Wesley Community Services Limited
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?
Wesley Community Services Limited (Wesley) receives funding from the Department of Social Services under the current Family Mental Health Support Service to deliver Young Healthy Minds in Newcastle, NSW. We engage 1.6 Full Time Equivalent staff to work with young people aged up to 18 at our centre (The Hive), in their home, and at school.
We adapted service delivery quickly and frequently to maintain the effectiveness of support during recent crises. Our program was most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Adaptations made included:
• Conducting more frequent, informal check-ins every few days using phone, sms, and email
• Shifting face-to-face appoints online using videoconferencing (when home visiting was restricted)
• Increasing home visits using COVID-safe practices when allowed, to minimise widespread contact in The Hive
• Establishing a social media presence to create additional points of contact
• Providing young people with postcard packs to encourage expression and connection
• Allocating $10,000 to buy young people and families laptops and data to facilitate access to school and Young Healthy Minds
• Obtaining a $5,000 grant from Multicultural NSW to distribute fruit and vegetable boxes to families experiencing financial disadvantage
• Accessing a $10,000 philanthropic donation to ensure young people could access vouchers to buy Christmas presents for their family.
Young people and families have provided feedback that they enjoyed the increased frequency of informal contacts and usage of our service increased during this period. Wesley’s staff worked with 79 young people and their families. Staff identified that a benefit of increased informal contact, particularly in homes, was that broader family challenges were more likely to be disclosed.
Wesley is extremely proud of the flexibility, commitment and creativity demonstrated by the Young Healthy Minds team. Adapted practice during a crisis does not come without cost, and the challenges mostly related to staff workloads:
• Higher client numbers
• More communications to manage through multiple modalities, each requiring case notes
• Reduced boundaries between work and home creating more risk around secondary trauma.
Opportunities for the Department of Social Services to provide support for programs during times of crisis include:
• Proactively distributing information and updates about the crisis and potential impacts for the program
• Informing service providers upfront about options for the flexible use of funding, to avoid each program asking questions separately
• Disseminating information about the adaptive practices of other services to foster creativity and the sharing of ideas (reducing the pressure to start from scratch)
• Ensuring contract management staff remain stable to provide continuity of care.
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?
Wesley supports the implementation of an outcomes framework that is strengths-based and focuses on safety. The current population-level outcomes framework required:
• Measures some outcomes domains that the program cannot address
• Is not tailored for different cohorts, such as First Nations people and people with a refugee background.
A key consideration to implementing a new framework is simplicity. Outcomes need to reflect the program aims and be proportionate to the size of the funding. With a new outcomes framework comes systems updates, policy and procedure reviews, amended forms and new staff practices. These activities need to be resourced by the Department of Social Services.
Another point to consider is the suite of assessment tools to be used. Wesley’s Young Healthy Minds team are currently able to use a conversational approach when administering assessments, which means they can maintain therapeutic alliance and the client doesn’t notice any bureaucracy. If programs are moving towards more clinical assessment tools, the sector will benefit from training in how to administer assessments with appropriate language for different cohorts and in a way that doesn’t disrupt connection or engagement. It would be beneficial if the Department of Social Services provided this training.
Question 3 – What tools or training would support you to effectively measure and report outcomes through the Data Exchange Partnership Approach?
Wesley’s Young Healthy Minds team joined the Data Exchange Partnerships Approach five years ago and supports the move to sector-wide data collection. As an organisation we are committed to meaningful outcomes data capture and have multiple projects underway to continuously develop our systems and practices.
The Department of Social Services could provide the following resources to support providers to continue to report through the Data Exchange whilst implementing a new outcomes framework and assessment tools:
• Additional resources to update systems, policies, procedures and forms. This could include time-limited funding, increased staff and revised short-term output requirements
• Expert advice and guidance from specialist Department staff to inform the process and answer any questions (including identifying errors in real-time so they can be addressed before the reporting period is closed)
• Centralised sector training, organised and delivered by the Department, suitable and accessible for all service provider staff
• Ability for service providers to download the data that is input into the Data Exchange for internal use.
