The NSW Premier's Council on Homelessness has been established to provide the NSW Government with high level policy advice in relation to homelessness, particularly the implementation of the NSW Homelessness Action Plan. The Council met for the first time on 31 March 2010 and the meeting was chaired by the Premier, the Honourable Kristina Keneally.
The inaugural meeting of the Council was attended by all recently appointed community members and consumers along with the Honourable Linda Burney MP, Minister for the State Plan, Minister for Community Services and the Honourable David Borger, MP, Minister for Housing, Minister for Western Sydney and Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport and Roads.
The community members of the Council are:
- Barbara Kennedy, Coordinator, Mental Health Unit, Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service
- Reverend Dr Keith Garner, Superintendent, Wesley Mission (Deputy Co-Chair of the Council)
- Father Chris Riley, Chief Executive Officer, Youth Off the Streets
- Michael Coffey, Chief Executive Officer, Youth Accommodation Association
- Catherine Gander, Executive Officer, NSW Women's Refuge Movement Resource Centre
- Catherine Robinson, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney
- Annette Bain, Executive Director, Freehills Foundation
- Veronica Penna, Consumer Representative
- Kevin Simpson, Consumer Representative
- Sue Cripps, Chief Executive Officer, Homelessness NSW (Homelessness Community Alliance Representative)
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In the March meeting, the Council committed to develop a Premier's Council submission in response to the discussion paper released by the Australian Government on the development of a National Quality Framework for homelessness services. The following submission represents the combined views of the community members on the Council only and is not necessarily representative of the views of the NSW Government.
The community members of the NSW Premier's Council on Homelessness consider that national homelessness legislation should provide overarching principles to underpin standards and an accreditation framework and that more prescriptive standards should be expressed in complementary non-legislative agreements with state and territory governments and service providers. Such legislation would be an overarching instrument under which other legislation, relating to housing and funding of service providers and support services, would be situated. This could include clear standards that articulate service levels and case management for a variety of homelessness services.
National homelessness legislation should have a consumer outcomes focus that is inclusive of consumer rights, including a right to housing, progressively realised. It must also acknowledge that service responses for Aboriginal people need to be holistic and culturally appropriate. Alliance models are also important for service co-ordination and integration to ensure that people do not 'fall through the gaps'.
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1. What is needed in a NQF to take into account the scope and diversity of service responses across Australia and to ensure these are maintained?
The community members of the Premier's Council recommend that a generic set of standards, rights and responsibilities for all service providers, developed independently of these services, would be beneficial for homeless people or people at risk of homelessness. It is acknowledged, however, that applying a blanket set of standards to all homeless services may be difficult due to the diversity of experiences across the homeless population.
The standards should:
- Be applied to mainstream as well as specialist service providers to assist with service integration and ensure that consumers are not disadvantaged by the varying bureaucratic requirements of different administrations
- Recognise that many Aboriginal services provide a 'whole of person' service beyond the boundaries of specific specialist service provision requirements
- Include health and safety aspects
It is further suggested that a set of standards be developed for specialist homelessness services that capture the characteristics of crisis and other service models as well as client segments.
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2. Do you agree with the characteristics of quality service provision outlined in the NQF Discussion Paper (page 4)?
The community members of the Premier's Council agreed with the majority of the characteristics identified, however, note that the characteristics of quality service provision for Aboriginal people are not sufficiently outlined in the discussion paper.
A National Quality Framework should embed continuous quality improvement (CQI) in both standards and accountability and/or accreditation processes. The characteristics are good examples of what a quality service should look like and it is noted that different parts of the service system across Australia are at different levels of development of these quality systems.
The community members of the Council believe that a consumer focused and rights based approach is required based on human rights principles, including that 'housing is a right'. Service providers should be primarily focussed on what clients need, rather than on what services are provided. There should be greater engagement with consumers and more weight given to their recommendations and ideas about service provision and planning to ensure that appropriate support is available to all clients.
Appropriate and non-punitive service complaints mechanisms are also crucial and these should be recognised in the characteristics. The Youth Off the Streets organisation is able to provide a copy of its complaints and appeals policy as an example in this regard.
The characteristics need to reference or include guidelines regarding sharing of client information. Care needs to be taken to ensure that clients are not disadvantaged in terms of service provision as a result of the assessment or views of one organisation being shared with others.
There is a clear need to ensure that service providers are appropriately trained and qualified, however qualification requirements should include experience and skills competency and not rely solely on formal qualifications. Service responses in Aboriginal specific services often require a 'hands on' approach and knowledge of the community in addition, or as an alternative to, formal qualifications.
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3. What other key characteristics or elements should be included to describe quality service provision?
