we've got our contact details if you were wanting to make contact with us to talk about anything at a later date and that will be on the slides as Nicky and Rhys talked about. So back over to you, thank you very much for listening everybody.

MS WARRELL: Thank you.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: And thank you Toni and Chloe and thanks Nicky for your presentations, they were great. Okay now we have time for some questions and just for our presenters we've got about 15 minutes for questions and we have a few questions, maybe five or six questions, so that will give you some sense of how long you can talk for. The first question for – I'll put this to Nicky first but the others can join in as well. 'How do you ensure that collaborative work continues when there are staff turnover?' So this is something that Chloe touched on but do you have anything to say about that Nicky?

MS PATERSON: I think it's a really good and pertinent question. And as Chloe mentioned, it is a barrier to these partnerships. I have a few things I guess that come to mind on this question. The first being that this is really part of a bigger structural issue, that the lack of kind of time or resources that practitioners have to genuinely be able to do this work in partnership. But I think so there kind of needs to be solutions in a structural – at a structural level. But at a practitioner level I think to me this really emphasises the importance of that communication strategy that I talked about in my presentation. I think communication just has to be key. This can be things like case noting as well as the importance of establishing those relationships and laying the foundation if another person comes in that there's that goodwill and that foundation is there for the new person to try to work with their collaborative partner. And I think it also emphasises the importance of being explicit in communication and not being – not kind of shying away from uncomfortable conversations, agreeing on what the expectations are ahead of time. And I think I mentioned in my presentation that this might be something that changes, like so roles can change as well as personnel. And the collaboration really just is something that needs to be negotiated in an ongoing basis and needs to be adapted and reinforced. So there needs to be a degree of flexibility to that. And I think as well as that I didn't – I don't think I got a chance to mention this in my presentation but I think it's really important to also include the clients in that conversation and I know that Toni and Chloe really emphasised that as an important part. Also, the only other thing I would say is the point that I made about meeting in person I think can also be something that's helpful in this space to just try to build that rapport as quickly and as best you can.


MS CASH: Just to add to that, we would make use of – we call them safety and support networks but you might, the, you know, language of care teams or stakeholder groups, whatever your language is. We use the safety and support networks to be able to manage that turnover and fluidity, so a young person is at the centre of their safety and support network. They might be quite small networks at the beginning but part of our job in partnership is to make that network robust enough to carry through so a CSO, a child safety officer turning over or you know, their mental health worker or grandma can't just now deal with this, but someone else can. So we use the use of safety and support networks to hold through that flux and that's – it's just the nature of this work that you will never get stability.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Okay thank you, Nicky and Toni, there's some really good advice in there. We'll move on to the next question. This is for Toni and Chloe. 'Could you please expand on the limited confidentiality and how that impacts practice?'

MS WARRELL: I knew I'd get a question about this.

MS CASH: We dropped a teaser there. Yes would be.

MS WARRELL: So we're in a unique position in BEROS where we're funded by the Department of Child Safety, Brisbane region in Queensland. But we are actually not statutory – we're not mandatory reporters. So what we are mandated to report is when we've had contact with the young person and any immediate safety concerns for them or someone around them that will impact them. So in the reasoning for that is that actually we work with a very specific group of young people in care, young people who are self-placing. And there was a very big acknowledgement a couple of years ago after the Carmody review that we weren't as a sector servicing this group of young people very well. They were very mistrusting of the Department and other services because of poor experiences and that part of building the relationship. And part of skill-building for them is about working towards shared confidentiality with the Department. So we talk about confidentiality is never a once-off conversation, it's a conversation we have with the young person every time we're seeing them about what we can take back to Child Safety that day and what we need to take back. But it's also about giving them some of that power and control in their decision making whilst recognising their basic human rights.

