ACWA Sector Development Update: June 22

Welcome to our latest sector update, which highlights several systems reform initiatives that ACWA has been working on with other stakeholders:

Establishing a NSW Child and Family Research Advisory Council
Late last year, ACWA, the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), NCOSS and academics came together to explore the potential benefits of establishing a Research Council (with the current working title of the NSW Child and Family Research Advisory Council) to provide a platform for the Government, NGO sector and academic institutions to regularly come together with the aims of:

  1. Identifying those areas that should be targeted for research (along with determining the types of research methodology which should be utilised).
  2. Considering opportunities for research collaboration.
  3. Highlighting significant research which has been completed, underway, or is planned to commence.
  4. Identifying related ‘research to practice’ and ‘communities of practice’ opportunities in order to build the overall skills and knowledge of service providers.

Those involved in these early discussions were of the view that the Council’s initial focus should be on research relating to children, young people and their families and, in particular, research on those considered at-risk of factors such as child protection, out-of-home care and/or juvenile justice involvement, or facing other challenges arising from disability, trauma, mental health issues etc.

With this in mind, Dr Amy Conley Wright of the University of Sydney, with support from ACWA, surveyed representatives from the NGO sector and academia about relevant research they had carried out in these fields over the past three years. The survey made provision for the inclusion of a broad range of research types: qualitative or quantitative, big or small, undertaken alone or in partnership with others.

With workplaces beginning to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the time is now ripe for ACWA to resume work on this important initiative. As such, we are pleased to release our NGO Research and Academic Stocktake Report – which confirms the benefits of establishing a research council for the purposes outlined above.

ACWA is committed to pursuing this initiative and will be shortly recommencing discussions with government agencies, NGOs and fellow peaks to determine the next steps from here. At this stage, we anticipate hosting an initial gathering of interested stakeholders.

We extend our thanks to all the ACWA member agencies who donated their valuable time and energy to completing the initial survey and look forward to inviting your further participation in delivering a coordinated approach in bringing research to practice.

Responding to the educational needs of vulnerable children and young people
During the period of COVID-19, concerns about vulnerable children and meeting their educational needs have been raised in a number of fora. There is a consistent view across both the government and non-government sectors that work in this area should be treated as a priority, both now and beyond the pandemic. This particular issue has also been earmarked for attention by the Vulnerable Children and Young People Collaborative Sector Group, which has been established to address critical issues impacting vulnerable children and families (updates about the work of this cross-sector group can be found further down).

In response to calls for action on this issue, ACWA has made representations to both DCJ and the Minister’s Office about the possibility of establishing a standing committee that would consider critical practice and policy challenges relating to meeting the educational needs of vulnerable children, along with tracking the outcomes to ensure that solid progress is being made.  ACWA will keep the sector updated as more developments come to hand.

Meeting the training and development needs of the sector
ACWA has also made representations to DCJ and the Minister’s Office about the merits of implementing a Joint Workforce Development Strategy for meeting the training needs of government and non-government staff working in the child and family sector.

Our advocacy in this area has been prompted by concerns raised during recent sector consultations around the need for an efficient and integrated system that is capable of responding to the core training needs of the workforce. This issue has also been singled out for attention as one of the priority areas for our ongoing PSP reform work.

For example, it would seem to make sense that staff who hold particular roles across the sector are guaranteed to receive core training and related skills development that is deemed essential to these identified roles. This would ensure that when agencies recruit staff who have previously held the same role elsewhere, they can be confident that their new recruit will possess the necessary competencies and skill-set commensurate with the time that they have spent in the relevant role.

In order to progress this broad issue, ACWA is proposing the establishment of a joined-up approach to industry training and development, including clear descriptions of agreed capabilities that each role requires, and agreement on training products that meet these capabilities. The development of such a plan could be driven by a cross-sector governance group made up of representatives from the above agencies, as well as other key experts in this area.

Enhancing court practice across the sector
ACWA has been working closely with DCJ to progress a number of systems and practice issues that were identified at our March 2 sector forum, ‘Care Proceedings: Achieving the best outcomes for children’. The presentations from this event are available on ACWA’s website.

