Family Support Newcastle Case Study

How a holistic focus on children & families changes ‘siloed services’

How to stay true to the purpose of a place-based community organisation that has been serving local children & families for 40 years? We hear from Sue Hellier (CEO) & Erin Beard (Team Leader) at Family Support Newcastle about holistic approaches and adapting ‘siloed-services’ to meet the needs of children, families & communities in the Hunter region.

We talk about the current changes to the minimum data set and reporting for the group of Intensive Family Support and Preservation programs funded by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice and the introduction of the new InfoShare reporting platform.

More broadly, it’s a story about how to manage change across multiple programs & ‘funding buckets’, how to use data & narrative evidence to understand what’s changing for families, & how to embed good practice through the work.

Thanks to Sue & Erin for your generosity & sense of humour! It is a joy to partner with Family Support Newcastle to ‘think & do different’, to support changes in funding programs and reporting platforms as they arise, so that you can get on with the critical work of meeting the needs of children & families in your community.


1. Introduction to Family Support Newcastle and background

Family Support Newcastle has been operating for just over 40 years and it was originally started by female social workers and welfare workers who could see a real gap in the sector, particularly services for women. Over time, there’s been lots and lots of changes – applying for more funding, and a different variety of programs. We’ve also had different ways of collecting the data from paper right through to where we are now with CSnet. We’ve grown from a couple of staff members to about 26 with casuals and we deliver quite a few different programs.

Our focus is supporting families and children and really being clear about our practice while ensuring that work is all underpinned by our values.


2. How to keep a client-centric focus when you are a multi-program multi-funded organization

If we looked at Family Support Newcastle from a multi-program and services perspective, what we’d see is lots of different programs that that are funded in lots of different ways – with client and family in the middle and all of the different family work and group work that’s funded around those families and clients, including community engagement, referral and intake which is a [central] way of bringing people into the service … it’s a complex mix of funding and activity types.

We have federal funding, state funding, [a partnership with] another organisation where we are contracted to do the work, we get other short-term funding, from the Community Benefit Fund, Local Council, whatever’s going at the time.

If we were to ‘re-present’ that mix to show how Family Support Newcastle report [to government funding platforms] – thinking about the complex multi programs view of services we provide to clients and families – there’s a number of [government platforms] where we need to report the data.
So the challenge is to make sure that you can provide whatever support that clients and families need, whichever bucket of funding it comes from?

I also think – how do we make the data really meaningful? So that means we need to have some common data and we need to have it in a common place [for all programs we deliver] to be able to pull that data out to show the outcomes and the change that we make.That’s the other big challenge – how do we meet the data requirements, while also making the data work for us to show the work that we’re doing to ultimately benefit clients.


3. How we use numbers & practice narrative to assess and understand what is changing

When we were initially doing ‘pre and post’ surveys, one of the challenges was that a family, particularly if they had [child protection] involved may be quite nervous about filling out a form acknowledging that they’re struggling with their parenting, or that their children may not be safe with them currently, or they don’t feel confident in their parenting. And then once they’ve worked with us for six months and they come to the closing point and they’ve established a good rapport and relationship, they’re more honest.

… if you just base that [pre and post outcome] on a [number] scale, it looks like the work that we’ve done has led to families feeling less confident, or children being less safe. When it really reflects the client’s capacity to be honest and reflective about ‘where they’re at’

And so we made some changes to ask workers to reflect on ‘how worried is the family about [child protection]?’, ‘what’s the rapport like?’ and we added that into our assessments … we’ve also included narratives so that we can capture some of the qualitative data about what’s happening for families. So that we can try and tell the [whole] story over time.

We’ve also been doing some work around [our learning that] ‘pre’ and ‘post’ measures may not be the best way to collect data, and how do you just collect data ‘post’ that reflects on what was happening at the beginning of the work.

So there’s been lots of changes about the way that we’ve captured feedback over time.

I think as we evolve we want to know the work that we’re doing evolves as well … we are looking at ways of hearing the children’s voice and that might be something that we could include at some point.



4. How we use client-centric reports to see the client journey across multiple programs


… it’s necessary to know what is happening for all family members across projects, so we can run a report that will show all of the notes from all of the activities and all of the sessions that our clients are working in. So those reports are particularly helpful when we to come review a client or a family’s work across multiple projects … and particularly helpful for case reviews, for subpoenas, for us as managers to be looking at the work that’s happening across projects, and how we do that communication really clearly in case management.


