At-risk young people and their families benefit from a ground-breaking initiative across education, health and community service providers, according to recent Charles Sturt University (CSU) research.
The evaluation of the innovative Family Referral Service (FRS) in Schools initiative in the NSW Riverina-Murray region was conducted by CSU researchers Dr Martin Hall (pictured) and Mr Gerald Wurf in the School of Education and Research Institute for Professional Practice, Learning and Education (RIPPLE). The FRS in Schools initiative is a partnership between NSW Health, the NSW Department of Education, NSW Department of Family and Community Services, and Relationships Australia.
The evaluation was carried out in conjunction with two high schools and two primary schools in Wagga Wagga, and examined the perspectives of parents, students, teachers, school executive managers, and key stakeholders.
"The aim of the FRS was to better cater to the needs of children, young people, and families by providing them with greater access to service providers," Dr Hall said.
"This objective was to be achieved by locating Education Family Workers (EFWs) within schools where students who are at risk of underachievement and poor developmental outcomes can be identified and appropriate interventions can be offered expediently.
"The Family Referral Service mobilises other service providers, well-being units, and statutory departments responsible for child protection issues. It liaises with vulnerable children, young people, their families, and support services.
"The evaluation findings indicated that the service provided a responsive and individualised service to at-risk students and their families," he said.
"It reduced the workload of principals and teaching staff who were working with families with complex needs across multiple services and systems. This was particularly so for staff who were tasked with following up families whose complex needs required high levels of coordination across multiple services and systems."
Dr Hall said the FRS in Schools has been received positively, and the findings of the evaluation showed that the service increased the capacity of schools to handle challenging issues with students who were at risk.
"Parents and students who participated in the evaluation 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."
Co-researcher Mr Gerald Wurf added that when student engagement was measured, students rated teacher support and extrinsic motivation as most important. However, students gave the lowest ratings for family support for learning.
The researchers said the project is an excellent example of private-public partnership, and also a good example of government agencies coming together around a common goal.
"The models shows how schools can outsource or contract services to manage cases that they otherwise would not have the capacity or time to manage, and is a good way to increase the value of schools and schooling and build better relationships between schools and communities," Dr Hall said.
"The model extends beyond what support staff in schools can do and ensures value-added capacity outside of school hours and outside of school."