Outcomes through relationships..."

Banding together for a unified systemic approach to service delivery

Every year, thousands of Australian individuals and families seek support from Family and Relationship Services (FARS) for help in resolving disputes and rebuilding family ties. Many find the process more complex than anticipated because of a key systemic issue – fragmented service delivery and care.

Provision of programs is further complicated by some funders requiring different data reporting by each region in the state. There’s also an overlap in the types of services that are funded by different levels of government and departments yet to the consumer it should be the one system and they think ‘why do I have to keep repeating myself?’. Be it mental health family support or family relationship support the system response is fragmented. All this poses a significant challenge in providing a coordinated multi-service response to the individuals and families that we support. 

We’ve observed a pattern with many of our clients where they often present with a single issue around family relationships but gradually reveal other underlying issues connected to it. In response to these multifaceted issues, we advocate supporting clients through complementary services like financial counselling, elder abuse prevention and mental health support. A cohesive care plan that includes all service providers is essential for cases like these to reach the best possible outcome. 

“The flow of funding and attendant different reporting requirements complicates service delivery and does not place the client at the centre of the service provision.”


The exclusion of older people in family relationship services

In our work with generations of Australian families, we’ve noticed the emergence of an ageist approach to the provision of family relationship services that excludes the older person. The notion that older people do not experience family relationship issues is not only misguided but also harmful to this group. 

The families of older Australians comprise their adult children and grandchildren. Parental concerns and issues last a lifetime even when their children have flown the nest. A relationship with a  grandchild is vastly different from that with a child and may require guidance as it develops. To overlook this and deny older people their need to nurture or repair their family relationships is unconscionable. The focus of service guidelines for family services are for younger age normative and exclude grandparents and older parents.

In fact, older people should be encouraged to continue deepening their relationships in this phase of their lives. One way to promote Family Relationship Services (FARS)  to them is by making these services more inclusive, acknowledging their needs and linking these services to other necessary services. Across Australia, over sixty Family Relationship services exist yet the over-65 cohort participation in these services is very low. Children and teenagers and their parents can attend but it seems the doors are closed for this cohort. 

The older demographic is also deeply affected by COVID-19. As we continued providing mental health support and elder abuse support services during lockdowns, it became increasingly apparent that inclusiveness and connectedness are missing for this cohort. 

Not only are older people pushed out of public sight but they’re also driven into further social isolation because of their inability to use technology to stay connected with family, friends and support networks. As such, Better Place Australia fully supports piloting Voice-Assisted technology trials to overcome this barrier to connectivity.

Fostering cohesian and inclusivity among service providers

There’s a growing need for the healthcare sector to start building stronger links among related service providers so it can function in a cohesive and inclusive manner that is to be beneficial to all Australians. 

One body that’s already implementing this model well is the Family Law Pathways Network (FLPN). We consider the FLPN to be a good example of how service providers can work hand in glove with each other and with government and non-government agencies. 

We also support the establishment of regional service provider forums that can bring together service providers within niche areas to collectively identify service priorities and strengthen collaboration with each other. 

Much of the Department of Social Services’ work currently revolves around the administration of grants and developing a relationship approach to contract management. We hope to see the department take on a greater leadership role and prioritise achieving outcomes through relationships rather than contractual governance. This will be a positive starting point in bringing together the different parts of a whole in the areas of service delivery and care. 


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