The way we have our security settings, because of the diversity of programs that we have, means that for example workers in the staying home leaving violence program working with women who’ve left DV aren’t always accessing and reading the notes from the men’s program where the person who’s used violence might be working with the male worker and vice versa. So we have those security settings so that people can’t be reading notes in other contexts across other projects.

I’ve [run] reports particularly recently when I’ve prepared the Annual Report – being able to display a really nice chart that shows where we receive referrals [and so on], but also being able to [drill down] to show the demographics – [eg] what percentage of clients are certain cultural backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families … [about the work] and for acquittals for certain information I need to report on there as well. So … it’s been great to be able to just go in, call up the report in Excel, have it to convert to a really lovely graph or chart.



5. Supporting staff during changes to program reporting

The changes are ongoing, how do you support people through change?

Having really clear conversations with CSnet so that I’m clear about what the changes will look like, and what the requirements are, is really helpful because I can then share that in team meetings or via e-mail or communication in the office with staff who will be noticing the changes appearing on CSnet as they’re using it. That’s kind of best case scenario.

Worst case scenario, I forget to update people about a change or things happen, but because we’ve got the capacity to make it clear what are the mandatory fields on CSnet, what happens then is someone comes to me and says ‘I’m trying to close this session and I can’t. There’s an error’ and we go and have a look and I say ‘Oh look these fields are mandatory now’ and explain the rationale behind that. So I think CSnet is supporting us to gather the right data by making those fields mandatory, because staff don’t have an option to move on then without completing that field. And so that leads to a conversation if ‘in the busyness’ we haven’t got to do that kind of pre-emptive work.


I think it is quite a user-friendly platform compared to what some people have used in other organisations or, if they’ve been here a long time, compared to our previous database and so people don’t kind of freak out about the changes … we’re able to navigate that.


I will attend the [CSnet] Users Group when I see that there’s subject coming up that feels really relevant to us and I’ll pass-on that information. We also have a standing Agenda item in our Leaders Meetings and in our Business Meetings, so that people can ask questions or we can feed back ‘what you know, what we’ve learned’ or any changes. Then I do a weekly update to all staff and then I can include any changes to CSnet.


‘I think for staff, they can really see the benefit. Because what has happened historically is that every three months when I’ve required the IFP [Intensive Family Preservation program] data, staff have needed to go and fill out a separate form which requires them to go back to CSnet and look for information they’ve entered previously to fill out a new form, and for me [I need] to then enter that into an Excel spreadsheet [for quarterly funding reporting].

And so for them, I’m saying ‘You no longer need to do that family summary form because you’re completing it as-you-go each session [in CSnet and it will upload directly to InfoShare]’ … being able to see the benefit and the time saving, how it’s going to be a much smoother process, and the data will be more accurate, this means that they’re quite happy with the change.’


6. How we’ve worked together to adjust CSnet for the group of Intensive Family Preservation programs

Being able to work together as a team really means we can bring together the knowledge and domain experts. You guys work in the sector, you understand what’s required in terms of the data that you want to collect, not only for the minimum data sets, but what you know is important … and we can contribute by bringing the technical perspective and how the system can be configured – so it it’s really about working together.

If we go to the specific example of the IFP changes and what people are thinking about at the moment in terms of converting what you know about the program and the practice, and then CSnet providing you the technical input to try and join those things up, the steps involved –

  • looking at the new IFP minimum data sets, being able to map and see that in relation to what you’ve currently got around the common data sets across multiple programs
  • thinking about new fields, thinking about what could be continuing data fields
  • In terms of the universal referral form, that’s new and the good thing about that is that there’s a kind of a common approach now to the way that the referral information will come into the organisation
  • We’ve all continued to keep an eye on the InfoShare reporting requirements – we need to make sure the fields are being collected as input now and we’re [building] the Infoshare report template to streamline the way the data can come out and be reported [directly] into InfoShare.

We also hope that in future that we could streamline this much better by actually enabling the system to take that Universal Referral in the PDF format and convert seamlessly to ‘inbound data’ in CSnet – it would show you the information immediately in CSnet. From there instead of opening up your PDF form and putting the data in manually, you’d be able go create the new case, or add a note to an existing case.

We thank Sue and Erin for sharing their learnings.

Lots of organisations are struggling with the challenges of meeting the changes as they go, and ultimately want to keep that focus on clients and families, no matter how many different programs they’re running, and where they need to report.

Please get in touch with us at CSnet if you’d like to start a conversation about how we can support your organisation collect data in CSnet and move to report seamlessly to InfoShare or any other funding reporting platform to meet your multi-program requirements.