Family services provide an integrated family service system to meet the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families.
The key elements of the model for family services are:
- differential and comprehensive range of family service approaches to support family functioning and children's development
- coordinated and integrated family services system at a sub-divisional catchment level with strong relationships and clear referral pathways to local/sub-divisional health, education, family violence and other community services
- child and family services alliances, including key partners of Child FIRST, family services and child protection to share accountability, planning and operational responsibilities at a sub-divisional catchment level
- the functions of Child FIRST as the entry point into an integrated family services sub-divisional service system
- culturally competent services and practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and culturally and linguistically diverse communities
- collaboration in practice, service development and planning with other sub-divisional service systems and networks.
The identity of a person referring to Child FIRST is confidential. However, the referrer is encouraged to consent to the disclosure of their identity and assist with engaging the family with family services. Legal and professional indemnities also apply to referrals made in good faith.
There are also specified responsibilities for registered child and family services (s. 61). A registered child and family service must:
- provide its services in relation to a child in a manner that is in the best interests of the child
- ensure that the services provided by the service are accessible to and made widely known to the public, recognising that prioritisation of provision of services will occur on need
- participate collaboratively with local service networks to promote the best interests of the child.
A Strategic Framework for Family Services 2007 incorporates the functions of Child FIRST as the consolidated intake service into integrated family services at a sub-divisional catchment level and spells out how integrated family services are to provide a quality family service system to meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.
Integrated family services prioritise services based on need and the impact on the child's development. The primary target group for integrated family services is children or young people who are vulnerable due to family circumstances and social isolation, aged 0 to 17 years and their families, or parents expecting a child (where there are significant concerns about a child or unborn child). This includes vulnerable families who are experiencing significant difficulties in providing a safe and stable environment to ensure the wellbeing and positive development of their children.
Families requiring the support of family services generally have complex needs, which can adversely impact on a child’s development if appropriate supports and interventions are not provided in a timely manner. Significant concerns about the child’s wellbeing and development are highlighted by how often issues are occurring, how serious the issues are and most importantly how the issues are affecting the child’s development.
Consistent with the legislation, services should be prioritised to families on the basis of need, to prevent difficulties escalating to a level that will significantly impact on the child’s development and consequently lead to the entry into child protection.
There are twenty-three Child FIRST sites which provide sub-divisional intake into family services across the state. .
For guidance regarding making a referral to Child FIRST go to How to make a Child FIRST referral.
The functions of Child FIRST have been formulated on the basis that clearly visible and accessible entry into integrated family services in a designated sub-divisional catchment to provide effective service responses for vulnerable children and families requires the following functions:
A clear entry point into family services within a sub-divisional catchment, providing:
- a single telephone number
- provision of information and advice
- initial needs identification and assessment of risk, in consultation with child protection and other services
- identification of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status of children, young people and families
- identification of differentiated service responses for families related to the assessment of needs and underlying risks
- active engagement with the child, young person and their family
- determination of the priority of a response, and allocation of families to integrated family services, undertaken in consultation with family services and child protection (where required)
- timely responses through provision of or oversight of ‘active holding strategies’ involving active short term work with children and families, prior to allocation to family services
Community based child protection work is a key component of the Child FIRST and integrated family services system across the state.
Senior child protection practitioners (community based) are assigned to each Child FIRST site to undertake a range of key functions, including:
- facilitation of referrals from child protection to Child FIRST
- provision of consultation and advice on specific cases to Child FIRST and integrated family services in the sub-divisional catchment, including safety planning to enable ongoing case management
- provision of advice to child protection practitioners regarding making referrals to Child FIRST
- participation in local professional and community education initiatives
- identification of cases within child protection requiring enhanced referral
- management of a caseload of cases transitioning to Child FIRST and other cases commensurate with their other duties and reporting to the practice leader.
Senior child protection practitioners (community based) spend part of each week in registered family services sites within the sub-divisional catchment. See Family Services protocol.
A referral to Child FIRST may be the best way of connecting children, young people and their families to the services they need, where families exhibit any of the following factors that may impact upon a child’s wellbeing or development:
- significant parenting problems that may be affecting the child’s development
- significant interruptions in the continuity of care for a child, including inconsistent care arrangements, that may impact a child's development
- family conflict, including family breakdown
- families under pressure due to a family member’s physical or mental illness, substance abuse, disability or bereavement
- young, isolated and/or unsupported families
- significant social or economic disadvantage that may adversely impact on a child’s care or development.
Factors to consider
What specifically has happened to the child that has caused your concerns and what is the impact on their safety, health, wellbeing, development, identity and sense of belonging?
- How vulnerable is the child?
- Is there a history or pattern of significant concerns with this child or other children in the family?
- Has the child had a number of different informal care arrangements or a placement history that may impact on their development?
- Are the parents aware of the concerns, capable and willing to take action to ensure the child’s safety, and promote their health, wellbeing, and development?
- Are the parents able and willing to use support services to promote the child’s safety, wellbeing and development?
A referral to Child FIRST should be considered if, after consideration of the available information you are, on balance, more inclined to form a view that:
- the concerns currently have a low to moderate impact on child, where the immediate safety of the child is not compromised.
On receiving a referral from a professional or community member the Child FIRST team will conduct further assessment of the family and may consult with the senior child protection practitioner (community based). This assessment may lead to the involvement of a local family services organisation. In most circumstances Child FIRST will inform you of the outcome of your referral.
Where a Child FIRST team or a registered family services organisation forms a view that a child or young person is in need of protection they must report the matter to child protection.