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?
Wesley does not have a program logic or theory of change for Young Healthy Minds. We have created these documents for programs funded by state government. There are definite benefits of having a diverse group of experts come together to reflect on the program components and how they serve the overarching aim. However, the scope, detail and complexity of a program logic and theory of change should be proportionate to the size of the program. The timeframes for development should also be generous so as to not take focus away from service delivery.
From our experience developing these documents, we have identified that the most helpful capacity-building support is access to a dedicated resource (this can be sub-contracted). This resource can conduct workshops and be contacted by service providers for advice and feedback throughout the duration.
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?
Wesley agrees with the extension of contract periods as a mechanism for client continuity of care, employment security and sector stability. Greater two-way accountability can be achieved through proactive Department of Social Services contract managers and reduced turnover in these positions. Regular meetings, site visits, and collaborative problem-solving would create a strong platform for accountability.
The Department of Social Service implemented annual activity work plans in August 2020. Our Young Healthy Minds team has found this to be a helpful process as a different cohort is identified each year as a focus area, based on client feedback and community need. In 2020-21 Wesley focused on young people with a refugee experience and 68% of our clients have been from this cohort. The activity work plans are used by the team to guide direction and approach.
Wesley would like to see the stability gained through longer contract periods result in efficiencies that mean client care is further increased and improved. Outcomes data and reporting practices should not add administrative burden that take away from the core purpose of the program.
Question 6 – What does success look like for your service, and how do you assess the overall success of your service?
Success is a combination of young people experience and outcomes and staff wellbeing and engagement. Wesley Young Healthy Minds has recently commenced a six-month pilot project measuring the engagement and experience of young people using the Session Rating Scale and Outcomes Rating Scale. This method provides instant feedback and client voice which shapes our interactions with the young people we are working with. Staff refine their approach based on this feedback and tailor future sessions and interactions. We will be measuring client feedback and how the change in approach impacts overarching outcomes. This empowers young people to have agency, ownership and input into service experience and design.
A critical assessment tool for our service is the ongoing reference panel, where young people (current participants and young people who have exited the program) participate in reviewing Wesley’s approach and practice. Up to 15 young people participate at any one time, and we are implementing groups in schools to aid access.
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?
Wesley is committed to supporting people who are most in need and our Young Healthy Minds program is accessed by young people and their families who are experiencing vulnerabilities:
• In our activity work plan developed in August 2020, we decided to target young people with a refugee experience and this has shaped our service delivery. For example, in the first few months of the plan we had brochures translated into key languages and set up client satisfaction surveys via the Translation and Interpreting Service.
• We have an ongoing reference panel in operation for up to 15 young people. As well as auditing our service and providing feedback, the young people on the panel identify gaps or challenges in their community. Young Healthy Minds staff then support young people to create and implement solutions. In this way the reference panel is a capacity-building approach for young people experiencing vulnerabilities.
• An Elders Reference Group works with Young Healthy Minds to ensure access and cultural safety for First Nations young people and their families in the area.
• Staff conduct visits to homes and schools to ensure access. This is particularly important with the growth of the western corridor of Newcastle which doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to connect residents with the social service system.
Question 9 – For all providers, are there other ways to improve collaboration and coordination across services and systems?
Wesley sees great opportunities for the Department of Social Services to improve collaboration and coordination across services and systems, including:
• Facilitating centralised training, particularly for developments being implemented as part of the contract
• Coordinating interagency meetings with providers and creating efficient mechanisms for information sharing
• Stronger partnerships with contract managers, where there is genuine collaboration and guidance.
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?
Innovation is fostered when staff are supported to do their work well, and have the time and space to think about gaps, challenges and possibilities. Wesley supports the development of robust systems and frameworks that simplify outcomes measurement and reporting, giving staff maximum time for clients.