MS CASH: And the – there's a – it's a challenge because I don't know about other statutory departments, but our statutory department certainly has this strong sense of responsibility and a worry about what happens if something goes wrong and we didn't – we didn't know a particular piece of information. So that goes back to how we build trust, how our relational practice grows stronger, that we have enough trust in our partners in BEROS to know that they would tell us what we needed to know. And some of it is an internal ability to manage some of our own – it comes back to that power about being a statutory authority, that we've got a lot of power and part of power it feels like we should know everything and there's a bit of anxiety in managing that. And also sometimes a little bit of arrogance in thinking that if we knew we might be able to make it better rather than you know trust in the network that's around this young person. And our colleagues in BEROS who'd got often the lad because they are there having the daily conversations with these young people and their families and other parts of their networks.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Thanks for that answer. Now we had a few questions to Toni and Chloe, a simple one maybe. 'What does IA stand for?'

MS CASH: Just as Chloe said that I thought I should fix that. Its investigation and assessment. So our – when someone tells the Department that they're worried about a child or a family, I think like any other statutory organisation we listen to that worry. We have some technical decision making that occurs then about what we do about the worry, and when we go out face to face with families to say, 'We've received some concerns and we're worried about your child, can we talk to you' that's called an investigation and assessment IA, and I should fix that on the slide thank you.

MS WARRELL: Apologies.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Very good, it's all cleared up. Okay to you guys again relating to case study 3 this question is. 'So thinking about the issue with the CSO and how this was managed, could you share with us your conflict management procedure and how you set this up at the beginning of the partnership without souring the relationship by talking about negative situations?'

MS WARRELL: Yep so - - -

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: And maybe more broadly this could be expanded out about potentially, and Nicky you might want to add something after, like how could you have difficult conversations without souring the relationship.

MS WARRELL: Yeah for us it's about the conversations always have to happen between the direct workers first. So I really encourage that, if a worker is experiencing conflict or just even a level of disagreement or discomfort in the relationship with another worker, that they need to be starting to have those conversations directly with that worker, encourage that that stuff happens face to face or over the phone rather than written because I think we can sometimes write things that can come across as very blunt or be misunderstood. And I think it's about seeking supervision from your supervisor about how to appropriately manage that conversation because it's going to be different every time depending on what that relationship and partnership looks like and what the – that the clash is. I think all of those conversations did happen for us in that scenario and then it started happening at a team leader level and then it unfortunately had to go to a management level just because it was irresolvable. And it was really unfortunate in this perspective. It was a massive attempt of use of power by Child Safety so things like we're not giving her a placement because she made her bed and now she can sleep in it. Checking her for the intravenous drug marks in the middle of reception. And things that we were just - there's just too many breaches of someone's basic human rights here and this is not helpful and this person is not building a relationship with this young person and actually they're pushing them further away. So sometimes those conversations just can't keep happening at a direct worker level when they're that concerning.

MS CASH: And I think the other thing is going back to values just in the values base in terms of not having it as a negative – negative thing. We would say at the beginning of the work that it isn't if we are going to have conflict or difficulty or have to have difficult conversations, it is when we are going to be having those challenging conversations or ethical dilemmas that we need to thrash through with each other. So naming that up at the start because the nature of this work, the risk that we're carrying, the toll it takes on us because you know these sort of young people here are young people that we're worried - on any given day we'd be worried that one or other of these young people might die. And so it's very high risk. So naming that up in our values at the beginning about isn't if but when, and that's no reflection on any of us, we've all got what we've got in common that we want the best outcomes. And so we're giving, you know we're acknowledging the difficulty, we're paying attention to the needs of the safety and support network and you know, we would also talk about well what structures. So one of the things my team does from time to time is step in when safety and support network are in their corners and unable to work through something, and so we come in a bit objectively to help us to get back into our spaces where we're back focused on what we've got in common, the safety, belonging and well-being of the young person.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Yeah that sounds like a really good example of really clear and honest communication right at the start of the partnership, yep. Nicky, did you have anything you wanted to add about this?

