Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families Report

Executive Summary

The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system is a significant and ongoing human rights challenge in Australia, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-Indigenous children.

The ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism, including intergenerational trauma experienced by members of the Stolen Generations, drive the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across all stages of the child protection system. Colonisation and racism have caused large socio-economic inequities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians, including disparities in employment, education, housing, health and justice. These inequities in socio-economic outcomes contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families being more likely to have contact with child protection systems. All Australian Governments have committed to addressing these gaps in life outcomes through the National Agreement on Closing the Gap (the National Agreement). The National Agreement includes 17 outcomes and associated targets for improving life outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Target 12 is to reduce the rate of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care by 45% by 2031. Achieving Target 12 will require a significant investment in the services that support family and child wellbeing.

Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) are best placed to provide community-led and culturally safe child and family services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Despite this, ACCOs continue to receive far less funding for these services nationally than non-Indigenous organisations. Under the National Agreement, all Australian governments have acknowledged and committed to the need for ACCOs to be at the forefront of service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Commonwealth Department of Social Services (DSS) provide funding across a range of children and family early support programs. To ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families have access to culturally safe early intervention services delivered by ACCOs, DSS play a key role as a funding body for ACCOs and early intervention programs.

The Closing the Gap Measure 3 Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families, initiative is being led by DSS and aims to increase ACCO involvement in delivering DSS-funded Family and Children Activity programs. SNAICC – National Voice for our Children, the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander children and families, was engaged by DSS in 2022 to conduct stage one of Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families. The first stage of Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families was to identify existing knowledge and consult with ACCOs on their strengths, needs, barriers and opportunities for accessing DSS funding and delivering Family and Children Activity (FaC) Activity programs. Throughout May-June 2022 SNAICC engaged with ACCOs via an online survey and community consultation forums. Of 304 survey respondents, 35.53% were currently employed by an ACCO, with 61.68% of the ACCOs they worked for currently receiving DSS funding. This report brings together findings from both the existing literature, and perspectives from ACCOs collected by SNAICC and engagement with the sector, before recommending actions for DSS to increase and strengthen the involvement of ACCOs in the delivery of FaC Activity programs.

This report identifies significant systemic barriers that ACCOs face in accessing funding for FaC Activity programs and children and family services more broadly. Barriers include competitive grant processes that advantage larger non-Indigenous organisations, reporting and administrative burdens
that are not supported by core functions funding and the fundamental misalignment between how services are funded, and the services communities
need. ACCOs identified that dedicated, sustainable, flexible and sufficient funding would enable them to build on the existing strengths of the sector to deliver culturally responsive and holistic services. By addressing these barriers to access funding, a greater number of ACCOs will be able to provide services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.

ACCOs deliver services using a holistic model of care resulting in better health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. They are accountable to their communities and thus deliver high quality, responsive and culturally safe services, and their position as a preferred provider in their communities ensures higher levels of engagement with service users. Current approaches to funding do not support ACCOs to provide services in this way. Without appropriate funding, ACCOs are limited in their ability to meet the objectives of the National Agreement in achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families, and communities. Commonwealth Government determining the way programs and services are delivered diminishes self-determination for ACCOs, and often does not align with community needs and aspirations.

The use of competitive funding processes raises concerns for ACCOs as they are often positioned to compete with one another undermining their opportunities for partnership, advantages non-Indigenous organisations, creates significant administrative and cost burdens, is inconsistent with
place-based approaches, and lacks transparency. ACCOs raised strong concerns that the largest proportion of government funding is directed to non-Indigenous organisations. This was seen by many stakeholders to be driven by a preference for mainstream organisations as providers and not valuing culturally responsive services provided by ACCOs.

The burden of investing resources into submitting proposals disadvantages smaller ACCOs, with many reporting that the complex and time-consuming nature of funding processes was a barrier for identifying and applying for new funding. The current deficit-based funding model does not recognise the significance of cultural connection and community relationships, and ACCOs reported that the immense and burdensome reporting requirements were still unable to comprehensively capture the services they provide and the outcomes they achieve, inhibiting their ability to meet Key Performance Indicators set by the government. The short-term nature of funding (i.e., 12–24-month agreements) creates challenges for ACCOs because uncertainty about the continuation of funding results in ACCOs being unable to long term plan for workforce and organisational development.

Underpinning all the key consultation findings was the need for self-determination and community control to be at the centre of funding and service
design. The challenges and needs of the ACCO sector can only be addressed through community-led solutions, and it is through the ACCO sector that the best outcomes can be achieved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. SNAICC makes six recommendations and 14 sub-recommendations in this report, the six overarching recommendations are:

  • Recommended Action 1: Embed communityled decision-making at every stage of funding development and allocation
  • Recommended Action 2: Prioritise ACCOs as providers of children and family services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families
  • Recommended Action 3: Invest in the growth, development and sustainability of ACCOs through core-functions funding
  • Recommended Action 4: Reduce administrative burdens across the system
  • Recommended Action 5: Increase investment in and support for ACCO-led research and evaluation
  • Recommended Action 6: Build government capacity to work better with ACCOs.
Accompanying Stronger ACCOs, Stronger Families Report Table found here.

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