Edition 23 - March 2009

Welcome to the 23rd edition of the Family Relationship Services Program (FRSP) Sector e-News.

Some of the interesting topics included in this month’s edition include:

  • an announcement of the Family Support Program
  • details about the next Family Relationship Services Program Senior Executive Forum
  • update on the Performance Framework
  • details about the new complaints process for FaHCSIA’s funded services
  • details about the New Certificate type for Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners
  • research on the changes to the Family Law System
  • the opening of round five for the Family Relationships Practice Profiles 
  • improvements to the Child Support Agency's child support estimator
  • how CSA are tackling customer fraud, and
  • details from the Family Law System Conference.

For new subscribers, FRSP Sector e-News is an ideal opportunity for you to reach approximately 600 subscribers, consisting of FRSP service providers, industry stakeholders and individuals, to share service delivery news or to raise any issues you think the sector should be aware of.

FRSP e-News seeks contributions on practice updates and policy issues relevant to the FRSP Sector. Should you have a topic of interest you feel the sector or industry stakeholders would be interested in, please send it to the FRSP mailbox for consideration. Articles should be less than 300 words and in paragraph format.

To keep the FRSP e-News focussed on issues of interest to the FRSP, details about training opportunities can be emailed to Family Relationship Services Australia (FRSA) for consideration. Information about training and events held nationally can be found on the FRSA website.

To contribute to the next edition or to provide feedback about articles in this edition, please email frspe-news@dss.gov.au.


Robyn Fleming
strong>Branch Manager
Family Relationship Services Branch


The opinions, comments and/or analysis expressed in this document are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Hot News

Announcement of the Family Support Program

The Family Support Program was announced by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Honourable Jenny Macklin MP, at the 2009 National Investment for the Early Years National Conference. The Minister noted that she is determined to put the best interests of children at the centre of all family policy. The Family Support Program will work with families and individuals, including children, to strengthen families, nurture safe and healthy children and build strong, resilient communities.

The Family Support Program addresses the fragmentation of current childrens, parents and families’ services by bringing a range of existing programs together within a single program. The programs being brought together are: 

  • Communities for Children Initiative
  • Invest to Grow Program
  • Child Care Links
  • Indigenous Children Program
  • Playgroup Program
  • Responding Early Assisting Children Program
  • Indigenous Parenting Support Services
  • Family Relationship Services Program (Early Intervention Services component)
  • Strengthening Families Program funded under the National Illicit Drug Strategy.

The Family Support Program will consist of two core service delivery streams:

Family Support Services: These services are accessible by the general population delivering flexible and connected support that seeks to strengthen family and individual relationships and facilitate engagement in Australian social and economic life. Existing services under this stream are:

  • Family Relationship Services Program (Early Intervention Service component)
  • Playgroup Program
  • Strengthening Families Program funded under the National Illicit Drug Strategy. 

Community and Family Partnerships: These services offer intensive and coordinated support targeted at disadvantaged communities and families including at risk families and children. Services under this stream include:

  • Communities for Children Initiative
  • Invest to Grow Program
  • Indigenous Children Program
  • Child Care Links
  • Responding Early Assisting Children Program
  • Indigenous Parenting Support Services

The Family Support Program is to be implemented over the next two years to July 2011. This timeframe is necessary to enable the Australian Government and the community sector to work in partnership to develop the Program. 

While ongoing work is required to develop the Family Support Program model, the Australian Government is committed to all of its current funding agreements with service providers. The degree and pace of change in the Family Support Program will be managed in the context of these agreements.  The Australian Government also has continuing responsibilities in areas such as Family Law and linkages with the legal system.

The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs will soon be commencing a consultation process with FRSP providers and key stakeholders about how their services will fit within the Family Support Program. 

For further information on the Family Support Program visit www.fahcsia.gov.au/fsp or email family.support.program@dss.gov.au.

Family Relationship Services Program Senior Executive Forum
30 April 2009

The next FRSP senior executive forum will be held on 30 April 2009 in Melbourne. Invitations and registration forms are currently being sent to organisations. Further enquires can be directed by email to kelle.dent@ag.gov.au.

