In WA out of home care is delivered directly by the Government (though the Department for Child Protection and Family Support) and by not-for-profit (NFP) providers that are funded by the Department through service agreements.

Over the last decade and a half, the proportion of places allocated by the Department to NFPs declined from about 25% to less than 10%. Following Alliance pressure, that has risen again to over 10%. No extended family placements are managed by NFPs. In other states of Australia, however, NFPs provide most or nearly all places and their role is being increased.

The Alliance believes that running down the NFP role has had a negative impact on quality of care and on the choices open to children and parents. It has also stifled innovation.

There are two problems with a system of primarily Government services:

  • Lack of choice
  • Conflict of interest

Lack of choice

Most NFPs are cause-based organisations, with a philosophical or religious viewpoint and a mission to make a difference.

Reflecting this, they develop service mixes and styles that differ from other NFPs and especially from Government.

This diversity contributes to progress in services, as new approaches are trialled.

And it gives those who use the service a range of choice they would not get from the Government alone. Choice means users can better match their needs and experience some degree of control through their choice.

So a mixed system encourages progress and better serves its clients.

Conflict of Interest

The Department for Child Protection and Family Support has responsibility for a significant part of the preventative services system (to help people to maintain a child in their own home) and reunification services (to return a child to its family), but DCPFS is also the authority that decides whether a child should be removed and whether or not they can be returned home.

These two interests -- helping the family stay together versus removing an at-risk child -- are irreconcilably in conflict when services are provided by Government.

As the Wood report1 noted, parents understand this and are reluctant to approach the Government for help when they know that whatever they reveal may result in their child being taken away. So they are less likley to access support that might have kept the family together.

The situation is much worse in WA where the media has campaigned strongly for immediate removal of children who are at any risk.

Services provided by NFPs are not compromised by this conflict because NFPs do not remove children. Parents who need help to keep their families together are much more likley to do so if they can get service from a NFP.

The vast majority of at risk children are not sexually abused; many are at risk of neglect in families that have inadequate income, inadequate housing, where parents have poor parenting skills and problems including mental health issues and substance abuse.

Often these families can be kept intact through support services, at far lower lifetime cost to the community than if children are removed.

NFPs are the best structure for acting on this opportunity; families do not trust Government services to do it because of their inherently compromised position.

Further benefits of NFP involvement

NFPs often provide additional, unfunded services paid for from their own revenues; this value-add improves service quality and outcomes and delivers better value for money to the public.

NFPs offer a wider range of options, better matching individual client needs.

NFP participation encourages innovation and creative development of care options.

WA urgently requires a new care option to meet need that cannot be met by the over-stretched foster care system. NFPs have vital experience and perspective in developing new options.

NFPs are cause-based organisations: they add a level of passion and commitment to the system.

More NFP involvement makes the system more stable.

Providing for our children in care is a whole of community responsibility, not just a government task; greater NFP involvement is an essential part of a whole of community response.

Alliance Policy

The Alliance recommends that not-for-profit organisations deliver at least 50% of all placement services including leaving care and kinship care.

  • NFPs to be involved in extended family placements (currently run entirely by the Government).
  • NFPs to provide most of prevention, reunification and preparation for leaving care services.
  • NFPs to have improved long-term security of funding including on-time payment, to enable them to plan for the future and grow their capabilities.
  • NFPs to be funded for the time they spend engaging with the Department.
  • Further measures to speed and reinforce change, especially in the relationship between NFPs and DCPFS at district level.

The Alliance recommends that NFPs play a lead role in developing new care options in addition to the over-stretched foster and extended family systems.