- Family Relationship Services for Carers (FRSC) is a nationally offered service that provides mediation and counselling to assist families who have a family member with a disability. FRSC is part of a suite of programs within the Family Relationships Services Program (FRSP), which is a sub-program under the larger Family Support program (FSP). WestWood Spice was invited to undertake an evaluation with five aims; to assess the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the FRSC; to assess whether there are any program overlaps with other services; to determine whether the needs of the target group have been appropriately met and the contribution of the program to the wellbeing of families and people with disability; to determine the ongoing need for the service; and to determine how the service should be improved.
- The evaluation report places the FRSC in the historical and contextual environment that led to its establishment. An unusual aspect of the program is the significant shift in program scope after its first twelve months of operation. The Family Relationship Services for Carers (FRSC) program commenced in September 2006 as part of a $200m package of measures to assist families to provide for the future care of their sons and daughters with a disability. The centrepiece of this package was amendment of the Social Security Act 1991 to enable the establishment of special disability trusts (SDTs). The Family Relationship Services for Carers were to provide family and mediation counselling services associated with future planning. One FRSC provider was selected to deliver services on a statewide basis for each state and territory, however take up of both the SDTs and FRSC support was very low.
- Revisions to the FRSC program in 2007 changed the focus from parents to the whole family, removed the need for the family member with a disability to have a “severe” level of disability and severed the link to financial future planning, although future decision-making (more broadly) remained as a focus. The program has evolved to operate differently in each state and territory. Service models vary between home based counselling or case management through to information based workshops. Program costs vary significantly from several thousand dollars per client to less than five hundred. Despite the relaxation of client criteria, four of the eight service providers did not meet targeted client numbers in 2008-09 and six of the eight are not on target (pro rata) for 2009-10. The evaluation concludes that any future FRSC program requires clearly stated program logic, goals and clearly defined and measurable outcomes for the target group.
Many FRSC services emphasise general relationships counselling as a necessary precursor to families doing any future planning. The FRSC program in its current format overlaps with other services offering support to carers and people with disabilities, both through disability services (such as information and respite) and counselling/ mediation, in particular the National Carers Counselling Program (NCCP).
The FRSC national program in its current form appears to lack a distinctive target group and objective. Indeed, there is wide variability across service providers as to who is considered to be the target. This could be "carers", "the whole family ", or in some cases, a person with a disability, irrespective of whether or not they belong to a family unit. There is no focus on older carers per se. Similarly, the objectives of the program have been interpreted in a variety of ways by service providers and this has been influenced by who has been considered the target of the program. There is variability in the extent to which future financial planning receives any attention.
One of the main benefits appears to have been that unlike the majority of other FRSP services, FRSC is provided free of charge. In some instances this means that a client who seeks another FSP service who happens also to be a carer is routinely referred to the FRSC independent of presenting need.
A number of recent government inquiries have made recommendations for future changes relating to supports for carers which are relevant to consideration of the future of the FRSC including the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report, Building trust: Supporting families through Disability Trusts and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth report, Who Cares? Report on the inquiry into better support for carers. Also of major relevance is the recommendation in this latter inquiry that the Minister for Health and Ageing expand the National Carers Counselling Program to better meet the demand for counselling services by carers.
This evaluation recommends FaHCSIA consider the future of the FRSC service in the context of:
- any wider carer initiatives by government;
- the variable success of service providers to date in delivering FRSC programs; and
- the evident duplication of initiatives.
Improvements to FRSC might be achieved through two main strands of work:
- Program design and management including clarity of program purpose, adoption of consistent outcome based program monitoring, consistency of reporting protocols and ensuring a clear “line of sight” from FaHCSIA national coordination and STOs to service providers; and
- Program learning based on the current diversity of service models. The service models achieving targets appear to demonstrate some common features such as effective networking/ MOUs with disability services, using a network of regional counsellors (employees or outsourced) rather than specific FRSC dedicated staff for service delivery, and integration with the wider range of FRS programs.
There also appear to be different philosophies of practice, which may warrant formal research to establish an evidence base for program learning.