Carer Help Desk Funded!

Carer Help deskThe FCAV is delighted with the announcement in Budget 22 of funding to support the development and roll-out of a dedicated carer help desk to support kinship and foster carers at the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH). 

 

The FCAV recommended the establishment of a carer help desk to assist both carers and agency staff to resolve administrative issues that can affect placement stability. To address delays in decision making caused by bottlenecks and under-resourcing, the FCAV proposed that the Department establish a carer helpdesk which will have the power to acquire essential documents to support a placement. A help desk will give carers and agency staff an alternative decision-making path for the acquisition of essential documents and provide many other placement and administrative benefits.

Carers and agency staff often struggle to obtain key documents or permissions essential for the ongoing stability of a placement in a timely manner.

These can include 

  • Medicare cards/number (for access to universal health services)
  • birth certificates
  • vaccination certificates
  • passports, and
  • Centrelink customer numbers.

 

These documents are necessary for access to a range of essential services including

  • universal health services
  • childcare and kindergarten
  • School enrolment
  • Centrelink family payments

 

Without these essential documents, placements can come under significant stress because carers are unable to access childcare/kindergarten/school (which can affect their capacity to work) or may have to pay for expensive health services or other living expenses out of their own pocket. While refunds are available, these can also take months to action.

 

Delays occur for several reasons including

  • children are often removed at short notice and the required documents are unavailable at the time of removal; and,
  • registering a birth or obtaining a Medicare number, passport or vaccination certificate can be very resource intensive.

 

Currently all applications must be approved by the assigned Child Protection worker which is a significant bottleneck and key impediment to timely decision-making. The decision-making bottleneck occurs because the relevant worker may not have the time (because they are responding to emergency situations) to obtain the necessary documents or information to complete an application. Passport applications require considerable experience that most Child Protection workers don’t have.

 

The cost to the Child Protection system of delayed decision making and/or the failure to provide essential documents at the commencement of a placement is considerable because it increases carer frustration and stress and can lead to increased placement breakdown and carer churn.

 

The benefit of a help desk will be numerous including

 

  • staff gain high levels of expertise in specialised application processes which will improve efficiency
  • staff can troubleshoot an application to ensure it is complete when it is lodged which is likely to mean it will be approved in a minimum time
  • staff can establish back channels to key organisations such as Centrelink, Medicare, Passports and Births Deaths and Marriages to assist with liaison, problem solving and timely decision making
  • providing both carers and agencies with a contact point within Child Protection to provide essential documents will not only assist child protection workers but will also prevent relatively minor and solvable problems from becoming critical problems, and
  • having a contact point to assist carers and agencies will reduce sector frustration and improve carer retention.

 

This replicates the approach taken by some other organisations. For example, Centrelink has the newly rebranded Grandparent, Foster and Kinship Carer advisory line which can address difficulties carers experience with Centrelink application processes. Centrelink staff are able to identify and rectify application problems from the back end which means that carers don’t have to use myGov or the Centrelink call centre which can be very time consuming and frustrating.

Targeted and accessible administrative expertise at a Carer Help Desk will relieve administrative delays and burdens across the child protection sector and ensure carers are able to access information, documents, funds and services for the children and young people in their care more efficiently.