Through its new Family Support Program (FSP), the Australian Government is seeking to make services easier to access and more supportive for Australia’s most vulnerable children and families. To achieve this aim, FSP providers will be required to link with each other and the broader service system to provide a more integrated suite of local services through a collaborative service delivery system.
Why is collaboration important for vulnerable families?
Evidence shows that the multiple and interlinked problems faced by many families are not addressed effectively by siloed, single disciplinary approaches to support services.
Support for families to ensure their children grow up safe and healthy is not always found in one place. No single agency is capable of providing the broad range of resources and services that are needed by many families who experience multiple disadvantages and barriers to fully participating in society.
Through the FSP reforms, collaboration will help ensure that:
- All families are provided with the information they need about service options available, including from other sectors and jurisdictions
- Vulnerable families are actively connected to services and supports, as early as possible
- Children and families at risk of harm receive a timely and well coordinated response from those who can keep them safe.
Implementation by FSP services
The Government recognises that many community support services make linkages with other agencies and wants to ensure that all agencies have arrangements that meet the needs of their clients, in line with the principles outlined below.
From 1 July 2011, the Government will require FSP services to identify and develop appropriate local service delivery systems to support the most vulnerable client groups including developing/maintaining:
- Connections with local FSP, community and government service providers that can engage hard-to-reach and vulnerable families
- Connections with State/Territory child protection systems
- Appropriate activities to ensure all client groups receive the level of assistance needed across the service system.
Collaboration resources available for services
Useful resources include:
- The ARACY - Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth - Collaboration Fact Sheets
- Two FSP funded Clearinghouses, CAFCA and AFRC (managed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies) also have practice sheets and other resources aimed at service providers on topics such as collaboration, engaging “hard to reach” and disadvantaged families, young parents and Indigenous families.
The following principles underpin collaboration:
1. Children, families and communities are at the centre of collaboration
The starting point for collaboration is to understand the issues confronting children, families and communities and to build cross-sectoral responses. For example, this might be achieved through screening and assessment processes which will identify multiple, complex and local issues confronting children and families and finding out what services and other resources exist in local communities to support families.
2. Collaboration is authorised at all levels and governance actively supports it
Collaboration will only succeed with the existence of a strong authorising environment and governance arrangements which enable shared approaches to be initiated and sustained over time. This includes communication by local leaders about what collaboration can achieve for children and families, shared planning mechanisms and protocols that cascade to all levels (e.g.: CEOs, operational managers and practitioners).
3. A tiered approach to building collaboration tailored to the needs of children and families
Collaboration requires investment of time and effort to develop and maintain so the degree of collaboration should align with specific benefits to children and families, particularly the need to address safety and vulnerability issues. In practice this means the greater the complexity for families, the greater the level of collaboration needed within and between service systems, ranging from:
- Networking to build connections, knowledge and trust
- Coordinating your service with others to increase service access and reduce gaps
- Integrating your service with others to support highly vulnerable children and families.
Not all client groups or service delivery environments require the Coordinating or Integrating levels of collaboration. Collaborative service delivery endeavours should therefore be directed at supporting the most vulnerable client groups.
4. Shared practices which outreach to vulnerable children and families and actively link them to services
Shared processes between local agencies are critical to ensuring that vulnerable children and families are able to access the full range of services designed to assist them. These include:
- Addressing local barriers to information sharing (including gaining consent from families to share information as normal procedure)
- Providing early intervention services in collaboration with non-stigmatizing services such as local family medical practices, maternal and child health services, schools and child care.
- Using ‘first to know’ agencies such as Centrelink, state housing departments and local schools as platforms for information and linking isolated parents to services
- warm referral (a ‘live’ three way conversation in person or by phone in which the family member is introduced and relevant information is provided)
5. Working with community partners to increase social inclusion
Partnering with local community organisations and the business sector can create opportunities for people to participate in the normal social and economic lives of their communities. For example, a partnership between a family support service, an employment agency, a local industry and Centrelink may prepare parents for work, while also providing peer and parenting support. Clubs, schools, churches and playgroups can provide informal social support, new social networks, resources and opportunities for participation and reciprocity that are the essence of social inclusion.
Further information and assistance
Additional information is available in:
- Related Information - Family Support Program Access Strategy Requirements – Vulnerable and Disadvantaged Client Access Strategy and Indigenous Access Plan.’
- Related Information - The New Family Support Program - What does ‘vulnerable’ mean for the Family Support Program?
For further information about the FSP, services should contact the FaHCSIA State Office project/program officer with whom you usually deal or email:email@example.com