REPORT RELEASED: Aboriginal Child and Family Investment Strategy: Workforce Development Project Consolidated Report
As part of the Aboriginal Child and Family Investment Strategy, AbSec was contracted by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) to progress initiatives focused on enhancing the capacity and capability of the Aboriginal Child and Family Sector workforce. AbSec listened to the sector about their workforce development needs, including current opportunities and barriers. Our findings were presented to DCJ in November 2019, in our report titled: “Aboriginal Child and Family Investment Strategy: Workforce development Project Consolidated Report”.
Two key issues were highlighted from the Consolidated report as critical to achieving a strong and effective Aboriginal child and family system that can reverse the current over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people entering out-of-home care:
- A comprehensive and well-resourced Aboriginal workforce strategy that is driven by government and Aboriginal organisations; and
- An Aboriginal Cultural Framework established to deliver support services.
The report included consultations through twelve workshops with close to hundred participants who were involved in the Aboriginal child and family system, from across NSW metropolitan and regional areas. The report was divided into two parts – one section looked at reform impact on the workforce and the second section focused on the implementation mechanisms to address workforce planning and development.
Workplace Development within the Aboriginal Child and Family sector
In our conversations around NSW, a number of service system issues were regularly identified as impacting on workforce development, including the need for cultural awareness as part of working towards an Aboriginal driven cultural framework for the Aboriginal children and families.
Service System Issues
The report identified a need for strategic workforce planning, development and assessment by government. The government needs to show equal commitment to the child and family sector as that shown to the national taskforces such as Aged Care and National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). There is a need for efficiency measures to standardise processes such as commissioning to support providers, and initiatives to assess and redesign the Aboriginal child and family service model. Part of this is looking to attract an Aboriginal workforce and ensure remuneration incentives are adequate.
The reform agenda is destabilising the sector, with a sense of unrealistic expectations on providers to change without adequate transitional support. In addition, the funding now and future and commissioning constraints, such as short term funding arrangements, bring uncertainty and instability that directly affects the service outcomes for users. It also disadvantages smaller and specialised Aboriginal service providers.
There is a competitive child and family services workforce environment partly from the limited local workforce, especially in remote areas. This results in competing for staff within the sector, spreading into related and taskforce resource industries such as aged care and NDIS. The reforms bring forth partnership opportunities such as data and best practice sharing measures, along with internship and volunteering opportunities that can strengthen collaborative and sector wide coordination, particularly with Aboriginal community controlled organisations.
Educational streams present both opportunities and barriers for building the workforce for specialised Aboriginal child and family service providers. While tertiary education is key to a highly capable workforce, there is a need for greater recognition of transferable skills, knowledge and experience to provide opportunities for skilled applicants who do not possess the formal qualifications. This includes assessment processes that recognise lived experience and provide pathways to education.
The impact of other industry stakeholders, and requirements around mandatory reporting and employment eligibility screening, was noted to deter prospective workers and impact the retention of current Aboriginal workers. Accessible and timely employment documentation systems can support Aboriginal people to gain the necessary identity documents that would help address a key barrier for them to enter the sector.
Workforce Development and Planning
Workplace development and planning is often explored through four phases: attraction, recruitment, retention and upskill. Working towards a Strategy, the report identified the issues and opportunities that can help enhance the workforce capabilities and promote employment opportunities within the Aboriginal child and family sector. Common themes emerged across the four phases that were seen as critical to a successful workforce development strategy.
The domains included:
- Cultural Equity, Inclusion and Considerations that frame how the sector approaches working with Aboriginal children and families. These key terms need to be self-defined by Aboriginal people themselves. There is a need to review organisational culture and management so that they act in a culturally appropriate manner, and are flexible and responsive to support Aboriginal workforce. This includes having a Sorry Business policy that reflects an understanding of the meaning of family and community obligations as well as kinship relationships for Aboriginal staff.
- Employment conditions and remuneration needs included flexibility for Aboriginal workers, child care support, remuneration incentives, flexible work arrangements and housing assistance. There is a need to recognise the impact on Aboriginal workers working and living within community. There is an expectation that the worker is available around the clock, impacting their ability to have a work life balance. Practical tools must be provided to staff by their employers, particularly for Aboriginal workers, who need to maintain their own personal reputation separate from the organisational issues when living and working in communities. In addition, there is a need to recognise the competitive market for Aboriginal organisations to retain staff from leaving for higher paid roles.
- Concerns for workload and caseload were raised as an issue due to the under-resourcing and state of the sector. This has meant staff had to “hit the ground running” leaving limited opportunities for Aboriginal staff to obtain the necessary skills and procedures relevant to the industry. The need to redesign client staff ratios were mentioned to alleviate the pressures on workers from the system based failures.
- Adequate and flexible clinical supervision, performance management and practice support are critical to address the secondary trauma compounded for Aboriginal workers who are more intimately connected to the social and intergenerational trauma associated with the work. Ideally, clinical supervision is supported by cultural supervision and mentoring that allow for culturally safe spaces and informal interactions to support and retain Aboriginal workers in the sector.
- Professional development and training along with recruitment design, screening and selection can address the unfair, inequitable and inaccessible nature of the recruitment process for Aboriginal people. One notable suggestion was to develop an Aboriginal specific agency which streamlines recruitment processes, and a shared talent pool to service the Aboriginal child and family sector. This will help recognise attributes and experiences that Aboriginal people have instead of focusing on formal qualifications. Leadership opportunities were also noted as a means to help Aboriginal people overcome professional isolation and develop strong networks.
- Along with a framework that addresses cultural equity, inclusion and considerations, a marketing and branding strategy can help address the negative reputation of working in the sector. Organisations and agencies should use community engagement and partnerships to strengthen and promote their presence within communities.