MS PATERSON: I mean I agree with everything that Toni and Chloe have said. I guess I would just say to an extent you know, these conversations are really difficult but in a way it's part of the job I guess and you really just have to be comfortable with sitting in that uncomfortability and not being afraid to clearly name these problems when they're coming up even though that can be really uncomfortable. So I would just encourage people to be brave to name what's going on and then seek support from managers if they need that. And I know that there's things like training out there that people can access about how to do these difficult conversations effectively yep.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Good thanks, Nicky. Okay, this will probably be the last question from a listener. 'Could a position be created for a BEROS worker to be placed within the CSO office? Would this help collaboration of the two services?'

MS CASH: Look we – all models are helpful in child protection. So we have some other examples where we do have workers placed in Child Safety service centres like domestic and family violence models and workers. So we – that's a useful model in some circumstances. In this case we have elected not to go with that and I don't want to speak with Chloe, she can speak for herself, but from my perspective it wouldn't – it would take away a lot of the value of what we have achieved by having this model which is out, completely outside of Child Safety.

MS WARRELL: I think we'd also have to consider how do you manage confidentiality, how do you manage exposure to information that may be we don't need or want in our work. And that actually you don't have to sit in someone's specific office to have a collaborative partnership that is effective or have a relationship with another worker, we can do these things in so many other ways that I don't think it would be necessary to do that. I'm also a big believer, one, we're outreach workers, so we're always out on the road anyway and we barely have time to cross paths with one another let alone spend time sitting in a service centre. But I want workers to be able to come back to an office and a support service around them that is reinforcing their practice, that is reinforcing trauma-informed practice. That can sometimes get lost a little bit in some of our government agencies, not just Child Safety.

MR PRICE-ROBERTSON: Okay good, thank you. Well look that's all the time we have for questions today in this format. Thank you Nicky, Toni and Chloe and thank you everyone for attending today and please stay safe.

MS WARRELL: Thank you.

MS CASH: Thank you.

MS PATERSON: Thanks everyone.



The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

Slide outline

1. Collaborative practice in child and family welfare: Building practitioners’ competence

Nicole Paterson, Toni Cash and Chloe Warrell
CFCA webinar 
18 March 2020

2. Housekeeping

  • Send through your questions via the chat box at any time during the webinar.
  • Let us know if you don’t want your question published on the online forum following the presentation.
  • All our webinars are recorded.
  • The slides are available in the handout section of Gotowebinar.
  • The audio and transcript will be posted on our website and YouTube channel in the coming week.

3. Working together to keep children and families safe: Strategies for developing collaborative competence

Alt-text: Screenshot of the cover page of CFCA Paper 53: Working together to keep children and families safe.

  • A new practice paper aimed at supporting practitioners to navigate collaborative relationships
  • Co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health
  • Informed by consultations with professionals in the child protection and child and family welfare sector

The full practice paper is available for download on the CFCA website

4. Why focus on collaboration between child protection and child and family welfare services?

  • Cross-sectoral collaboration is an essential part of effective practice with children and families who have complex needs.
  • Service system is still fragmented, leaving practitioners without guidance on how to collaborate in an imperfect environment.
  • We identified a need to help practitioners to navigate cross-sectoral collaboration.

5. What is collaborative competence?

  • An individual practitioner’s collaborative skills or capabilities
  • The ability to develop and sustain effective cross-sectoral relationships in real-world working situations
  • Not something that can be prescribed through protocols and procedures, or acquired as technical competencies (Hood et al., 2016, p. 493)
  • A skillset that practitioners can draw on while collaborating in far-from-ideal service environments (Hood et al., 2016)

6. Strategies for developing collaborative competence

Alt-text: Key elements of collaborative competence: Communicate, Understand and Clarity

  • Understand the differences between sectors
  • Clarify the specifics of collaboration
  • Communicate with collaborative partners

7. Strategies for developing collaborative competence: Understand

Alt-text: Table showing the main characteristics and differences between child protection and child and family welfare sectors 

1. Feature- Primary client 
Child protection - Children 
Child and family welfare - Families, parents or children.

2. Feature - Primary focus 
Child protection - safety and wellbeing of children 
Child and family welfare - Safety and wellbeing of family members

