Consolidated services to provide intensive support to SA children at risk
The South Australian Government will consolidate services and staff from several departments to establish a new system of intensive support services, designed to disrupt patterns of child abuse and neglect.
The new Intensive Support Unit will be housed within the Department of Human Services, and will deliver and commission intensive family services with a focus on early intervention, to reduce the number of children entering out of home care as a result of suffering abuse and neglect.
South Australian Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink said the reform was evidence driven, and was designed to ensure South Australia has a service system that delivers the best possible outcomes for children and families, especially those at risk of entering the child protection system.
“We know from research that some children are born into families with very high levels of multiple and complex needs, such as domestic and family violence, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and criminal activity,” said Ms Lensink.
“We need services that are evidence-based and designed to deal with these complex needs through appropriate therapeutic support, which includes intensive face-to-face work with highly skilled staff, such as social workers and allied health professionals – in people’s homes, education spaces, hospitals, health services and community settings.
“Services need to be part of a connected system that ensures people are getting the right type and intensity of supports, at the earliest possible time, in the places where they live,” Ms Lensink said.
The reform will design and trial some new services, such as the $2.8 million intensive family support pilot currently being developed for the northern suburbs, as well as refining government commissioning and intensive service delivery models, Ms Lensink said, “to ensure we’re investing efficiently and effectively.”
Under the new plan, some services currently being delivered by the South Australian Department for Education – such as Child and Family Referral Networks and Child Wellbeing Practitioners – will move into the new unit, along with commissioning of various non-government intensive family support programs currently managed by Education, Child Protection and Human Services.
The new unit,to be established by July this year, will employ more than 200 people, with a service delivery value of approximately $37 million (including $15 million in non-government contracts).
Ms Lensink said the South Australian Government recognised the need to “get better” at information sharing, data and system mapping and ensuring referral pathways lead to appropriate service interventions.
“We are also paying particular attention to the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the system, and have set specific goals in terms of developing Aboriginal cultural governance, community co-design and improving the workforce’s cultural knowledge,” she added.
An emphasis will be placed on trauma informed practice, Ms Lensink said, noting the level of need encountered by those working on the front line of child protection was “beyond what they are necessarily prepared for” with the reforms also exploring how frontline workers can better be supported.
South Australian Minister for Child Protection Rachel Sanderson supported the announcement, acknowledging the Nyland Royal Commission report, which found one in four children were being reported to child protection before the age of ten, which she described as “a devastating figure”.
“This problem is not unique to South Australia – it is very similar in other states and countries – but we have an obligation to respond in a way that disrupts the inter-generational transmission of trauma and mistreatment,” Ms Sanderson said.
Relationships Australia CEO Claire Ralfs also gave her support to the reforms, saying the sector wide improvements would increase the safety and wellbeing of South Australian families and children.
“We see first-hand the increasingly complex needs of families and we appreciate that improvements and efficiencies in the system are required so, it makes sense to bring commissioning of the various intensive family services together in the one department.
“The consolidation of contracting will support government and non-government agencies to share information, use common screening and risk assessment processes and generally collaborate more effectively,” Ms Ralfs said.
Highlighting the need to focus on prevention rather than cure, University of Adelaide Director of BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group, Dr John Lynch, said “Prevention is the only sustainable solution because treating the problem through out of home care cannot stem the flow of very young children entering the system.”
Detail of the new strategy, and the research that supports it, can be found on the EIRD website.