An evaluation of the family referral service in schools

Martin Hall, Gerald Wurf

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Executive Summary This report presents the findings of the evaluation of the Family Referral Service (FRS) in Schools. Through a partnership between the NSW Department of Education (NSW DE), the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), and Relationships Australia Canberra & Region (RACR), a family referral service was provided to selected schools in NSW.The aim of the service was to better cater to the needs of children, young people, and families by providing them with greater access to service providers. This objective was to be achieved by locating Education Family Workers (EFWs) within schools; an environment where students who are at risk of underachievement and poor developmental outcomes can be identified and appropriate interventions expediently provided. The schools involved in the evaluation varied in size, demographics, students' socioeconomic backgrounds, and other attributes. This allowed for an assessment of the FRS in different school contexts and a consideration of viability based on context. Two of the schools in the model were high schools and two were primary schools. An EFW was attached to the four participating schools for one or two days per week. The method in which the EFW operated in each of the schools differed based on the needs of the school and the ways in which referrals were made. The EFW worked with the entire family but kept the student as the focal point of the service referral. This model is similar to the model employed within the community-based FRS. However, when compared with the community-based FRS, the FRS in Schools resulted in a more comprehensive service being delivered. Significantly, there was an increased level of case management in the FRS in Schools initiative. Students were referred for a variety of reasons and a small number of referrals which exceeded the threshold of significant harm were elevated for statutory case management by FACS. The EFW provided direct client contact with families requiring support and developed an integrated case management plan for each family. The evaluation examined the perspectives of persons who were involved with the model, either directly or indirectly. Responses from parents, students, teachers, school executive management, and other key stakeholders were solicited and interpreted. Quantitative data were collected around the number of referrals, presenting issues, and whether students identified as Indigenous or non-Indigenous Australians. These data were analysed to form the basis of the evaluation. The FRS in Schools has been received positively. The findings of the evaluation indicated that the service increased the capacity of the schools to handle challenging issues with students who were at risk. The service also reduced the extra workload of principals and teaching staff who were tasked with following up families who had complex needs requiring high levels of coordination across multiple services and systems. Parents and students indicated that they appreciated having an EFW who could take time to provide a responsive and individualised service that complemented the roles of teachers and school leaders. Recommendations to improve the model and recommendations for the wider promotion of school-family partnerships are provided.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWagga Wagga
PublisherCharles Sturt University
Commissioning bodyNSW Department of Education
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9781864672817
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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