ACWA COVID-19 Update: April 20

The activities of ACWA’s COVID-19 Response Team are continuing at pace, as we work closely with our non-government and government colleagues to deliver solutions to pressing issues confronting the sector due to the spread of COVID-19.

Below is a summary of our latest activities and outcomes:

Resolving emergency staffing options for the residential care sector
A priority issue for the ACWA COVID-19 Response Team over recent weeks has been working with the sector, the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), to give agencies more options for dealing with the staffing challenges they are currently facing due to the risks associated with delivering residential care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In our April 6 COVID-19 update, we outlined the collaborative process that ACWA had entered into with the ASU to rapidly develop emergency staffing options that are industrially compliant and promote worker safety and wellbeing. The process was facilitated by Deputy President Anna Booth of the Fair Work Commission (FWC), who kindly agreed to fast track the process by scheduling four meetings with representatives over a two-week period.

The work progressed through the FWC process was informed by valuable input from two of the member agency representatives we asked the Commission to include – one from ACWA’s Board and the other from the Children in Care Collective. We also recognised the importance of ensuring that DCJ observed the process, given the Department would ultimately have to support and fund the agreed COVID-19 staffing arrangements when activated by agencies in appropriate circumstances.

We’re pleased to advise that ACWA and the ASU were able to work very constructively to prepare two model COVID-19 Individual Flexibility Agreements (IFAs) for implementation with local workforces, and a Guideline outlining the principles that must underpin each agreement. This material was distributed to residential care providers last week, and is now available on ACWA’s website.

We are also very appreciative of the member agency support we received throughout this process, and the support provided by the ACWA Board and the Children in Care Collective.

The model COVID-19 IFAs provide extended shift options (both 12 and 24-hour options), related entitlements and new allowances, which recognise the need for contact between clients and different employees working in residential care homes to be minimised, and the additional risks posed to employees’ safety and wellbeing during this period. The model COVID-19 IFAs have also been prepared to help employees and employers to more efficiently enter into local agreements by outlining standard terms and conditions which have been tailored to suit the residential care setting.

The supporting guidelines contain jointly agreed principles for guiding the use of the model COVID-19 IFAs and outline the workplace safeguards and supports that should be in place before agreements are entered into with employees.

ACWA has also been working concurrently with DCJ to provide advice on updating its Emergency Action – Payment Application Form, to align the trigger points for emergency staffing arrangements covered in the IFAs, as well as the payment of other extraordinary additional costs incurred by agencies based on the feedback received during ongoing consultations with the sector. DCJ released this updated form this morning.

Over the coming week, the ASU is holding information sessions for frontline residential care workers to explain the practical implementation of the IFAs and to answer any questions.

Customised COVID-19 guidance and training for residential care workers
To complement the abovementioned response, ACWA has been working with DCJ and Rebbeck Consulting to produce customised Guidelines for managers and frontline staff working in residential care settings. These draft Guidelines, which will be finalised and distributed as early as possible this week, have been produced with generous expert advice and input from a number of providers. The Guidelines contain a wealth of valuable information, together with links to health and other relevant sites. They will be reviewed and updated as the policy and operational procedures recommended by health authorities continue to evolve.

The Guidelines, although useful, are very detailed. Therefore, to make this material easy to both understand and to implement in a frontline setting, ACWA has been developing a series of online training modules to supplement the Guidelines. These modules will be interactive, and will present some of the details already contained within the Guidelines in a more practical and digestible format.

Other training related activities
ACWA has also worked with DCJ to assist Justice Connect to rapidly produce two webinars, which were delivered on 9 April and 16 April, aimed at giving employers in the community sector high level legal information about their obligations and responsibilities in terms of work health and safety (WHS) and employment law.

The PowerPoint presentations from these webinars can be found on the Justice Connect website, together with other valuable resources

Vulnerable children and communities
On April 7, ACWA chaired a teleconference with a number of peaks, service providers, and representatives from DCJ. This meeting focused on particular challenges agencies are facing in seeking to support children and families during the current crisis, particularly in the situation where face to face contact and the use of public/community spaces is heavily restricted.

Issues discussed included: strategies for the innovative uses of technology in the medium to longer term; ways to maintain visibility of the needs of marginalised groups, and; how to achieve educational access and support for vulnerable young people in education.

Since this meeting, four working parties have been established to continue work on the following identified priorities:
1. Establish a community of practice aimed at sharing ideas for providing educational support to vulnerable children and families deprived of access to face to face community supports.
Organisers - Annette Michaux (Parenting Research Centre):
Amy Conley Wright (University of Sydney):

2. Establish a project to gather data on current support needs, including the support needs of particular vulnerable groups such as refugees.
Organiser - Amy Conley Wright (University of Sydney):

3. Identify and advance promising technological models such as online home visiting, protocols and guidelines for effective use of virtual home visits and family/parental support, and how to scale them up.
Organiser - Grainne O’Loughlin (Karitane):

4. Identify major current service and support gaps including, but not limited to, education, and how to address them.
Organiser - Kirsty Nowlan (The Benevolent Society):

There has been enormous interest and enthusiasm from across the sector in this work. If you or your organisation would like to get involved, please contact one of the relevant working party organisers, or ACWA: Alternatively, you may wish to give ACWA CEO, Steve Kinmond, a call to discuss further: 0409 782 614.

A follow up meeting of the wider group has been scheduled for this Thursday, April 23.

Supporting the remote delivery of Shared Lives and Step by Step
ACWA will be sharing later this week a new resource that offers valuable advice and tips for foster care agencies that are using online technology to train and assess prospective carers during the pandemic. This resource is based on work developed by Fostering Connections, Centre for Excellence in Child & Family Welfare, Department of Health and Human Services, and various Victorian foster care agencies. We extend our appreciation to these bodies for permitting ACWA to adapt this information to the NSW context.

CCWT online training options
Our CCWT team has been busy scheduling a range of online training short courses for the June to August period, with details to be released shortly. The following qualifications are also currently available through CCWT’s online, distance, virtual classroom and RPL options:

Please free to contact: to discuss options for tailored In-House training, and any other training needs that CCWT can support you with during this time.

 DCJ Employee Assistance Program extended to NGOs
ACWA would also like to bring to your attention the decision made by DCJ to extend its Employee Assistance Program (EAP), during the COVID-19 situation, to NGO service providers who don’t have their own similar service in place. These counselling services will be available to contracted service providers at no cost for the next three months. You can read a copy of DCJ Secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter’s announcement here. Visit the DCJ COVID-19 website to register.

Send us you feedback
If you have any COVID-related feedback or matters that you would like ACWA to address, please continue to forward them to us via our designated COVID-19 email:

COVID-19 information and resources

Please also keep checking our dedicated COVID-19 Information Hub for the latest information and advice on issues critical to the sector. This webpage covers a range of topics, including: DCJ and NSW Children’s Guardian guidance for service providers, support for parents and carers, court updates and legal advice, the new emergency framework for residential care providers, and information for community service organisations.

To supplement this webpage, ACWA has also developed a Clearinghouse of practical resources that may prove useful in your day to day work with children, young people and families within the current pandemic environment.

Both these pages are being regularly updated as new information and resources come to hand.