Note: The information contained in this document summarises the views and recommendations of third parties. This material was assembled in good faith, and does not necessarily reflect the considered views of the Commonwealth, or State and Territory Governments or indicate a commitment to a particular course of action
- Quality Service Provision
- Components of a National Quality Framework
- Mainstream and Allied services
- Other Issues
- Next steps
In March 2009, Housing Ministers from all jurisdictions agreed that a National Quality Framework (NQF) is necessary to underpin the major homelessness reforms and that its development requires national effort.
In February 2010, Housing Ministers agreed to a two-stage consultation process and released the discussion paper 'A national quality framework to support quality services for people experiencing homelessness'. This discussion paper formed the basis for first stage consultations which were undertaken from February to April 2010.
The consultation process comprised sixteen public consultation workshops in all states and territories; interviews and focus groups with people experiencing homelessness, including a focus on Indigenous Australians; twenty in-depth interviews with service providers that would have difficulty attending the public consultation workshops; and the opportunity for the public to provide ideas in writing.
This summary looks at the ideas provided in writing.
Contributions were received from 37 individuals and organisations who contributed ideas from across most states and territories. These included 17 contributions from organisations who are direct service providers, 12 peak bodies, six mainstream organisations and two individuals.
The views put forward reflect the significant diversity across the homelessness sector and how service provision differs depending on the needs of the client group, location of service and the type of service delivered. Contributions acknowledged this diversity and sought ways to ensure that this diversity could be encouraged and supported by a NQF. Mainstream and allied service contributions were received from the areas of education, mental health, and asylum seekers.
Whilst views on how a NQF could look and be implemented were varied there was broad support for a homelessness National Quality Framework to ensure a minimum level of quality. A high level summary of the key themes raised in the submissions follows. Copies of submissions made to the consultation process are available at the FaHCSIA website
'A national quality framework should aim to improve and establish benchmarks for high quality service delivery and provide a structure through which services can undertake ongoing quality improvement while recognising and validating good practice in services.' UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families.
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Quality Service Provision
There was strong support for all of the characteristics of quality service provision set out in the discussion paper. Contributors felt that quality service provision should among other things:
- Improve the safety and well being of clients (underpinned by risk management processes);
- Be delivered by a competent, trained and qualified workforce which has access to skilled supervision and a focus on practice reflection and development;
- Be client centred, flexible, responsive and culturally appropriate;
- Be informed and guided by the review, evaluation and ongoing development of practice, programs and policies and procedures;
- Comply with all relevant legislation including privacy legislation;
- Encourage clients to participate on a broader scale within the organisation by providing feedback on service provision;
- Be responsive and timely and relevant to the need of the client, including children who have accompanied their parent/guardian to the service; and
- Be respectful to the client irrespective of age, gender, sexuality and gender identity, religion, race, language, country and culture of origin and (dis)ability including mental health issues and mental illness.
Contributors also discussed specific aspects of quality related to their areas of speciality. Key points included:
- The importance of recognising the link between mental illness and homelessness;
- Responses need to be based on an understanding of victimisation and trauma; and
- Mechanisms that are in place to ensure or report on quality should be sensitive to client needs for example youth.
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Components of a National Quality Framework
The discussion paper contained a number of components that could potentially make up a NQF, which were generally supported by contributors. Responses placed a strong emphasis on the importance of continuous quality improvement as a component in a NQF and the need to recognise diverse service types and sizes was highlighted. Comments on specific components are outlined below.
The discussion paper included consumer charters and service charters as potential components of a NQF. Consumer charters set out the rights and responsibilities of consumers and service charters are public statements about what consumers can expect from a service.
'...a national quality framework should be based on the principle of placing service users at the centre of service provision and should aim to improve the consistency of service delivery and develop clearer expectations for service users about the levels of service delivery that can be provided and the outcomes that may be achieved.' UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families.
Contributors considered consumer and service charters important as a mechanism to encourage transparency. Charters were seen as an effective way of guiding mainstream and allied organisations in their delivery of services to people experiencing homelessness. It was suggested that charters should be widely promoted and accessible to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
'Consumer charters are vital to ensure that consumer rights, responsibilities and participation are enacted and made real in organisations.' Domestic Violence Victoria
Alliance models involve a commitment between different organisations (including mainstream, allied and specialist services) to communicating regularly and working together for the benefit of vulnerable clients.
Alliance models were seen as important for service coordination and integration to ensure vulnerable people do not 'fall through the gaps'.
While contributors expressed strong support for alliance models and cross sector collaboration there were differences in opinion in what an alliance model might look like. Some submissions called for strong formal agreements with others preferring informal networks.
'... the most effective collaboration and partnerships are formed at the local level, where it is not forced but where it will happen naturally and with commitment based on the improved services and supports for clients and for services. ...The NQF should not be prescriptive about this but encourage diversity and a range of approaches.' Homelessness Australia
It was also noted that alliance models could assist with referral processes and help services (including government, mainstream and allied services and specialist homelessness services) work together more effectively.
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Many contributors felt that a robust complaint and feedback system was integral to a NQF and that complaint systems needed to be independent from the service. It was noted that complaints mechanisms need to be non-punitive so that consumers can be comfortable making a complaint without fear of losing access to services.
'In HPLS's experience, homeless people accessing specialist homelessness services often feel unable to complain or raise issues for fear of retribution, including being banned from a service. Unfortunately, this is a story often heard by HPLS.' Homeless Persons' Legal Service
Contributors also suggested that consumer feedback should be actively encouraged and supported more broadly than just in a complaints process and that any quality framework should have client feedback and participation mechanisms that inform service delivery and development.
