Question 1 – How have you adapted service delivery in response to the bushfires, floods and Coronavirus pandemic? When has it worked and when hasn’t it worked? How will this affect how you deliver services in the future? Have your service adaptations included better integration with other initiatives?
Samaritans Child and Parent Support (CAPS) team felt the impact of COVID 19 deeply. However, we were quick to make changes to our service delivery to ensure a continued connection with families, children, kinship carers and community at a time that was challenging for everyone. Adapted service delivery, included: developing a closed Facebook page where clients could access information and connect with others; driveway home visits/ play sessions for families; children’s activity packs were delivered to families with ideas on how to use the materials, as well as how child development is enhanced through the play ideas; phone contact/ texts/ emails supported connection and provided families time to chat, acknowledge how they were feeling and empathise; out of hours calls were made to families to discuss challenges when children were in bed; some families developed new skills using technology, especially kinship carers.
A success of the adjusted service delivery was the flexible approach and choice offered families e.g Small family driveway play opportunities has seen a richer engagement with some families, with time for very quiet personal conversations where families’ struggles emerge. More families are taking up the option of case management and asking for help, in particular, with parenting and relationships. Play sessions in a park enabled families to meet safely and to walk together, with their children – this resulted in connections with more families as well as the opportunity to talk about the importance of exercise etc.
The limitation for some families, particularly kinship carers in accessing and using technology with confidence, impacted connection. Surveying the needs of kinship carers did assist the team to individualise assistance and support in some situations, however, it became very clear that children with older kin carers were also very impacted and at a disadvantage when being home schooled. The digital divide was evident. Some families chose not to engage for fear and concern around the virus and because they didn’t want anything if not face to face, although as time has gone on, families too have been flexible. For staff workloads increased, as more individual clients engaged with more complex needs.
Technology, through ZOOM SKYPE, TEAMS proved particularly time efficient for staff for connection to interagency meetings and to other services. Regional areas really benefited from the enhanced use and uptake of technology. Although this contact cannot replace face to face meetings or assist in keeping eyes on the child it still supports some level of relationship and in some situations will continue to be part of service delivery. It would be good to think DEX might be adjusted to enable this data to be captured too.
In addition, future service delivery will incorporate a Toy borrowing system for families to assist in building stronger and more meaningful connections between child and parent through child- centred learning
Question 2 – Are the proposed key outcomes for the families and children programs the right ones? Are there any major outcomes missing? How can we include strengths-based outcomes that focus on family or child safety?
The proposed outcomes support CAPS as a universal service that targets families with more complex needs. We feel it could however be strengthened in some ways as;
• it appears to make assumptions that are not addressed i.e ‘contextual factors’. It can be assumed includes a safe environment for children, financial security, enough food, and adequate housing etc. It is very hard for families and children to flourish and demonstrate improvement in child and family wellbeing and/ or engage consistently with services, if basic needs are unmet and families are struggling with personal issues like DFV
• it does not focus on the ‘voice’ and rights of the child clearly enough. If the rights of the child and the child’s participation and development were at the centre of the framework it would be strengthened for children targeted in CAPS 0 – 12 years.
Focussing on what families do well to support growth in areas identified as a need and /or a challenge has worked for CAPS. As outlined above exploring wellbeing through a wider lens would be helpful in addressing the many complex and challenging situations of some families the program aims to target. It is also important to ensure a greater understanding of the fluidity of families’ needs. For many families accessing our service, it does not take much to move from ‘managing’ to being in ‘crisis’ and requiring more wrap around support to address challenges i.e every family can experiencing vulnerability when circumstances change enough to create challenges they cannot at that point in time manage. Therefore the program’s outcomes needs to focus on supporting parents to manage through any family crisis.
Since the COVID pandemic there is a greater need in the community from clients who have not previously accessed a service, with a higher referral rate from people experiencing financial hardships, triggering anxiety, depression, and in some cases housing needs. Children old enough to recall socialising with friends have been struggling to understand the changes and manage their anxiety. It will not be a short fix for these children and services will need to be there to help parents cope through the unknown. Child well-being is linked to all these challenges, making many more families vulnerable and in need of support.
A special report from the Australian Council for Social Service (ACOSS) on supporting families through the crises (Cortis, N & Blaxland, M (2020): Australia’s community sector and COVID-19: Supporting communities through the crisis. Sydney: ACOSS) tells us we are not alone, 78% of services across the country reported changes in client type and need. ACOSS also flagged that with jobseeker and jobkeeper payments set to be cut in March 2021 that this change will not be abating soon.
