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DSS to revamp grants for families and children

By reporter Matthew Schulz

The Federal Department of Social Services (DSS) is expected to make major changes to its $217 million annual grants programs aimed at families and children.

The department has flagged a significant shakeup of its programs, including a new three-tiered funding model instead of programs-based funding.

According to a DSS discussion paper, Stronger Outcomes for Families, released in June, there are now 225 organisations funded to deliver programs, with another 300 organisations sub-contracted to deliver services.

Most of grants agreements expire in June 2020, in areas affecting:


families

The DSS review has identified these long-term outcomes as vital for families and children. Source: Stronger Outcomes for Families discussion paper.


  • Communities for Children facilitating partners
  • Family and relationship services
  • Children and parenting support
  • Intensive family support; and the
  • Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY),

According to the discussion paper, future programs for families and children would be, or be underpinned by the following principles: outcomes focused; targeted service delivery; data and evidence-driven; early intervention and prevention; and, collaborative.

Among suggestions were that funding be provided under "three streams":

  • Universal programs targeting broad populations to address issues "before they escalate or become entrenched";
  • Targeted programs aimed at specific groups that provides "more intensive, and, where necessary, frequent and sustained support for children and families experiencing vulnerability or multiple complex risk factors"; and,
  • Place-based funding tailored by geography that "provides funding to communities experiencing disadvantage to deliver community-driven, collaborative responses to address local problems".

As part of the principle of better targeting service delivery, the government also aims to boost access for vulnerable children and families by creating higher-priority access to programs for at-risk groups.

Activating the department's renewed focus on data and evidence, the discussion paper suggests expanding the shift to measuring outcomes rather than outputs in demonstrating program effectiveness.

This would be achieved by building on the success of the department's "expert panel" that set evidence-based program requirements for its Communities for Children facilitating partners program and standardised reporting via the DSS Data Exchange.

The department accepts that "existing methods for commissioning grants may be impacting our ability to achieve the outcomes sought", mentioning the use of open rounds as an alternative method that had been trialled by the department.

The DSS expects to allocate more resources to early intervention programs, based on "clear and persuasive evidence" that prevention and early intervention is more effective than remedial responses.

It also aims to boost collaboration across government, the community and families, admitting "we still struggle to work collectively", even as research shows integrated responses are more effective.


Map

The DSS review has identified these long-term outcomes as vital for families and children. Source: Stronger Outcomes for Families discussion paper.


Grant Makers Intelligence

Following a national consultation, which closed on August 15, the department confirmed it had received 120 formal submissions on its Stronger Outcomes for Families discussion paper from service providers, academics, state and territory governments, and families.

A department spokesperson said more than 300 people had been involved in 20 roundtables and nine Indigenous forums, while 80 families had been involved in focus groups on the proposals.

Further Indigenous forums and focus groups would be hosted in the Northern Territory.

The department spokesperson said the feedback would now be reviewed and would inform future policy development.

Its consultation briefing suggested: "We anticipate continuing discussions over the coming years".

MORE INFORMATION

Stronger Outcomes for Families: Background and discussion paper
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