New Complaints Process for the Department of Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs funded services

Please note there is a new complaints process for the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA). The FaHCSIA National Office Complaints Coordinators have worked with an Advisory Group over the past few months to develop a new model for handling complaints. The first step of the model remains that the complainant attempts to resolve their issue with the service provider first. If they require further assistance, then the following process is to be followed:

  • All complaints are to be directed to the FaHCSIA National Office Complaints Team (NOCT) in the first instance. This will ensure all complaints are handled the same way. This can be via the Complaints Hotline on 1800 634 035, email to complaints@dss.gov.au, fax to (02) 6204 4587 or by post to FaHCSIA Complaints, PO Box 7576, Canberra Business Centre 2610. NOCT will acknowledge receipt of the complaint and confirm whether it is within FaHCSIA’s scope.  More information about the process can be found on the FaHCSIA website.
  • If a person who wishes to makes a complaint is deaf or has a hearing or speech impairment, they may use the National Relay Service to contact any of FaHCSIA's listed phone numbers.
  • Once acknowledged and recorded, NOCT will allocate the complaint to the appropriate area for investigation (in most cases for the FRSP this will be a FaHCSIA State Office), and track its progression.
  • Once the investigation has been completed, NOCT will respond in writing to the person who made the complaint.

Sector News

Family Relationship Services Program Performance Framework

As you would already be aware, the FRSP Performance Framework is being reviewed in consultation with the Joint Sector-Government Quality and Performance Measurement Working Group.  The new, whole-of-FRSP, outcomes-focussed framework was agreed to in principle by Senior Executive Forum delegates on 4 December 2008.

In stage one of the framework consultancy, ARTD engaged with the FRSP sector about the extent to which information on client outcomes is already collected, and the feasibility of using existing client outcome data-collection systems to provide evidence on the therapeutic value of FRSP services to families.

Between November 2008 and February 2009, all FRSP-funded service providers were asked to participate in an online survey.  Also, a representative sample of 10 providers, chosen in consultation with Family Relationship Services Australia, participated in face-to-face interviews with ARTD.

We would like to sincerely thank the organisations that participated in stage one of the consultancy.  We do appreciate the effort that you made to provide us with this important information over the busy Christmas period.  Additionally, we would like to encourage any providers that were not able to participate, and would like to share information on their client outcome data-collection systems, to e-mail Hugo Temby at hugo.temby@dss.gov.au by the end of March 2009.

ARTD found that service providers are generally very positive about collecting client outcome data.  However, due to limited resources and expertise, inadequate internal client information management systems and a lack of suitable standard performance measures the information currently collected varies considerably between service providers and service types. 

Stage two of the consultancy will therefore involve developing and testing a simple, standard client-outcome tool and supporting methodology with a small design team including the 10 providers already interviewed by ARTD.  As we are aware that providers already have considerable reporting responsibilities we are working with the sector to review FRSP Online and the FRSP funding agreements to reduce reporting requirements. 

Stage three of the consultancy will be a pilot of the framework using an action-research model.  The pilot will be open to all providers on a volunteer basis and will be an opportunity for the framework to be further refined before full implementation in July 2010.  More detailed information on these stages will be published in the FRSP Sector e-News as it becomes available.  If you have any questions please e-mail Hugo Temby at the above address.

New Certificate type for Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners

To apply to the court for a parenting order or make changes to an existing parenting order through the courts, a family dispute resolution certificate should be filed with the court application. Exceptions to this include where there is family violence, child abuse or the matter is urgent.

On 1 March 2009 family dispute resolution practitioners will be able to issue a certificate to cover the situation where it becomes apparent during the course of the family dispute resolution that it would be inappropriate to continue.

For example, where a history of violence which impacts on a person’s ability to negotiate is not picked up during the intake process, but becomes apparent during family dispute resolution, the family dispute resolution practitioner may decide to stop the process. As the issue was not identified before the family dispute resolution started, there was previously no certificate to cover this situation. The new certificate will now cover this type of scenario.

The certificate form set out in Schedule 1 of the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner) Regulations 2008 has been amended accordingly.