3. Feature - Client engagement 
Child protection - Mainly involuntary 
Child and family welfare - Mainly involuntary

4. Feature - Coverage 
Child protection - Resources concentrated on families at high risk 
Child and family welfare - Resources available to more families at an earlier stage

5. Feature - Expertise 
Child protection - Identifying (risk factors for) child abuse and neglect 
Child and family welfare - Identifying therapeutic needs of family members

8. Strategies for developing collaborative competence: Clarify

Clarify the specifics of collaboration:

  • Own roles and responsibilities
  • Others’ roles and responsibilities
  • Possibilities for collaboration

9. Strategies for developing collaborative competence: Communicate

Communicate with collaborative partners

  • Articulate your shared understanding of collaboration
  • Share information
  • Address differences and conflict
  • Discuss how collaborative practice is going
  • Celebrate joint successes!

10. Summary 

  • Three broad strategies of collaborative competency: understand, clarify and communicate.
  • Both structural and practitioner-level solutions are needed.
  • Remember that there is often a common goal to support vulnerable children (or families), regardless of any differences between practices and ideas.
  • Don’t forget that children and families should be part of collaborative action as well.

11. References: Collaborative practice in child and family welfare: Building practitioners’ competence

  • Atkinson, M., Jones., M., & Lamont, E. (2007). Multi-agency working and its implications for practice. Reading, UK: CfBT.
  • Hood, R. (2015). How professionals experience complexity: An interpretive phenomenological analysis. Child Abuse Review,   24(2), 140–152.
  • Hood, R., Gillespie, J., & Davies, J. (2016). A conceptual review of interprofessional expertise in child safeguarding. Journal of   Interprofessional Care, 30(4), 493–498.
  • Hood, R., Price, J., Sartori, D., Maisey, D., Johnson, J., & Clark, Z. (2017). Collaborating across the threshold: The development of interprofessional expertise in child safeguarding. Journal of Interprofessional Care, 31(6), 705–713.
  • Orchard, C., & Bainbridge, L. (2016). Competent for collaborative practice: What does a collaborative practitioners look like   and how does the practice context influence interprofessional education? Journal of Taibah University Medical   Sciences, 11(6), 526–532.
  • Price-Robertson, R., Kirkwood, D., Dean, A., Hall, T., Paterson, N., & Broadley, K. (2020). Working together to keep children   and families safe: Strategies for developing collaborative competence. Melbourne, Vic.: CFCA.
  • Sims, D. (2011). Achieving collaborative competence through interprofessional education. Lessons learned from joint trading   in learning disability nursing and social work. Social Work Education, 30(1), 98–112.

12. Partnering in our work with young people with complex needs

Toni Cash, Manager, Practice Advice and Support, Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women 

Chloe Warrell, Team Leader, BEROS Brisbane & Lower North Coast 

13. Acknowledgements

  • We acknowledge the traditional owners of this land on which we are standing, talking and thinking together today. We acknowledge elders past and present and emerging leaders and any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the room today. We also recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have protected and raised their children for centuries and families and communities continue to do so while healing the hurt of colonisation.
  • We also acknowledge the young people and their families who have taught us so much. Their stories and their spirit are here with us in this room as we think through ethical practice solutions to partner with young people with complex behaviours and needs. 

14. Session outline

  • Working agreement and our knowledge assumptions for the session
  • Working in partnership
  • Values and principles in our work
  • Working with complexity
  • Barriers to partnership
  • Case study in parts
  • The Human Rights Act
  • Reflections
  • Questions

15. Young person 3 quote

‘They’re really good for emotional support, and if you need help with the majority of things, like appointments and things like that, they come and pick you up and take you there and make the appointments with you, help you work through the stuff. And yes, they’re really supportive with a lot of things.’ – YP3

16. Naming some assumptions

  • Values, attitudes and beliefs are critical in this type of work … do some ‘exercise’ of your values and beliefs.
  • There is an evidence base to our work with young people. Key assumed knowledge bases are: trauma, attachment and development.
  • Our organisations hold different frameworks for practice and we see this difference as a point of strength – not conflict.
  • Young people experiencing high-risk behaviours/complex needs are more vulnerable to having their human rights neglected (Human Rights Act (Qld) 2019)
  • Use of language has the potential to help or hinder our work:
    • Use young person not kid
    • Say ‘the young person we work with’ not our/my young person.

