Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA): Early Intervention and Family Services
Knowledge Circle Practice Profiles

Overview

Practice focus

The focus of this promising practice is on the delivery of a range of integrated and culturally appropriate services that are delivered through a cultural lens, where "culture is strength". The whole-of-community and family-centred approach provides VACCA's Early Intervention and Family Services with a large capacity to deliver a range of responses that assist families and communities to care for their children.

Delivered by

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency Co-operative Ltd (VACCA):
An Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation.

The information for this Promising Practice Profile was provided during a telephone interview with the Executive Manager of Early Intervention & Family Services at VACCA.

Service type

The aim of Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency Co-operative Ltd's (VACCA) Early Intervention and Family Services (EI&FS) is to provide direct client services for children, families and Aboriginal communities with the aim of strengthening a child/young person's cultural connection, and to find ways of nurturing and supporting the family's cultural experience.

VACCA delivers a range of integrated family services that provides specialised programs for vulnerable and disadvantaged families. The programs address multiple needs and operate across communities, sectors and other common environments, such as education, health and early years settings. In addition to the Commonwealth funded programs, EI&FS delivers state-funded programs that focus on family violence, family coaching and restorations.

As part of VACCA's integrated service model, EI&FS offers families:

  • home visits to provide parenting advice and support;
  • limited counseling for adults and children in relation to family matters;
  • behaviour management strategies;
  • referrals to other programs and advocacy in relation to housing, income security, education and other related issues for allocated clients;
  • linking families to community activities and supports, such as supported playgroups and youth homelessness services;
  • limited emergency relief including food vouchers; and,
  • group programs supporting parents, carers and children.
Location(s)

State-wide Victoria, including metropolitan Melbourne.

Description

VACCA's EI&FS prevention, restoration, early years and family decision making programs recognise the right of families as the fundamental group in society to be leading decision making, safety planning and solutions to care for their children.

The vision is to:

  • provide an early intervention service to support children to remain in the care of their parents and family;
  • to reduce the number of children entering the out-of-home care system;
  • to assist with timely family reunification; and,
  • to facilitate kinship care options and connection to family identity and culture.

EI&FS services emerged in response to existing services that were not, in VACCA's view, achieving desired results for Aboriginal families, children and young people. Existing services that delivered diversion programs focused primarily on negative behaviours, as was evident for young Koori people who were being 'branded' in a negative light. Instead, EI&FS focus on support, guidance and positive choices as part of a strengths-based service delivery framework.

VACCA's approach to families recognises that history and circumstances have affected the ability of some Aboriginal families to provide strong and positive family relationships. Across successive generations, a cycle has developed of broken family relationships and of individuals who are now alienated from their culture and who remain vulnerable in society. VACCA see the connection between this cycle and the many social problems Aboriginal communities now face. VACCA believes that families who are strong in their culture and connected to their community will be more successful in raising resilient children who are proud of who they are and where they have come from.

EI&FS support their stakeholders to work together to deliver a consistent message, that culture is a strength and not a risk (Aboriginal disadvantage is the risk). In doing so, EI&FS aim to achieve the following outcomes:

  • for children to be safe, secure in their Aboriginal identity, proud of their culture and to maintain strong community relationships;
  • for children to be supported to learn and grow, to be valued and respected and to be provided with every opportunity to become an effective adult;
  • for Aboriginal parents to be supported in their family and community to be positive, confident and resourceful parents, and to be able to help their chldren learn and grow; and,
  • for Aboriginal communities to be strong in culture, value their children and young people and recognise the importance of the whole community in raising children and keeping families together.
Resourcing

VACCA's Early Intervention and Family Services (EI&FS) is funded by the Victorian Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).

Practice

MOST promising aspect

As an Aboriginal community-controlled child and family service organisation, VACCA believes that to protect vulnerable Aboriginal children and strengthen Aboriginal families and communities, a service system that respects Aboriginal self-determination and embeds Aboriginal culture into service provision is required. The commitment to self-determination is central to the success of VACCA's services and one of the primary functions of the EI&FS division is to facilitate an integrated approach to service delivery that is both holistic and therapeutic. VACCA therefore adopts the 'Aboriginal service first' principle, where services for Aboriginal children and families are delivered by Aboriginal organisations and decisions about Aboriginal children are made by Aboriginal organisations. On occasions when services cannot be delivered by Aboriginal organisations, VACCA aims to ensure those service agencies are culturally competent and best practice based.