An additional amendment will also take effect on 1 March 2009 which removes the requirement to file a certificate from a family dispute resolution practitioner when a further application is made in proceedings in which such a certificate has already been filed.

Research on the changes to the Family Law System

The Australian Institute of Family Studies is undertaking research about the changes to the family law system introduced by the Australian Government in July 2006. A key component of the evaluation is the Service Provision Project, which is exploring how the reforms are impacting on the family relationship services sector and its clients. The Service Provision Project comprises of three main studies:

  • Qualitative interviews with service managers and staff
  • Web based surveys of family relationship services staff
  • A survey of clients who have attended FRSP services.

This article provides a brief update about the progress of these three studies.

The Qualitative Study

The second wave of the Qualitative Study is currently in the field, with the Service Provision Project team conducting interviews both face to face and via the telephone with a sample of managers and staff of the Family Relationship Advice Line, Family Relationship Centres, Early-Intervention and Post-Separation Services from across Australia. To date we have conducted interviews in three states and spoken with over 50 individual participants. The interviews will continue through to the beginning of April. 

Survey of Family Relationship Services’ Clients

A survey of Family Relationship Services’ Clients will be undertaken during April. This will involve a sample of clients who attended services funded under the FRSP program during the 2008 calendar year. To maintain the confidentiality of clients, the Institute will be asking services to send surveys to clients on our behalf. To explore how best to assist services in this task the Institute will be asking for feedback about the process from a number of services via a workshop. Service providers are also welcome to provide feedback or suggestions to the manager of the Service Provision Project, Kelly Hand, via email or telephone (see below for details).

Survey of Service Provider Staff

A survey of family relationship service provider staff (the “Staff Survey”) will be running throughout April. The survey will explore participants’ perceptions of providing assistance to families experiencing a range of relationship issues in the context of the reforms.The survey will be available for completion on either the web or through a hard copy format.

Volunteers needed!

In the lead up to the Staff Survey, a pilot study will be conducted. The pilot study will be held in early March and will assist us in making sure that the questions we are asking make sense and that they are provided in workable formats.

We are seeking volunteers to participate in the pilot study. Your participation would involve completing the survey and then speaking with a representative of our fieldwork agency on the telephone to provide some feedback. Overall the process would take about half an hour. 

If you would like volunteer to take part in the pilot of the Staff Survey, would like to know more about the Service Provision Project, or you have any feedback or ideas for our research, please contact Kelly Hand (Manager, Service Provision Project) on 1800 352 275 or email familylawevaluation@aifs.gov.au.

Family Relationships Practice Profiles - Round Five is open for contributions

The Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse (AFRC) is developing a collection of profiles on family relationship practices. The collection is available to help share information between service providers, practitioners and organisations to improve understanding of, and responses to, family and relationship issues. The current collection of profiles are available on theAustralian Family Relationships Clearinghouse website.

Profiles may relate to programs and/or practices conducted throughout Australia that would be of interest to other service providers or practitioners. This may include past and present training initiatives, community awareness strategies, services that target particular groups or any other examples of interesting or innovative practice. The criteria for submissions are available at Australian Family Relationships Clearinghouse website.

Further information, including the process for submissions, can be found at http://www.aifs.gov.au/afrc/practice/practice.html.

Submissions are due by 10 April 2009.

If you need assistance with filling out the submission or have any queries or ideas about the Family Relationships Practice Profiles collection please contact Catherine Caruana on 03 9214 7888 or email afrc@aifs.gov.au.

February edition of Child Support Stakeholder News

The latest version of Child Support Stakeholder News includes information on the Child Support Agency’s (CSA’s) response to the Victorian bushfires, additional website content for international customers and information on reducing child support assessments to nil.

You can access the latest version or archived editions from CSA’s website www.csa.gov.au. You can also subscribe to receive the latest version of Child Support Stakeholder news.

Improvements to the Child Support Agency's child support estimator

The CSA online child support estimator has been updated to make it easier for separated parents to estimate how much child support they may receive or be required to pay.

The estimator now has a new ‘what if’ section that estimates what a parent's child support responsibilities may be if their current situation changes. 