One submission called for a statutory office of the Housing Ombudsman and a Commissioner for Adequate Housing to be established, in part, to manage the complaints process.
Contributors supported a set of nationally consistent standards to guide service delivery. There were a number of ideas about who the standards should apply to. Some thought that the standards should apply to government, private and community agencies to ensure quality across all sectors and another suggestion was minimum service standards for allied and mainstream services with a higher level of standards for specialist homelessness services.
The importance of having words and terms used in standards that are clearly defined and understood so that it was clear what was expected of services was raised as a key issue.
There was support for a standard on relationships between specialist service providers and mainstream and allied services (for example schools and mental health organisations).
It was also suggested that standards should be developed in consultation with the homelessness sector and that standards should build on already existing standards such as, for example, the Victorian Homelessness Assistance Service Standards.
'HASS standards are solid foundation for new national quality assurance standards' BoysTown
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There was general support for a national accreditation process, with differing views on whether accreditation should be voluntary or mandatory. There was support for the accreditation process to be undertaken by a body independent from government.
Some concerns were raised about the potential impact of an accreditation system particularly on small agencies, in terms of administrative burden and resource costs. To address this, a staged approach to implementation of accreditation was seen as important. Proposed solutions for reducing the burden included having more regular, less formal accreditation visits and recognition of existing accreditation systems. It was also noted that tools to support services to meet accreditation would need to be developed.
It was also suggested that the NQF should build on existing quality systems to ensure that the NQF complements them and does not create extra burden for services.
'We must build on the quality systems and accreditation processes that are already established and embedded in many services and funding agreements to recognise existing service quality work and reduce regulatory burden.' UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families
Despite some concerns about the resource impact of accreditation for services a contributor from Victoria noted the positive impacts that accreditation had in improving service quality.
'Whilst organisations have identified the hard work and other disadvantages involved in working towards accreditation... they have identified the benefits and learnings that have occurred.' Domestic Violence Victoria
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Mainstream and Allied services
There was strong support for cross sector collaboration with varied ideas as to how to develop and build partnerships, from both specialist homelessness service providers and mainstream and allied services. Some ideas to improve service delivery by mainstream and allied services were:
- A common set of standards for all services, including mainstream and allied;
- The identification of homelessness as a key deliverable in a range of National Partnership Agreements including disability, healthcare, Indigenous reform and education; and
- Homelessness awareness training for frontline staff of mainstream services, to enable them to better identify which of their clients are homeless.
'When considering the proposed quality framework for those experiencing homelessness, it is of particular importance to address issues between mainstream and allied services. Addressing this in either the framework, or associated implementation process/plan, may be an appropriate way to explore or represent disconnect between these services.' Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists
Support and Training
A common theme raised in the submissions was resourcing, support and training for services to enable them to implement the NQF. Training for both paid staff and volunteers was seen as important. Some of the suggestions for support included:
- Specific training to support services to meet standards;
- On site support, training and peer mentoring schemes;
- Funding incentives to services that demonstrate quality improvement;
- Funding to ensure all services have the same capacity to meet standards;
- The development of training kits, workshops and shared resources;
- Dedicated workers to assist services with the process of accreditation at state and territory level; and
- Regional quality workers who provide support to services through the accreditation process.
'A National Quality Framework should be adequately resourced...this is considered particularly important for smaller NGO's that have limited resources dedicated to administrative tasks.' Salvation Army Australia, Southern Territory
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Transition and Implementation
It was seen as important by a number of contributors that there is consultation with the sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the development of a NQF.
Whilst transition and implementation will be explored further as key aspects in the second stage consultations. A number of submissions addressed the issues of transition and implementation of the NQF. A staged approach to implementation was recommended by a number of contributors which would allow services to build quality over time to meet the requirements of a NQF.
'A staged approach to implementation that enabled more advanced services to undertake external accreditation while others are supported to achieve service quality.' National Youth Housing Coalition.
A number of submissions suggested that a NQF should include recognition of existing quality frameworks. It was also suggested that services should be able to choose which accreditation system they participate in within a system of mutual recognition.
'Accreditation under an existing specialist homelessness accreditation system should satisfy under the NQF' UnitingCare, Children, Young People and Families
A number of submissions suggested a workforce strategy was important for the delivery of quality service provision. Key things that contributors thought should be included in a workforce strategy were:
- An audit and recognition of current skills and competencies in the specialist homelessness service workforce;
- An approach to addressing recruitment and retention issues;
- Professional pathways for people working within the homelessness sector; and
- An examination of current remuneration.
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It was acknowledged that there were already quality systems in most states and territories and that these could be incorporated and/or recognised in a NQF. Many contributors noted that existing mechanisms had worked well in improving quality. These included the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which is seen to add weight to the quality standards, existing standards, good practice guidelines, performance management frameworks as well as regional or community homeless plans. The current development of a common set of standards in Queensland which may be applicable to human services across that jurisdiction was seen as positive.
There were a number of contributions that discussed and called for new homelessness legislation. It was thought that homelessness legislation should be rights based and provide overarching principles to underpin a standards and accreditation framework with more prescriptive standards in non-legislative agreements between states and territories.
Feedback from the first stage consultation will be used to identify several possible options for a NQF. Another, more detailed discussion paper will describe those options and provide an analysis of their relative benefits.
The second stage consultation will occur later in 2010 after Housing Ministers have considered the views and ideas from individuals and organisations with an interest in the development of a National Quality Framework.
Housing Ministers and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs recognise and appreciate the contribution of all the people who took the time and effort to provide their views and everyone who participated in the consultation process.