Question 3 – What tools or training would support you to effectively measure and report outcomes through the Data Exchange Partnership Approach?
The Data Exchange Framework is comprehensive. CAPS has been reporting using the Partnership Approach for the past three years, navigating this through the information provided. We encountered some difficulties in knowing how to best report outcomes to capture everything we assess and know about clients. It would be useful to access webinar recordings to assist, with webinars covering the different aspects of reporting in DEX.
The tool is an effective way to see how our program is addressing the needs in the community, particularly as it gives a breakdown of the demographics in each community. We can then match that against population data in the ABS to see how we how we are supporting the diverse communities in which we work. E.g, if we have a demographic that tells us that over 50% of children in the Permanency Support Program come from an ATSI background but only 8.5% of the families accessing our Kinship Care are from ATSI backgrounds then one of the outcomes we can work towards is connecting with ATSI services and communities to find out why this is and work towards setting targets and outcomes to increase this number. Incoming referrals indicate community needs and identify the services who refer to us and we can use this information to increase the sector knowledge. Outgoing referrals help us to identify additional services sought by families.
If more rigorous scoring is required a source of appropriate measuring tools that cover the 11 well-being domains would be helpful. We are using the PEEM to measure parenting effectiveness. This covers one domain of client well- being score, family functioning. Through discussion with the client this may also give information on mental health, family safety and age-appropriate development. Provision of a “Frequently Asked Questions” my assist in accessing consistent information for services.
There are questions in the Partnership Approach which some families see as intrusive and choose not to answer, particularly at the beginning of engagement. It takes time to build trust and for clients to feel comfortable, to know they are not being judged. Data reported in one six-monthly reporting period, may relate to a client who has been engaged for a much longer period but was not ready to give out this information.
Evidenced based Parenting Program evaluations are completed before and after a program is conducted. This gives an indication of client goals in attending the program along with a measure of how well their goals were met and enables a score on DEX for the client goals domain. The PEEM is used as a tool and is being introduced into play sessions for parents who regularly attend. The Community Score domain will be collected for the Kinship Support groups starting up again after COVID shutdown. We are mindful of how much the groups have missed being together, while acknowledging the willingness of individuals to buddy up with old/ new clients to offer support and mentoring. It will be excit
Question 4 – Do you already have a program logic or theory of change outlined for your program? Did you find the process useful? If you do not have one, what has stopped you from developing one? What capacity building support would assist service providers to develop program logics and theories of change?
The process of creating the program logic was helpful in identifying how we plan and manage meeting the needs of communities and delivering on outcomes. We refer to it to develop outcome reporting tools being used across the program and see it as a valuable tool for reflection of practice. It assists us to ensure that reporting tools ask clients the right questions to identify their needs.
The only limitation we see is in being able to achieve the higher level, longer term outcomes that require certainty of long-term funding.
Question 5 – If longer-term agreements are implemented, how can the department work with you to develop criteria to measure and demonstrate performance? How can the Data Exchange better support this?
Certainty of funding is critical for the service to build community trust and ensure workforce continuity which also helps to ensure families are connected. Longer term grants enable services to reflect and grow, to be more flexible to family’s needs and to develop ways to ensure this is captured in data collected. For example, the latest Australian Early Development Census for the areas in which we are funded gives us an indication of the number of children at risk of meeting their educational outcomes when entering school. These areas have fluctuated over the time. They do show that Lake Macquarie is improving against the state average, with Cessnock having a higher than state average of children at risk. Our Outcomes are aligned with helping children in the regions to improve their scores on the census.
Kinship carers are prevalent in our communities and have indicated through surveys that they need connection with others in the same circumstances. CAPS’ Kinship Care support groups provide for this need across our communities. The impact of the Pandemic on this cohort has demonstrated their mental health, and financial situations are fragile and susceptible to any challenge.
Data Exchange reports are useful in providing individual service feedback on our results. We would like to see a report summary providing guidance on how, if required, data we have provided can be improved upon.
Question 6 – What does success look like for your service, and how do you assess the overall success of your service?