17. Our Frameworks - Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women & BEROS


  • Relationship
  • Voluntary cooperation
  • Confidentiality across systems
  • Transparent practice
  • Young person takes the lead on change
  • Work with the young person’s reality
  • Unconditional positive regard
  • Sitting with risk 

Knowledge base and theoretical perspectives: 

  • Harm minimisation
  • Trauma-informed practice
  • Development

Alt text: Screenshot of a poster of the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services - Framework for Practice.

Text description:

Our vision: Queensland children and young people are cared for, protected, safe and able to reach their full potential.


  • family and community connection
  • participation
  • partnership
  • cultural integrity
  • strengths and solutions
  • fairness
  • curiosity and learning.


We always focus on safety, belonging and wellbeing.

  • We recognise that cultural knowledge and understanding is central to children’s safety, belonging and wellbeing.
  • We build collaborative working relationships and use our authority respectfully and thoughtfully.
  • We listen to the views of children, families and communities and involve them in planning and decision making.
  • We build and strengthen networks to increase safety and support for children, young people and families.
  • We seek to understand the impact of the past, but stay focused on the present and the future.
  • We are rigorous and hopeful in our search for strengths and solutions.
  • We critically reflect on our work and continue to grow and develop our practice. 


  • Individual and family-based
  • Community and cultural-based
  • Research-based
  • Practitioner based
  • Systems based


  • Engagement: the development of effective working relationships
  • Assessment: critical reflection and robust decision making at key decision points
  • Planning: collaborative process for building rigorous change plans 
  • Process: focus on processes that support and reinforce the practice

19. Young person 1 quote

‘I’m just like, it’s the best service. I’m just like honestly, it’s the best service I’ve ever worked with, yes, with all the connections through the department, and being in care. Honestly, BEROS and all that, definitely my favourite out of all them. There’s just more of a, they just care more. I don’t know. It just seems more genuine, the workers.’ - YP1

20. Working in partnership - collaborative competence

Understand the difference in sectors

  • Managing power dynamics and effective power sharing
  • Accessing resources and strengths – the sum of our resources and strengths is greater in partnership than individually

Clarify the specifics of collaboration:

  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities to underpin effective partnership
  • Clarifying who is best positioned to undertake tasks

Communicate with collaborative partners:

  • Developing effective communication processes and pathways – including management of conflict when it arises
  • Reflecting on our successes and challenges to keep improving

21. Case study 
Part 1

  • Referral for 14-year-old young woman who had been self-placing for a number of months across locations - including family and peer networks
  • Dis-engaged from her CSO and hadn’t physically been sighted for a number of months
  • Child Safety identified concerns were around drug use (usually meth), more specifically intravenous use
  • Disconnection from supports
  • Youth Justice involvement - breaching orders due to not attending probation meetings
  • Potential exploitation and transactional sex occurring for drugs and housing

22. Values and principles 
Part 1

  • We know that some young people need a different response because of the complexity of their behaviours.
  • We want our casework to be responsive to the individual needs and circumstances of the young person.
  • We know that relational practice is effective in working with young people with complex needs.
  • We understand that these complex behaviours – while they can look dangerous and destructive to us – meet a need for the young person.
  • We all have in common that we want each young person to be safe and have their belonging and wellbeing needs met. 

23. Values and principles 
Part 2

  • Together – we bring a variety of skills and resources that we can use to build relationship and provide support/help for better outcomes for young people.
  • Using the difference in frameworks allows us to have a critical/reflective lens to the work we do.
  • No one can hold this level of complexity (danger and risk) on their own … partnership is the ONLY way we can work safely.
  • This type of complex work also takes a toll on those who are directly working with and caring for these young people.