Early action includes:

  • ACWA has briefed the President of the Children’s Court about the forum outcomes, and he has indicated an eagerness to work with ACWA and DCJ representatives around ways the Court can enhance the involvement of NGOs in court proceedings, and achieve compliance with orders. The President has indicated that he will also involve the Court’s Senior Children’s Registrar, given the feedback at the forum about the minimal involvement of NGOs in Dispute Resolution Conferences.
  • Developing a ready reckoner for use by DCJ/providers outlining answers to key practice related questions posed by Children’s Court Magistrate, Tracy Sheedy, at the forum and embedding same in the PSP Case Management Policy.
  • Developing a checklist for use by DCJ/providers, outlining the key steps in the collaboration process before, during and after care proceedings. It will be necessary for these steps to be clearly defined. For example, collaboration would need to occur between NGOs/DCJ if circumstances materially change after an order is made to determine whether the matter needs to be brought before the court again to consider the order’s ongoing appropriateness.
  • DCJ Legal has agreed to explore how it can play an oversight role to ensure that key steps in the collaborative process have been explored by DCJ with the relevant NGO during care proceedings.
  • The PSP Learning Hub will continue to develop useful resources for the sector to enhance court practice, such as tailored affidavit templates for different scenarios.
  • ACWA has also met with a retired (and currently acting) Magistrate about delivering a revised training course on key elements of court practice. We would work closely with the PSP Learning Hub and DCJ to ensure that the course reflects the updated policy guidance developed as a result of the feedback received from the sector and the Court via the March forum and related consultations. The aim would be for the sector to have access to regular foundational training and refresher courses each year, with consistent content and messages via the PSP Learning Hub.

Raising the bar on leaving care practice
The COVID-19 situation has highlighted the many challenges faced by young people leaving the care system. In response, ACWA has instigated discussions with DCJ and the Office of the Children’s Guardian (OCG) regarding strengthening leaving care support for young people in out-of-home care. Since these preliminary discussions, the OCG has announced that it will be undertaking a review of the leaving care landscape as part of its core oversight function. The scope of this review will include the monitoring of current aftercare assistance for individual young people, with the initial focus on particular cohorts of young people leaving care (as outlined in this recent OCG advice sent to service providers).

Against this backdrop, ACWA has already flagged with the OCG and DCJ the benefit of forming a working party/steering committee focused on developing proactive solutions to core practice and systems issues identified in the OCG review. Ideally, this body would be made up of representatives from the OCG, DCJ, service providers and related NGO peaks. Furthermore, in collaboration with the OCG and the proposed working group/steering committee, ACWA would be eager to work with AbSec and DCJ on developing appropriate related training to achieve a greater level of quality and consistency of practice in this critical area.

Intensive Therapeutic Care costings
Over recent months, ACWA has facilitated a number of meetings with ITC providers as they have worked together to reach a collective position in relation to program funding issues. The providers have now finalised a submission. In related work, ACWA is also facilitating a similar process to be undertaken by providers of ITC-SD (Significant Disbiity) services, and continues to have a dialogue with general residential care providers and DCJ in relation to particular contracting concerns in that space.

Capturing and publishing core carer and PSP activity and outcomes data
As part of our PSP Reform work, ACWA is strongly advocating for the capture and publishing of core placement information; carer recruitment, assessment and support data; and PSP outcome data. We see this to be critical to understanding what is needed, as well as allowing the whole sector to operate under clear and consistent operational performance metrics, and to allow us all to assess whether the right outcomes are being achieved.

While we acknowledge that DCJ has been working on this issue, we are keen for there to be a shared understanding of the critical data that needs to be captured, and for this data to be reliable, analysed and utilised in order to track and drive performance.

Therapeutic Home-Based Care and models of Professional Care
As a sector, we have recently seen improvements in placement options for children and young people in Alternative Care Arrangements (ACAs), including for younger children and young people with low to medium needs. However, there are still just over 100 children and young people in ACAs and challenges remain in finding appropriate placements for many of these young people.