Other promising aspects

All VACCA's EI&FS programs have been refined, reformed and restructured over many years to be aligned with Aboriginal culture. This has been achieved through ongoing evaluation and assessment that is inclusive of Aboriginal clients and stakeholders, and VACCA draws upon and contributes to the evidence base as part of their vision to deliver best practice programs.

VACCA's programs are not tied to certain service delivery structures in the same way that other 'mainstream' programs are. By adopting a cultural emphasis across the whole organisation, and ensuring that non-Aboriginal partner agencies adopt a similar approach, a range of services is available to Aboriginal children and their families and the broader Aboriginal community.

A large component of the work is acknowledging the journey of VACCA's clients; who they are within the collective culture and what they can do for their communities (a central part of Aboriginal culture). VACCA focuses on a drive for leadership, which means providing education and support to go on to further studies (to capitalise on and to build a willingness to learn), and to acknowledge past traumas while fostering the resilience required to move forward.

In service planning and delivery, VACCA recognises that Aboriginal-to-Aboriginal relationships will always work better. The organisation therefore works with Aboriginal volunteers and staff to help them deal directly with clients while providing an emphasis on personal development and training. For non-Aboriginal workers and stakeholders VACCA provides cultural orientation training that is respectful, helpful and practical.

By considering culture as a strength and Aboriginal disadvantage as a risk, VACCA aims to increase the visibility of Aboriginal people in the community and to help create and reinforce positive perceptions about Aboriginal people in the broader community.

Evidence base and opportunities

Through the use of multiple, intensive, targeted recruitment and retention strategies VACCA is engaging and retaining Aboriginal children and families in its range of programs. Using a collaborative approach to service delivery, referrals to and from other local service agencies provide increased access for Aboriginal chldren and families to the services they need most to help them deal with often challenging family issues.

VACCA's organisational structure facilitates the delivery of a range of integrated services that can be used to further identify the specifc needs of families and refer those families to programs that can more appropriately attend to those needs. VACCA's Early Intervention and Family Services division is particulalry effective in preventing families from needing to access more intensive programs by identifying family issues before they escalate.

The focus of VACCA's programs is on designing and delivering services through a cultural lens. This enables the programs to be culturally appropriate and helps families to reconnect with their Aboriginal culture and to formulate supportive connections with other families and community members who share and celebrate their traditions and customs and to help each other in their healing. Such relationships assist families to access more informal support in safe and comfortable settings, including those environments where VACCA runs family-centred events or activities. This approach facilitates soft entry access to more formalised supports and is an effective way to deliver positive outcomes for children and families.

VACCA is owned and operated primarily by Aboriginal staff, community members, families and volunteers. Partner agencies are also enlisted to provide support as long as they adopt culturally sensitive approaches. Involving the wider community in this way is another approach that has been shown to be effective in building the capacity of services to deliver effective programs for Aboriginal children and families.

Cultural relevance

Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

VACCA takes a whole-of-family approach by working alongside Aboriginal families to plan, design, deliver and evaluate their EI&FS programs. The programs' focus are on Aboriginal-to-Aboriginal relationships to deliver the services while gaining the support of various non-Aboriginal and Government agencies to provide additional resources and advice, where possible. VACCA actively promotes cultural competency to all stakeholders and staff (including non-Aboriginal partners) so that they understand, respect and embrace Aboriginal culture as the primary lens through which to contribute to VACCA's integrated service delivery model.

Aboriginal families/clients are considered by VACCA to be equal partners in program planning and delivery. This means ongoing development of VACCA's internal assessment tools so that EI&FS remains responsive to families in need of parental, educational and cultural support. For example, the Early Intervention team has implemented a feedback/evaluation process that involves families who currently participate in programs or were previous participants. A child-friendly evaluation tool is also used to gather feedback from children as a way to engage families and promote their ownership and involvement in programs.

