To reflect on the week, we spoke to CatholicCare Manager of Community Services in Western Melbourne, Renu Barnes.
Can you give me examples of how you are working to keep children safe?
Renu: Our Integrated Family Service (IFS) in Western Melbourne is part of both the Western Child and Family Services and Brimbank/Melton Alliances, and our clients come from some of the most disadvantaged families in the region.
Many of the families we work with are extremely isolated and don’t have a strong social network around them. They can have limited finances, language skills and multiple children - which can put them at risk of being further isolated at home. Our role is to support these families to ensure the best outcomes for the children.
In what ways do your staff advocate for children’s best interests?
Renu: Children’s best interests are at the heart of CatholicCare’s IFS work. We receive referrals from Child FIRST and Child Protection and focus on working alongside parents with children to set goals for families to meet the needs of their children. It’s a case by case process that involves background information from the referrer, which is usually Child FIRST, or from Child Protection - or the referral can come directly from the client, or someone who knows them.
An initial assessment by CatholicCare is carried out, which involves the consent of the parents to access any other relevant information. Once the case is allocated to a case manager, they meet with the parents to determine their goals and identify their parenting needs, plus appropriate outcomes for their children.
How do you identify when children are at risk of neglect or abuse?
Renu: We use a specific assessment tool to assess whether children are at risk of neglect or abuse or harm. The tool enables our case managers to identify the interventions required to ensure that a child’s needs are being met.
Our biggest challenge is getting parents referred from Child Protection to engage with IFS. If this proves difficult, we work with community-based Child Protection consultants to encourage vulnerable families with children to get involved in working with us.
Because the cases are complex and challenging, all our IFS workers are encouraged to access a range of different training to keep them up to date with interventions, and resources available to assist families.
How do your case workers get a sense of a child’s wellbeing?
Renu: Our workers get a sense of the wellbeing of a child through visiting the child on a regular basis, and meeting with the parents and other relevant people involved in the child’s life, such as school, kindergarten and other professionals.
The role of the case worker is to monitor the progress being made by the parents; how much they understand the needs of their child, whether they are committed in following through with recommendations made by the case manager to attend parenting groups, meet with a psychologist, and engage with specific professionals to understand the needs of their child - especially if they have disabilities or suffer from mental health issues. The assessment tool used helps them assess the child’s wellbeing.
Our staff also have every opportunity to access support through supervision and consulting with their Manager as well as receive secondary consults offered by the Alliance.
In what ways do IFS staff encourage children and young people to participate in the community?
Renu: Our IFS Case Managers work closely alongside children and families to identify how they can encourage children and young people to participate in the community. Depending on the children’s background, they would look at various supports available to them. This can range from identifying specific activities for the child, such as swimming, or looking at youth clubs or after school activities.
As part of the Child FIRST Alliance, we receive regular and consistent information from the Department, and other multi-agencies, that we pass on to vulnerable families with children to help them participate in the community. As most of the families we work with are disadvantaged and vulnerable, we also identify if they are in need of financial assistance that can be obtained through a Flexible Funding package determined in accordance with the child’s needs.
What are you most proud of?
Renu: Our IFS staff undergo rigorous training and receive regular support and access to different professionals such as maternal child health nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists. Many have worked in Child Protection and all access a wide range of resources, guidance and advice both internally and externally. This can often be through arranging Case Plan reviews, meeting with Child Protection and working alongside them to ensure that the child’s best interests are being taken into consideration. Our IFS staff are some of the longest serving staff at CatholicCare.
National Child Protection Week runs from 3-9 September this year. It is an initiative of the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN). NAPCAN raises public awareness and develops and promotes prevention strategies and programs that contribute to the safety and wellbeing of Australia’s children and young people.
For more information about National Child Protection Week, visit napcan.org.au
View CatholicCare’s Integrated Family Services