Victoria. Child FIRST and Department of Human Services Key Learnings. What is Child FIRST?. Child FIRST = Child and F amily I nformation, R eferral and S upport T eam.
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Child FIRST = Child and Family Information, Referral and Support Team.
Child FIRST operates as an intake to local Family Services (a differential pathway to Child Protection) - provides a central referral point to a range of community-based family services and other supports within each of the Child FIRST catchment areas.
Part of a broad suite of child and family services reforms underpinned by new legislation (Children, Youth and Families Act 2005).
Developed out of series of pilots (Family Support Innovation Projects 2001-2005) that were subsequently mainstreamed across the State.
Community Intake introduced in 2005 – later morphed into Child FIRST in 2007 with the commencement of new legislation. Child FIRST rolled out over three years (2007-09).
The overarching (state wide) Shell Agreement provides the framework for the Child FIRST service – with local agreements developed to build upon the overarching agreement.
Local agreements provide more detail in the prescribed practice instructions and operational requirements at the divisional and catchment level. It describes the mechanisms, timelines and responsibilities for local processes such as:
Prioritisation and allocation
Referral and reporting processes
Guidelines for resolving differences, formal mediation and dispute resolution processes
Demand management and contingency responses
Formal review processes
Other key decision making points.
Local agreements provide greater flexibility for different geographical locations.
Co-production/co-design – a genuine commitment by the department and sector to ‘get this right’.
3 year staged implementation made the task more manageable.
Importance of a common language – Family Services focused on strengthening families, and Child Protection focused on tertiary child protection responses – Best Interests Framework.
Which pathway to report to – Child FIRST or Child Protection – critical to provide clear, unambiguous advice to professionals. Professional referrers also needed clear advice on the information sharing provisions.
Out-posted officers need to be credible, experienced staff with good networking skills and positive ‘people skills’.
Benefits of Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisation, and an ATSI liaison officer and domestic and family violence specialist located in service.
This was a critical area. There were up to 4-5 Family Services in each prospective Child FIRST catchment, some very small.
Child FIRST required that all these services work together collaboratively.
A competitive tender for Child FIRST would have been highly competitive - approach utilised was an invited submission open to existing Family Services CSOs.
Tender specifications made it clear that preferred approach was an agreed sole lead Child FIRST provider in each catchment.
23 of 24 catchments responded positively and worked this out amongst themselves (generally the largest provider).
This approach laid the foundation for ongoing collaboration and respectful relationships – particularly important in establishing alliances on a local level – Child and Family Services Alliances in each catchment.