Speech delivered at the Family and Relationship Services Australia Senior Executives Forum
Thank you for your kind introduction Michael (Austin, FRSA Chair).
I appreciate the opportunity to address the Family and Relationship Services Australia Senior Executives Forum of 2013.
I understand Agnes Shae will be providing a Welcome to Country for this Forum, but I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal (Nunn-a-wal) people, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Welcome to Jeff McMullen AM, Honorary CEO of Ian Thorpe’s Fountain for Youth.
I also acknowledge Shadow Families Minister Kevin Andrews.
And a warm welcome also to FRSA members who have come from across the country to be at this important event.
This Forum is considering key policy issues affecting the sector and the outcomes of your discussions will help support and enhance service delivery across the Family Support Program.
The Forum is also focusing on potential changes to the program objectives, contract and reporting requirements, workforce issues and the future direction of the sector.
This year you’ll have available to help you interactive, capacity building workshops on areas such as strategic policy development, governance and media and government engagement.
Tomorrow, the Forum will feature a Parliamentary Briefing where you can engage with your local Members of Parliament to discuss and promote the profile and value of the sector.
The Australian Government values your input and has made a consultation with the sector a priority.
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss some of the key themes raised in the recent consultation process on the discussion paper on the future directions of the FSP.
FSP track record
The FSP is $1 billion dollar investment now into its fourth year, after having been introduced by my colleague the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin MP, in 2009.
As we know, the FSP brought together a range of family, children and parenting programs under the Family and Children’s Services stream, that all share a common interest in supporting Australian families, parents and children.
The Australian Government is committed to ensuring services are available to families, especially those vulnerable and disadvantaged families who need extra assistance to nurture their children and secure the wellbeing of all the family.
The integration of child and family support programs into the FSP provided a significant opportunity for the community sector and the Government to work together in response to a wide range of social needs.
On November 2010, as Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services, I met with national stakeholders including peaks and major service providers.
We held meetings in every state and territory and 21 consultations took place in 18 different locations – and these led to a range of reforms.
These reforms resulted in greater certainty for service providers, as their services were renewed for three years.
They also led to a cut in red tape and this has enabled service providers to deliver even more support for families.
The reforms came in to effect from 1 July 2011 and we gave the sector a commitment to consult again before the next round of contracts.
FSP future directions
As you would be aware, in October last year I launched a discussion paper on the future directions of the FSP.
It was a starting point for discussion with the community about opportunities to strengthen the design and delivery of the program, especially for vulnerable families, within a framework of a universal program.
The Australian Government received more than one hundred submissions from FSP service providers, peak bodies, academics and non-FSP specialised services.
Following the release of the discussion paper, consultations were held this year in 12 locations around Australia.
In fact, the last consultation was held only yesterday, here in Canberra.
The purpose of the consultations was to discuss some of the issues raised in the submissions in more depth and to explore practical ways to strengthen the program in the future.
A number of key themes that arose from the written submissions have been further supported by the consultation process.
Feedback – key themes
These themes highlight the issues with the greatest level of agreement arising from the submissions and the consultations.
Balancing universal services
The importance of balancing universal services with more focus on intensive support for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged was a key theme in the written submissions.
It also generated robust discussion throughout the consultations around the definition of a universal service.
There was a strong view that definitions of services need to be consistent and agreed upon across Government.
Focus of the program
Another key theme was that the Family Support Program should continue to focus on preventative, primary and secondary support.
Emphasis was also placed on the need to ensure adequate connection between intensive and universal services and on appropriate linkages to tertiary supports provided by State Governments.
Collaboration on service delivery
The desire for more collaboration between Commonwealth, state and territory, local governments, non-government organisations and communities to plan, design and deliver services
Overwhelmingly, feedback has highlighted the need for all levels of government and the community to work together better.
The need for consistent mapping of services and a thorough community and population needs analysis to be undertaken to inform the delivery of services.
Partnerships and support
That support from and partnerships between mainstream and specialised services was needed – whether they were funded by the Commonwealth, state and territories or local government.
This supports the idea of government and community collaboration, as well as the point of connecting intensive and universal services.
More sharing between organisations
That there should be more sharing of good practice and evidence based programs.
Comments made during the consultations, particularly in large regional centres, highlighted the need for organisations to work together. Ideas raised included sharing training resources, evidence of good practice and collaborative workforce development strategies.
Reducing data collection
That data collection should be reduced, simplified, used for benchmarking and to provide useful reports back to service providers.
FaHCSIA is already progressing a number of options to streamline performance reports, benchmark processes and trial new data approaches.
I am keen to advance these and other options.
That funding for services should require collaboration rather than competition.
Providers highlighted the difficulties of competitive tendering.
The Government is committed to exploring options to support approaches that may allow for more sharing of resources.
The way ahead
With the last consultation held only yesterday, my Department will compile all the suggestions received along with summaries of the written submissions and present these to me for consideration.
Given the Family Support Program went through changes in 2011, I am not looking at wholesale reform of the program, but for constructive improvements we can make which will lead to better service delivery.
Like you, I would like to see the Family Support Program continue to grow even stronger.
Throughout 2013, I will let you know about any changes that will be made to the program.
I encourage you, the FSP providers, to take at any time the lead in sharing good practice with other organisations, partnering with to provide services and seeking continuous improvement in service delivery.
We have a good program in FSP, thanks in large part to great providers who ensure our most vulnerable get the support they need.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today and for your ongoing work in supporting vulnerable families.
I look forward to taking – with you – more positive steps to strengthen the future of the Family Support Program.