Parenting assessment and skill development services (PASDS) are specialist and intensive support services provided in every division across the state by local community service organisations or Victorian early parenting centres, to parents and families who are caring for infant clients of child protection.
Victoria's PASDS program provides a service model that consists of a parenting capacity assessment service and a parenting skill development, education and support service.
The independent specialist assessments of vulnerable infants and young children assess the health, development and well-being of the child, including an assessment of the parent’s capacity and ability to take on new parenting skills to care for child and improve their child's outcomes. In many cases the parent and infant reside together with intensive supports provided, while the assessment of parenting capacity is undertaken in the home, residential or community setting.
The specialised assessments conducted by PASDS are key to informing child protection, registered community service organisations and the Children's Court, about the care of a child and to ensure appropriate supports are provided to these vulnerable children and their families.
Results of the assessment process inform a tailored skill development program to assist the family to acquire the skills to care for the infant in a safe and nurturing manner and the assessment informs child protection decision making. A written report is provided to child protection at the completion of the services involvement.
PASDS also include an intensive skill development service component for parents of these vulnerable infants and young children known to child protection, to assist them to develop their skills, knowledge and capacity to care and nurture their children. This service is provided through a flexible service model delivered in the home of the child or as an intensive residential service provided at a community-based or early parenting centre.
Residential PASDS are provided by Victorian early parenting centres (EPCs), including the Queen Elizabeth Centre (QEC) based in Noble Park and Tweddle Child and Family Health Services (Tweddle) based in Footscray.
Home based PASDS are provided in every division by both EPCs and locally based community service organisations.
Referral source and process
PASDS accept referrals from child protection for at risk infants aged less than two years but may be inclusive of two or three year old children in some cases.
A referral form will be completed by child protection and provided to the PASDS coordinator.
The Children's Court may make referrals to the PASDS program in order to obtain a parenting assessment report, with the consent of the department.
Any referrals that cannot be responded to immediately will be placed on a waiting list. The child protection divisional PASDS coordinator is responsible for prioritising referrals into the PASDS program and managing cases while awaiting allocation.
Upon acceptance of the referral, the PASDS provider will undertake a comprehensive independent, specialist assessment of the infant's development and parent's capacity to care, and respond to any immediate needs. As a result of this assessment, the service provider will develop an action plan, in conjuction with the family. Prior to service completion, the service provider will refer the family to appropriate services, as identified.
Service duration and intensity
PASDS will provide support to families that may include:
- residential services - providing 24-hour centre-based intensive early parenting service, generally delivered over a 10 day period
- home based services - providing 120 hours of individually tailored, flexible, intensive early parenting services in the family home.
In-home PASDS are generally provided over a period of approximately 12 weeks. However, this may range from eight to 20 weeks. The assessment and skill development component, as well as the frequency and duration of visits, will be largely determined by the needs of the family and skills being developed.
The target group for PASDS is vulnerable infants and young children aged under two years (though may be inclusive of two or three year old siblings as appropriate) and their families where:
- the infant is involved with child protection and assessed at significant risk
- there are concerns regarding the parents' ability to provide direct care for their infant and to demonstrate positive attachment to the child.
- child must be a child protection client
- child must generally be aged under two years (with highly vulnerable, at-risk children aged up to three)
- home-based services are divisionally based, however, out of division services may be negotiated where a vacancy exists within another division
- residential services accept children and their parents from across the state, prioritised on a needs basis
- the divisional PASDS coordinator must approve and prioritise the referral.
Mother-baby services and specialist psychiatric mother and baby units
The Victorian public specialist mental health mother-baby services offer intense psychiatric treatment and support in a tertiary hospital for seriously mentally ill women and their infants aged 12 months and under.
Mother-baby services in Victoria are part of a range of specialist mental health services targeted to those with severe and complex problems providing assessment and treatment across the lifespan.
Services are available at:
- Austin Health Mother and Baby Unit located at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg
- Monash Mother-Baby Unit located at the Monash Medical Centre, Clayton
- Werribee Mercy Mother and Baby Unit located at the Werribee Mercy Hospital
Three mother-baby units are to be established in rural and regional Victoria, located at Traralgon, Bendigo and Ballarat.
- Mothers with a psychiatric condition.
These services will only take mothers with a psychiatric condition with an infant up to the age of 12 months.
Admission to mother-baby service will only occur following referral by a doctor or mental health service and a subsequent assessment by mother-baby service staff.
Priority of access to the mother-baby services will be determined on clinical need, any potential risk to mother and infant or risk of separation that may be avoided through admission to the mother-baby service.
These services are specialist state-wide mental health services and not parenting assessment and skill development services.
Parenting capacity assessments may be undertaken as part of a woman's care at a residential mother-baby service and if indicated support may be provided to improve parenting capacity.
Considerations for good practice
Working with infants and their parents can be an extremely challenging and emotional aspect of child protection work. Due to their age, developmental stage and limited contact with a wider service system, infants are highly dependent and vulnerable. Practitioners will need to have a good working knowledge of the specific needs of infants and their development. The practice leaders in each division will be able to assist with building knowledge and skills in working with infants via consultation, access to resources, mentoring and in some instances a joint assessment.
Having a baby can be challenging for anybody. There will be a variety of reasons why some people may lack the basic parenting skills and seem unable to learn. With a thorough assessment of parenting capacity, a plan to build on strengths and address less than adequate skills can be developed. It is important that each case is assessed on its merits.
As in all child protection matters, a comprehensive risk and needs assessment and risk management plan is critical and never more so than with infants. The PASDS and other parenting assessment services in operation have expert knowledge and skill in working with vulnerable families with infants. They play an important role in assessing and protecting infants. As a practitioner, developing and maintaining strong, open communication with these agencies and recognising the value of their recommendations will play a vital role in achieving the best outcome for the infants.