During May, ACWA commenced discussions with DCJ about the range of models of care available to the sector and what can be done to provide additional, flexible options. DCJ indicated that, from its perspective, it was now timely for us to collectively explore how we can build on the success achieved to date in providing more options for this cohort. In this regard, DCJ indicated that a useful starting point for this discussion with the sector would be exploring its views about Therapeutic Home-Based Care (THBC).

DCJ recognises that the implementation of ITC has been a complex and challenging process, potentially leaving providers with limited opportunity to actively focus on THBC. For this reason, ACWA, in collaboration with DCJ, hosted a gathering of ITC providers on June 1 to discuss the THBC model, including the challenges providers have experienced in seeking to utilise this form of care, and any contractual barriers. The meeting was a useful scene-setting exercise. However, all agreed there would be value in establishing a provider working group to put further flesh on the challenges currently being experienced and future options. The working group will meet later in June. In the meantime, ACWA has been conducting one-on-one consultations with providers with a view to pulling together an issues paper for further consideration and action by DCJ.

Vulnerable Children & Young People Collaborative Sector Group
Four Working Parties have been established under this cross-sector initiative, which is facilitated by ACWA. Below is a snapshot of each group and the activities they have in play:

Working Party 1, which is led by Annette Michaux (Parenting Research Centre), is focused on supporting the educational needs of vulnerable children. The group has already hosted an introductory community of practice session attended by around 70 people featuring presentations from representatives of the Department of Education and DCJ, with an opportunity for Q&A. A second session is scheduled to take place on June 30, which will offer practical presentations by school principals and NGO practitioners on innovative ways of collectively identifying and engaging with vulnerable students and their families to keep them connected to education. Click here for more details and to register.

Working Party 2, facilitated by Dr Amy Conley-Wright (University of Sydney), is developing a research project that will explore the support needs of carers and vulnerable families. A short survey will soon be conducted with NGOs that will encourage them to have a conversation and report back on what they are seeing regarding support needs.

Working Party 3, led by Grainne O’Loughlin (Karitane), is looking at using technology, based on models used to successfully deliver telehealth services, to enhance practice in the child and family space. The aim is to develop best practice guidance for the sector in delivering telepractice and related training and mentoring. A proposal has been developed for capacity building and up-skilling the sector over the next 12 months. ACWA has been working with Karitane and Annette Michaux (Parenting Research Centre) in bringing stakeholders to the table to source the necessary support and funding to progress this initiative. These early discussions have been very productive, and we expect an announcement in the near future regarding a significant project in this area.

Working Group 4, facilitated by Kirsty Nowlan (The Benevolent Society), has been established to identify policy and service gaps that would benefit from cross-sector collaborative thinking and system transformation. In meetings so far, this group has identified better educational support for vulnerable children as a key area of need, along with place-based system transformation and access to accurate and useful data. As such, members of this group will combine its efforts with Working Party 1 to advocate for systemic reform to enhance the engagement of vulnerable children and young people in education.

Emergency staffing options for residential care services
In a welcome development, the emergency framework developed by ACWA, in collaboration with the Australian Services Union and supported by DCJ, to assist ITC/ residential care providers maintain service continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic is being considered for implementation in other jurisdictions. These measures, which ACWA released in April, give agencies more options, via new rostering arrangements, for dealing with the staffing challenges they are currently facing due to the increased workplace risks associated with coronavirus.

Best Practice Consultation Guide for agencies and employees on workplace changes
Following on from the successful approach adopted by the sector, ACWA and DCJ with the ASU in negotiating the recent Individual Flexibility Agreements (with support from the Fair Work Commission), the Commission has asked the parties to consider working together again to develop best practice guidelines for use by agencies and their employees when consulting on significant workplace changes, such as those which occurred during the pandemic.

Guidelines of this type were produced by the disability sector to help facilitate discussions around workplace safety and industrial issues during COVID-19, and were provided to us as an example. The Guidelines would not be binding but would simply provide best practice advice on workplace consultation.

Our preliminary view is that the Disability Guidelines have some very good content, but are focused on COVID, and any guidelines developed for use by the child and family sector would need to apply beyond the pandemic. We will shortly circulate an adapted consultation version of the guideline to seek sector’s views about the merits of such a document and, if so, obtain feedback on the draft.