The child support estimator cannot compare old and new estimates and does not include family assistance components. CSA customers with more than one case are unable to use this service.

CSA tackling customer fraud

The CSA is addressing a number of recommendations included in the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s recent report, ‘Responding to allegations of customer fraud’.

While most parents do the right thing, there are cases where some parents provide false or misleading information to alter the amount of child support they pay or receive. To address the Ombudsman’s concerns and improve the CSA’s capability to investigate fraud, the CSA has:

  • established a Specialist Investigation Unit to focus on both the administrative and criminal investigation of more serious customer fraud matters and will train staff to identify, verify and investigate fraud
  • reviewed and updated its Fraud Control Plan, and
  • advised its staff of the importance of fully assessing customer claims to ensure potential customer fraud is properly assessed.

To ensure customers are clear that it is a serious offence to provide false or misleading information the CSA is upgrading its website and information tools, such as customer forms and communicating though avenues like this newsletter.

If you suspect or have evidence someone is providing misleading or false information, contact the CSA on 131 272 or the Commonwealth Government Fraud Tip-Off Line on 131 524.

Conferences and Training

Family Law System Conference Targets Access to Justice

Improving access to justice was a major topic of discussion by key Family Law stakeholders who attended a two-day conference in Canberra last week.

The conference, organised by the Attorney-General's Department, brought together more than 200 people involved in the family law system, including practitioners from the courts, community legal centres, legal aid commissions, family relationship service providers and other government agencies.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said conference participants had identified access to justice and building an integrated family law system as important targets for the future.

The Attorney-General’s press release on the outcomes of the conference can be found on the Attorney-General's website.

Resource Updates

Resource to support FRSP services in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families

The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) has been commissioned by FaHCSIA to develop a cultural inclusion resource to assist Family Relationship Services to:

  • provide culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families
  • develop positive and respectful partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities in delivering such services
  • use Participatory Action Research Evaluation to document and learn from the progress of your organisation’s engagement with communities.

The Culturally Inclusive Services Resource will target service practitioners, support and administrative staff and managers across the breadth of the Family Relationship Services Program. SNAICC is working with Family Services Australia in this project, including in documenting the positive case studies and testing the resource in the sector.

Sharing success stories and strengths

The resource will include cultural information and resource recommendations, take a strengths-based approach to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, and include case studies of FRSP services’ success stories and positive experiences of providing effective services and programs to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. SNAICC is currently recruiting and documenting these case studies through 45-minute phone interviews.

Participate in Focus Group Testing

SNAICC is seeking input from a broad range of staff from the breadth of FRSP services across the country. We will seek feedback on the resource through a focus group in April.

If you would like to participate in a Focus Group to test and provide feedback on this resource, get more information or register your interest, contact SNAICC Project Officer Mark Lawrence – mark@snaicc.asn.au or telephone (03) 9489 8099.

More information on SNAICC’s FRS Cultural Inclusion Resource Project is also available on our website.

SNAICC is the national non-government peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families.

CSA produces a monthly e-newsletter

CSA is now producing a monthly e-newsletter which has information tailored for stakeholders.

It is an update on events, products and information to assist you in supporting separated parents and their children.

CSA is keen to receive feedback or ideas for articles of interest to stakeholders. If you have feedback or a story idea please email stakeholders@csa.gov.au.

Access the e-newsletter Child Support Stakeholder News…working together to support separated families.

You can also subscribe to receive your monthly copy by email.


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We value your interest in this publication and seek your feedback about the articles published. Feedback notes will be kept confidential.

We also seek contributions from the sector. Should you have a topic of interest you feel the sector or industry stakeholders would be interested in, send it to the FRSP mailbox below for consideration. Those articles not selected will be saved and reconsidered for later editions.

Article contributions/feedback for the next edition is welcome by 13 March 2009. Edition 24 of the FRSP e-News will be emailed on 6 April 2009.

To provide feedback and/or to send topics of interest, email
frspe-news@dss.gov.au and include the subject header Feedback to FRSP Sector

Contact us

This e-newsletter is produced by the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) in collaboration with the Attorney-General's Department.

To contact the editor, please email frspe-news@dss.gov.au.

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