24. Young person 6 quote

‘Yes, they don’t tell Child Safety or anyone anything unless they feel like I’m in danger … It feels good. I’ve told [worker] a lot of things and I feel safe.’ - YP6

25. Case study 
Part 2

  • After a number of months of BEROS engaging with the YP’s ex-foster carer who was her one safe person she would regularly return to and referred to as ‘Mum’, the YP had the opportunity to meet BEROS and began engaging in case management support.
  • It became apparent that the young person was not only dis-engaged from Child Safety but was actually finding herself in a highly conflictual relationship with her CSO and Team Leader, resulting in punitive responses to the young person’s choices and access to resources.
  • The YP continued to engage with BEROS but would often refuse to engage with Child Safety and on occasions where BEROS supported YP to attend the service centre, there were significant practice concerns observed. 
    For example: CSO grabbed the YP arm in reception to see if there had been any recent intravenous drug use.

26. Working with complexity

  • Relationship-based practice
  • Young people’s genuine participation
  • Using partnership to hold risk
  • Responses are individual to the young person
  • Caring for the safety and support network
  • Consulting with others – including invited specialists

27. Case study 
Part 3

  • Young person accessed legal support to make a formal complaint about her CSO and see a new CSO.
  • YP was supported through BEROS service for
  • three years through many different contexts/circumstances.
  • Pregnancy whilst in care - IA unsubstantiated

28. Barriers to working in partnership

  • Staff turnover
  • Supervision and support
  • Ideas around best interests of the child/young person
  • Statutory authority and power Child Safety hold
  • Lack of communication
  • Time pressures and restraints
  • Competing agendas
  • Propensity to tell their partners what to do 

29. Young person 2 quote

‘I had the option. It was you could work with us and we’ll help you out with a lot of the support stuff. Or you could easily just say no and we wouldn’t bother you again. And I felt like that was really good because it gave me the choice. Well, if I wanted to work with them or not.’ -  YP2

30. References: Partnering in our work with young people with complex needs

  • Venables, J. (2019). Emergency Response and Outreach for Young People Under Child Protection Orders: The Perspective of Service Users and Practitioners Regarding Service Delivery. Unpublished raw data.
  • Queensland Human Rights Act 2019.

31. Contact Us

Toni Cash 
Manager, Practice Advice and Support 
Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women 
[email protected] 
+61 (07) 3097 5942 

Chloe Warrell 
Team Leader 
[email protected] 
0447 385 199 

32. Continue the conversation…

Please submit questions or comments on the online forum following today’s webinar

Related resources

Related resources


Nicole is a Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, working largely on knowledge translation products and engagement with the community welfare sector. She currently works across two projects: Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange and Emerging Minds National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health. Nicole is a co-author of the recent paper, Working Together to Keep Children and Families Safe: Strategies for Developing Collaborative Competence, developed in collaboration between CFCA and Emerging Minds. Nicole is also a qualified social worker, having most recently worked in adult homelessness.

Toni is Manager of Practice Advice and Support at the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women, Queensland. Toni is a social worker who graduated from the University of Queensland in 1986 and has over 30 years’ experience in the area of child and family welfare, working primarily in statutory child protection. Toni has extensive experience working in both government and non-government child protection sectors, managing therapeutic residential care services, as well as extensive experience in sexual abuse and sexually reactive behaviours in children and young people. Toni is passionate about integrated partnerships with other services and genuine partnerships with children and young people, their families and communities. Toni is passionate about building capacity in the sector.

Chloe is Team Leader at BEROS-Community Living Association based in Brisbane, Queensland. Chloe is a social worker who graduated from the University of Queensland in 2010. She has worked for nine years in the youth sector and in the last four and a half years has been Team Leader for BEROS. Chloe is also an accredited mental health social worker and has extensive experience in working with young people with complex needs across mental health, disability and child welfare. Chloe is passionate about elevating the voices of at-risk young people within the systems that support them and creating change at all levels of service delivery.