Delivery of bereavement and family support services through the Defence Community Organisation

1 Nov 2012

This audit assessed the management and effectiveness of Defence Community Organisation’s delivery and coordination of support services to Australian Defence Force (ADF) families, in particular support services provided when an ADF member is seriously injured or ill, or dies in service.

Serving in the ADF exposes members to significant risks and personal pressures, which can also affect their families. Families may require support following the death, injury or illness of the ADF member; and while members are deployed, undergoing training or participating in exercises. The regular relocation within Australia of ADF members and their families can also affect their links to extended family and their integration into local communities.

All levels of command in the ADF share the responsibility for providing support to Service families. Accordingly, Defence has long recognised both the need for, and the benefits of, investing resources to ameliorate the adverse effects of service life on ADF members and their families. In 1996, Defence formed the Defence Community Organisation (DCO), as the key service delivery agency within the Department of Defence supporting ADF commanders to meet their formal responsibilities for the welfare and morale of ADF members and their families. DCO and its services are a significant component of the broader support framework Defence has in place for ADF members and their families.

Approximately 112 000 ADF members and dependants may potentially call upon the family support services administered by DCO. While DCO’s primary focus is on family support, it also provides services affecting single members at the request of commanders or in situations involving serious illness, serious injury or death. The ADF’s increased operational tempo since the deployment to East Timor in 1999, and the nature of recent operations (such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq) have increased the risk and incidence of injury or death among deployed members and the need for DCO’s services.

The DCO budget for 2012–13 is $38.5 million, and is in addition to other Defence support services provided through the ADF, such as Defence Chaplaincy services and those provided at the unit level. As at August 2012, DCO staffing consisted of 32 ADF members and 206 Australian Public Service employees. DCO operates from its headquarters in Canberra and 11 DCO Area Offices (some with multiple sites) across Australia.

The ANAO has not previously conducted a performance audit of DCO’s delivery of support services to ADF members and families. It was considered timely to conduct such an audit, in light of the acknowledged effect that the ADF’s operational requirements have had on ADF members and their families as a result of the increased operational tempo of the last decade.

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