Cultural practices and materials

VACCA's EI&FS strategies adopt a range of culturally embedded principles to engage with stakeholders and clients in delivering its programs and services to Aboriginal families. These principles include:

  • a holistic healing approach that seeks to provide for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing;
  • a narrative rather than diagnostic assessment and planning approaches;
  • viewing "culture as treatment" so that affirmation and enhancement of Indigenous culture is central to the integrated service approach and that gender specific service responses are culturally appropriate;
  • adopting a family strengthening approach that seeks to address underlying issues by promoting positive and culturally appropriate approaches to family environment;
  • viewing "culture as resilience" so that, along with a family strengthening approach, the resilience of families can be strengthened within a cultural framework; and,
  • adopting an empowerment model that engages participating families in the process of addressing issues so that they become active participants in treatment rather than passive recipients of a service.

Some of the specific practices of VACCA's EI&FS programs include:

  • providing families with culturally enriched experiences by connecting them with Aboriginal Elders and artists and engaging them in Aboriginal storytelling;
  • culture is embedded into playgroups through "circle time", where rhymes, song and stories are delivered through Aboriginal language and traditional instruments;
  • by having Aboriginal Elders teach and entertain participants, social support and cultural connections are formed for parents and carers as way a way to connect families with their community;
  • "cultural days" are held to provide positive engagement and help to provide happy memories for the children and young people;
  • employing "Child First Aboriginal Liaison Workers" helps to identify children and carers for referral to community respite programs and they provide practical assistance and support to playgroup workers by spending time with children and carers from the Out-of-Home care program; and,
  • for the new youth programs, "curiosity" maps (versus western style genealogy maps) are used as a way for clients to see a reflection of themselves in Aboriginal culture. Social media is also used for the youth cohort to raise program engagement.

Evaluation

Evaluation status

Some evaluations of VACCA EI&FS collaborative programs have been undertaken and are publically available. One example is the evaluation of the Take Two program, a developmental therapeutic service in Victoria for children who have suffered abuse and neglect. The program is a partnership of organisations that provide child and family services, mental health, academic and Indigenous services. VACCA helps to deliver the program with Berry Street, Austin Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and the La Trobe University School of Social Work and Social Policy.

VACCA continues to evaluate their programs internally for both reporting to funding bodies and for ongoing development of new and existing programs and services. VACCA's EI&FS and partnership programs will also be subject to external evaluations as they arise. Planned internal evaluations will include:

  • reviews of VACCA EI&FS strategies, systems and quality improvement initiatives (such as record keeping protocols) to implement and refine reporting frameworks, team performance review tools, budget allocations, communication approaches and case management and referral protocols;
  • feedback from leadership teams and workers sourced through leadership days and workforce forums, staff workshops and regular team meetings; and,
  • program evaluations and reviews for refinement of existing programs and identifying the need for new programs and services.

Effectiveness

Demonstrated outcomes

An example of findings from an external evaluation include a KPMG evaluation of the Stronger Families program using a case presentation through the eyes of one of the families that was used to demonstrate best practice. Key findings included:

  • taking time to develop relationships of trust is an important factor in ensuring families are encouraged and supported to be the drivers in decisions made about their family;
  • the emphasis on culture as a strength and protection factor is effective for Aboriginal families, children and young people; and,
  • close collaboration with other service providers is a key feature in delivering outcomes for Aboriginal children and families.
Other evidence

VACCA's EI&FS programs have met and exceeded the key deliverables of the funding bodies and their services continue to expand with new initiatives and a growth in staffing and volunteers.

Since VACCA's inception, there has been an increase in the number of Aboriginal people in leadership positions and greater numbers of Aboriginal staff who have attained higher level qualifications.

By involving other services as part of a holistic and therapeutic approach to service delivery, such as the involvement of dental services and infant health at playgroups, a greater use of VACCA EI&FS programs have been taken up by the local community.

EI&FS have increased referrals by up to 50%, which demonstrates increased confidence in the services provided to community members and the strength of their stakeholder partnerships.

In relation to the Family Violence program, the integrated model of service delivery effectively meets the needs of families, and families are experiencing a significant decrease in violence and intrusive activities from statutory organisations.

VACCA EI&FS programs are considered to lead the field in the provision of early intervention and familiy services as indicated by the number of Aboriginal services providers who come to them for advice about delivering better quality services for Aboriginal families.

 

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