A philosophy of continuous quality improvement embeds quality as a core part of all service business, rather than a point in time activity that becomes an additional impost on resources to achieve. Quality service provision should be innovative and responsive to changing consumer and political needs guided by State and Commonwealth homelessness strategies. Continuous quality improvement frameworks support innovation through inspiring leadership at all levels of the organisation.
The characteristics also require a commitment from government to provide the necessary resources to ensure that a quality framework can be achieved on the ground.
The framework should include provisions for consumer participation and inclusion of consumer led advice in the development of homelessness responses.
4. How can mainstream and allied services be encouraged and supported to identify and respond to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness?
Whilst recognising that it will be challenging to achieve, the community members of the Premier's Council recommend that appropriate responses to homelessness should be identified as a key deliverable in a range of National Partnership Agreements, including agreements for Disability, Healthcare, Indigenous Reform and Education. Without this mechanism, it will be a challenge to gain the engagement of the broader service system in accepting responsibility for homelessness prevention and service access.
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Mainstream workers should be trained in the different forms of homelessness experienced by their client groups and the corresponding appropriate response options. This training should be evidence based and inclusive of consumers to inform good practice. To ensure ongoing service improvement, services should consult regularly with current or former homeless people. There should be more focus on the provision outreach services to homeless people by mainstream services. Opportunities to gain direct experience in specialist homelessness service settings should also be considered. There is also value in establishing specialist homelessness units within mainstream organisations.
Improved service communication and networking could improve service responses and early intervention approaches for Aboriginal people. There are examples of formal and informal processes between agencies like Centrelink and Housing NSW which have proven effective in this regard.
Clearer standards and delegations for information sharing practices between services and agencies that adhere to privacy legislation however do not disadvantage clients in crisis situations, should be developed.
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5. What quality approaches support stronger cross sector service integration and improved service delivery?
The community members of the Premier's Council recommend that the development of a NQF include adequate resourcing to support a major communication strategy across Australia, including joint education, training and support for service integration. There should be structures for setting up on-going communication between services.
Improved linkages are important in improving client knowledge and awareness about the range and availability of services beyond the one service they may be accessing.
Joint outreach projects between services providers have been effective in establishing service integration and improved service delivery.
6. Which of the potential components outlined in the NQF Discussion paper (page 6) could be considered in a national framework?
The community members of the Premiers Council recommend a continuing quality improvement (CQI) approach which should include:
- A focus on quality and not just on accreditation that would, over time, support the broad change management process that is underway for service delivery to homeless people and those at risk of homelessness.
- A staged approach to CQI that supports services to embed quality in their service delivery rather than a focus on passing a 'point in time' accreditation process.
- A national quality framework that focuses on consumer participation and outcomes, including a robust complaints mechanism, that will support quality service delivery.
- Mechanisms to reduce regulatory burden, building on what is already in place. Assessment of the range of regulatory and quality mechanisms already used across programs such as codes of practice, guidelines, charters and CQI programs must be undertaken to establish benchmarks and streamline additional work required to address specific homelessness standards across the whole of government/non-government service spectrum.
- A staged process to the development and implementation of standards that allows for the different capacity of services to achieve quality requirements. This should include allowing those more advanced to undertake external accreditation while other services are being supported to achieve service quality.
- Investment in processes to support development of sustainable systems and outcomes. CQI is a leadership and management tool for assessing and improving an organisation. Whole organisations need to be supported to achieve and sustain quality requirements, not just individual workers or specific services.
Clients should receive a copy of their rights and responsibilities, or a consumer charter, as well as information on the service and service standards when they first access the service (a poster on the wall is not enough). This will help them make a decision on whether the service is their most appropriate option. Details on how they can complain to an external body should also be provided.
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7. Are there other key components that should be included in a NQF?
Consumer charters are an important and integral part of a CQI process.
8. What currently works well in ensuring service quality in your state or territory?
The community members of the Premier's Council advocate that a national framework should acknowledges the quality work already achieved within the homeless sector. An NQF must build on the quality systems and accreditation processes that are already established and embedded in many service funding agreements to recognise existing service, quality work and reduce the regulatory burden.
9. What lessons can we learn from existing quality frameworks?
The community members of the Premier's Council recognise that the experience in undertaking continuing quality improvement within the NGO health arena in NSW has been highly effective in supporting the development of robust, client focussed services. A key component of this work has been the resourcing of support workers within the NGO sector to assist services as part of the change management process.
10. What would you change in existing quality systems to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness?
Reduce and streamline the workload in meeting standards as part of reducing the regulatory burden. This is important to support a diverse range of service size and models.
Develop generic service standards for multiple service providers, with a smaller set of more detailed standards for specialist homelessness services, reflecting their core business and expertise.