It is about the connection to a strong community for all, with families and children from the target groups in our communities engaging, being confident to reach out to skilled and knowledgeable staff who can support them to meet outcomes, by building their understanding, knowledge and resilience. It is critical children demonstrate attachment and healthy development, so this is assessed through child observation and parent feedback on what families require and how we are meeting that need. Community connections are made so families themselves feel a sense of belonging and know how to access support when needed, ongoing past engagement with the service.
COVID has challenged us to find new ways to do this. The development of a Facebook page gave us a way to seek direct feedback from clients through their likes and comments on our posts. Our play sessions registrations tell us that families are staying engaged and do feel connected. Our referrals give us a measure of returning clients and local services support for what we can offer families. Our webpage hub gives us a measure of self-referrals.
Question 7 – Do you currently service cohorts experiencing vulnerability, including those at risk of engaging with the child protection system? If not, how does service delivery need to adapt to provide support to these cohorts?
CAPS sees itself as having an important role in our communities’ service systems as a universal and early intervention service provider. Referrals come from DCJ, Probation and Parole, Department of Education, Brighter Futures, and Family Referral Services. Family restoration has been facilitated through play sessions in partnership with DCJ. In addition, families are referred to the CP system through ROSH reports and at times we engage with DCJ to plan for continued support.
Child protection is everyone’s responsibility sometimes made hard when federal and state responsibility can be blurred. CP families need to have CP services as the lead agency. A Family Action Plan can be put in place identifying responsibility. CAPS can be part of the case plan but are not a Statutory body and so acknowledge cannot make the decisions.
Question 8 – If you are a Children and Parenting Support or Budget Based Funded service provider, do you currently link with a Communities for Children Facilitating Partner or other regional planning mechanism to understand what other services are provided in the community and what the community identifies as their needs? How does this work in practice? Would you value the increased support of being attached to a local Facilitating Partner?
CAPs staff attend local Interagency Meetings to keep abreast of services within their communities that are available to families and have outlined the work they do at many of these. CAPS attended the Local Community Forum run by the Department of Health to present what we can offer to their clients. Kinship case managers and play facilitators are regularly in contact with schools, ECEC in their areas and attend meetings with staff as well as school transition sessions. The Local Aboriginal Land Councils are kept informed of our program through emails and telephone conversations. In Coonabarabran we formed a “Little People Task force” with other organisations working with children to advocate in the region for the needs of children. Council staff, schools, early childhood staff and DCJ sit on this Task Force. Partnerships have formed out these connections. Some partnerships are formalised through service level agreements to ensure outcomes are achieved. As our CAPS team works in different communities (Coonabarabran, Lake Macquarie, Lower hunter) in some communities it would seem we are seen as the lead agency in bringing services together although this can vary. It is very important to have a well-connected service system so any opportunity to ensure this outcome would be welcome.
Question 9 – For all providers, are there other ways to improve collaboration and coordination across services and systems?
As outlined above, Samaritans CAPS engages in collaboration and coordination across 5 areas. There is a strong awareness and engagement in these areas, across the service system, to ensure families and children have flexible and adaptable opportunities. Samaritans CAPS provides flexibility and varies service delivery to meet client needs as each area requires, e.g. Play sessions, case management, parenting groups, play facilitation opportunities, peer support groups, and referrals are all part of what can be offered to support families/ communities. It is only when communities can collaborate and coordinate support to families that service providers, together, can improve outcomes for children and families.
Question 10 – The capability building support offered under Families and Children Activity programs has gone through several iterations. What works well? What do you think should change?
Longer term funding (5 years) has supported more innovative service delivery to meet communities needs as outlined previously. This has enabled flexibility to understand and deliver what is required by clients in each community and time to develop relationships and utilise the local knowledge of people in communities.
Flexibility ongoing will enable services to continue to meet the challenges of the COVID pandemic as outlined above.
Question 11 – Aside from additional funding, how can the department best work with you to support innovation in your services while maintaining a commitment to existing service delivery?
Relationships take time and are difficult to measure and capture through data. The opportunity for ongoing funding is important in demonstrating that the departments’ outcomes are met.
The flexibility of CAPS to meet local community needs is appreciated and it hoped will be built into ongoing funding arrangements.
Question 12 – Is there anything else you would like to share about the ideas and proposals in the Discussion Paper?
Samaritans has appreciated the opportunity to provide feedback and be involved in discussion around the paper published Dec 2020. It has been an opportunity for broad reflection as a team of the work we do across our communities and of how that work has evolved and changed over time, particularly changes forced upon us with COVID.