The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs' (FaHCSIA) administration of Communities for Children under the Family Support Program.
The audit focuses on the period from 1 July 2009. This period encompasses the:
- finalisation of the first three year Implementation Plan (2009‒12) of the National Framework;
- restructuring of the Family Support Program; and
- implementation of revised funding and performance management frameworks for service providers to better target vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families.
The three high level criteria used to assess FaHCSIA’s performance against the objective were:
- governance and planning arrangements were clearly defined and allowed for close alignment of program activities to program objectives;
- management of service providers was active and balanced accountability requirements with an outcomes focus; and
- the performance management framework enabled the department to effectively monitor program progress, the ongoing performance of providers, and make adjustments to service delivery as required.
Under the National Framework, the Australian Government, in partnership with the state and territory governments and the not‑for‑profit sector, committed to a coordinated and cooperative approach in order to break the cycle of disadvantage, and work towards prevention and early intervention to reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect. Communities for Children (CfC), one of several initiatives funded under the Australian Government’s Family Support Program, seeks to contribute to this goal by using community based services to target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members in society, with the goal of reducing risk factors and improving family functioning and wellbeing. CfC services initially commenced in 2004, working in 35 disadvantaged communities across Australia. As at October 2012, there were 370 CfC services working across 52 disadvantaged locations in all Australian states and territories, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory.
Reducing the likelihood of child abuse and neglect through a preventative approach represents a significant challenge. To maximise their effectiveness, government programs need to be well targeted, have the ability to be tailored to particular community needs and situations, and be well aligned with the overall policy objectives set by government. Since 2009, FaHCSIA has implemented a range of reforms to family and community related programs, designed to reduce fragmentation and better align existing activities to the goals of the National Framework.
FaHCSIA’s management of the implementation of program reforms has been active, and effective improvements have been made. Management of CfC has now been incorporated into the management of the umbrella Family Support Program, which has facilitated alignment between CfC and the goals of the National Framework, and also provided a platform for consistent management of activities. FaHCSIA has also implemented a range of initiatives to simplify funding agreement management and reduce unnecessary requirements, although there is further work to consolidate these changes. Planning arrangements are generally well developed in respect of the CfC Facilitating Partner (CfC FP) model. However, as a result of program reforms which saw the addition of a large range of other similar services into CfC in 2011, further work is required to develop more integrated planning approaches that, reflecting the benefits of collaborative service delivery that underpin the CFC FP model, consider the types of services funded across all CfC streams and confirm the appropriateness of the current distribution of CfC activities.
Monitoring and reporting arrangements have been established which provide FaHCSIA with information about the implementation of activities on the ground. These arrangements could usefully be augmented by making greater use of site visits to the various community delivery sites. Further, while these arrangements allow for monitoring of providers who are directly contracted to FaHCSIA, they do not allow for a similar level of visibility over the activities of the community organisations who are subcontracted by the lead non government organisations (NGOs) in the Facilitating Partner model, as the responsibility for providing funding and monitoring performance has been given to the Facilitating Partner on behalf of FaHCSIA. The performance information collected from service providers places FaHCSIA in a good position to monitor the performance of service providers. However, more limited use is made of this information to contribute to continuous improvement of service delivery by providers, for example through sharing better practice insights with providers. Performance information is also collected from providers in relation to service delivery outcomes for people using the services which, in conjunction with established evaluation arrangements, will facilitate better understanding of the impact of CfC in communities.
The ANAO has made one recommendation directed towards improved planning and targeting of all CfC service delivery. Aspects of FaHCSIA’s grant administration could also be improved. No recommendation on grants administration has been made in this report as FaHCSIA has been included in relevant recommendations made in ANAO Audit Report No. 21 2011–12 Administration of Grant Reporting Obligations.