Speech by Senator the Hon Zed Seselja

FRSA National Conference

Location: National Convention Centre Canberra


Good morning everyone and welcome to Canberra, which as well as being the national capital, is my hometown.

Thank you Michael for your kind words and Virginia for your introduction.

And thank you Selina for your warm welcome to country.

I would like to acknowledge FRSA and its member organisations for your tireless work on behalf of Australian families.

Nothing is more important to a nation than the safety and wellbeing of its families and the children whom they nurture.

It is beyond dispute that stable family life, underpinned by strong relationships, is important to ensuring children grow up healthy and happy, and that adults are able to make meaningful contributions to their communities.

It is my privilege to be Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs.

The portfolio’s primary purpose is to improve the lifetime wellbeing of people and families in Australia and, not surprisingly, our focus is the subject of many of your conference sessions.

Investing early and knowing what works to support parents, building and maintaining strong family relationships and ensuring the safety of children are paramount to Government programs, as they are to the work of all of you here today.

The issues we face can be challenging.

Domestic and family violence for example remains a major concern.

The shocking figures continue to be confronting.

More than 80 women were killed as a result of violence last year, and roughly three quarters of these were killed by a partner or former partner.

Addressing COAG prior to the launch of the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children last month, the Prime Minister pledged:

We will work together to find different and better ways to solve this problem.

Just because the answers have eluded policymakers for too long, does not mean they can’t be found.

The Government has committed $100 million to advance the Third Action Plan which outlines 36 practical actions to reduce violence against women and children.

Almost $30 million will go towards legal assistance and family law services.

As part of that package, $6.2 million has been allocated for Family Relationship Centres which are piloting models of legally-assisted and culturally appropriate family dispute resolution for vulnerable families.

A hallmark of the Third Action Plan will be a strong emphasis on early intervention and prevention, which is also the approach embedded in the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children.

I notice you will be discussing the First 1000 Days approach, which has been incorporated into the National Framework’s Third Action Plan strategy to focus on the critical developmental stage of a young child’s life.

The finding by the Australian Early Development Census that over one in five children – that is 22 per cent of children – are developmentally vulnerable is particularly concerning.

The quality of parenting is important throughout a child’s life and it is well established in research and evidence how critical these first few years are.

At the Federal level, we want to improve the way we assist parents through the Building Capacity in Australian Parents Trial which will operate for two years from next July in two locations.

The idea is for local area coordinators to work with local service providers and jointly offer support services to vulnerable parents and expectant parents.

We are also keenly interested in the Towards Independent Adulthood trial to help young people thrive as they move from out-of-home care into adulthood.

Out-of-home care is another issue posing very serious questions for all of us.

The number of children and young people in out of home care has risen every year over the past 10 years and increased by 15 per cent from June 2011 to June last year.

There are too many instances in which the system lets these children and young people down – sometimes shockingly – and, for too many, the prognosis for their futures is bleak.

The Create Foundation’s 2013 report card shows that of young Australians between 15 and 18 who left care, 35 per cent are homeless in their first year, 29 per cent are unemployed and 70 per cent dependent on welfare payments.

These statistics are a key reason why I’ve been advocating for some time now for adoption reform. We need to give kids stability and security early in life and one of the key ways that can happen is through adoption.

With the 30,000 kids who had been in out of home care longer than 2 years in 2014/15, there were only 209 adoptions. That needs to change. Adoption won’t be the answer for every child, but it should be a realistic option available to give kids some sense of stability.

This brings me to the over arching theme of your conference this year – Measuring Success in the family and relationship sector for the wellbeing of children, families and communities.

Both in government and in the sector, we need to know our interventions are making a positive difference to people’s lives.

In September, Minister Porter released a baseline valuation report for the Australian Priority Investment Approach to Welfare.

The Priority Investment Approach is one of the most far reaching evidence based initiatives – perhaps the most far reaching – we have seen in the Australian welfare system.

The initial valuation report represents an analysis of 15 years of social security data from across Australia.

The data and accompanying analysis provides an unprecedented insight into the life-time patterns of welfare recipients and the characteristics and experience that lead to welfare dependence.

A key element of the Priority Investment Approach is the Try, Test and Learn Fund, into which we are putting $96 million.

The Fund will be used to design new and forward thinking ways to help people who are able to work, move out of welfare and into a job.

This reflects a priority of the Investment Approach – to increase people’s capacity to live independently of welfare.

New ideas – sought from the community and the non-government sector – will be developed and evaluated.

Ideas which fail to demonstrate their capacity to improve lives will be adjusted or discontinued; those which demonstrate success will be supported.

The Department of Social Services Data Exchange or DEX, with which many of you are already familiar, will help assess whether an initiative is to continue.

DEX represents an innovative approach to collecting and using program performance data, and has changed the way service providers report service delivery and outcomes data to the Department.

DEX is a collect once and use often approach to data collection, which has been designed to reduce the burden of reporting for service providers by streamlining data.

This IT solution has replaced five previous data systems, many of which included manual reporting.

DEX adds an innovative self-service reporting system that strikes a balance between providing valuable data to organisations while protecting privacy using proven de-identification techniques.

I am told that the feedback about your experiences using the system has been invaluable in shaping its ongoing development.

This collaborative co-design approach has also been used in the development of the client survey functionality of DEX.

I understand the pilot of the client survey is about to commence and will give those accessing services, our clients, the opportunity to provide their voice.

While the system will not provide all the answers, it will help us to better understand the characteristics of our clients and whether services are meeting demands and expectations.

Early results from DEX show that services are having a meaningful impact on family functioning, personal and family safety, and children’s development.

More than 2,300 organisations and nearly 10,000 users are currently registered with DEX.

Preliminary outcomes data for Family and Relationship Services has found that 78 per cent of clients who had a SCORE assessment achieved a positive change in their life circumstances as a result of the services.

For the Communities for Children Facilitating Partners Services, 74 per cent of clients with a SCORE assessment achieved a positive change in their circumstances and 81 per cent improved their skills, knowledge and behaviours.

Communities for Children Facilitating Partners is an example where we have worked with service providers to make some big inroads into strengthening evidence-based practice and measuring outcomes.

The Department is also working with service providers to help them measure outcomes under the Families and Children Expert Panel.

The Government invested $5 million to establish the Panel to assist service providers to deliver robust evidence based practices.

A project was commissioned recently under the Panel to develop an outcome measurement tool for Family Dispute Resolution services.

This tool will enable service providers to measure the impact and effectiveness of their Family Dispute Resolution services and to report the information through DEX.

It will be trialled across 15 Victorian Family Relationship Centres for six months and, if successful, will be provided free to all Family Law Services providers.

Some of you may have taken part in the Outcomes Measurement project run under the Expert Panel over the past year.

The idea was to develop tailored support to improve the way providers measure outcomes for children and families.

Providers who took part in the project reported an increased confidence and capacity to monitor and evaluate program outcomes, and develop strategies to match evidence based interventions to client needs.

We live in an age where data is available to us as never before.

The challenge for us is to use it in our best interests.

And the most fundamental of those interests is our families and their children.

That is why it is essential that we ensure our policies, programs and services on the ground are achieving their purpose.

The new world of data with its extensive measuring capacities will allow us to do this.

I would like to congratulate you for taking up the challenge.

I wish you every success and look forward to hearing the results of your conference deliberations.