Telepractice in child and family services during COVID-19 and beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for child and family services to complement many of their in-person services with online and digital methods of delivery. However, telepractice has broader applicability beyond the pandemic. The challenge is to better understand how telepractice can help to offer a continuum of services to meet the needs of all families.
Expanding service options via telepractice gives us the potential to provide “easier-to-reach” services for isolated, rural or transient families, those who have special needs, or those who have limited transport options. Service providers and practitioners may also benefit where multidisciplinary care or access to specialists is a priority, or when safety or travel time is problematic.
However, challenges to its successful uptake remain. Currently, services and programs designed to support children and families have mainly been developed with in-person delivery in mind. There also remain challenges that are often stubborn and enduring, such as the digital divide. Child and family services have concerns about the adaptability of existing service models for telepractice, and their staff, client and organisation’s technical capacity, competency, and willingness to embrace new ways of working.
Therefore, we need to systematically build evidence around the advantages and challenges associated with telepractice in child and family support and provide support to organisations to adopt good quality telepractice as part of a client-centred, blended model of care.
This symposium will showcase recent and continuing telepractice projects that focus on research, service delivery, implementation and evaluation.
Our first presentation (Elly Robinson, Melanie Hughes) will discuss a collaborative project undertaken in 2020-21 (with Phase 2 in development for 2021-22), funded by an Investor Group of seven agencies (Association of Child Welfare Agencies, Key Assets, Life Without Barriers, NSW Department of Communities and Justice, Social Futures, The Smith Family and Uniting). The NGO Telepractice Venture focused on building capacity across the community sector to confidently deliver a suite of telepractice interventions alongside in-person services. In collaboration with Karitane and 15 NGOs, government and peak bodies, the project aimed to build the capacity of the existing workforce to deliver quality, effective telepractice. A telepractice development framework provided guidance and methods for the process of developing, testing and trialling new and adapted resources.
Emily Wailes will present on how the Benevolent Society responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by shifting to virtual service delivery (telehealth) where possible. To guide and support client engagement in telehealth, The Benevolent Society adapted a ‘Responding to Risk’ resource developed as part of the NGO Telepractice Venture, to create a Telehealth Engagement Checklist. This project formed part of a broader continuous quality improvement initiative, where practitioners developed, tested, and refined telehealth resources using the Plan, Do, Study/Check, Act (PDSA) model. This presentation will discuss the PDSA process and how a commitment to continuous quality improvement has helped engage clients and families during COVID-19 and beyond.
CatholicCare Wilcannia Forbes (CCWF) (Dorothée Crawley, Gina-Maree Sartore) will present on their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. CCWF like many family support agencies had to radically change the way it worked with clients. CCWF conducted risk analyses and contingency plans for all 19 of its services and programs and converted to remote work procedures for all staff. Interaction with individual clients has predominantly been via telepractice methods such as videoconferencing. For groups, secure social media platforms have also been used to stay in touch with and provide services for clients. An evaluation was designed and conducted by the Parenting Research Centre (PRC) in collaboration with CCWF to assist CCWF in determining what has worked well in their response to COVID-19 restrictions and what changes should be retained after restrictions are relaxed. This presentation will provide a summary of results and recommendations.
Zvezdana Petrovic (PRC) will present on building the evidence base for telepractice in family services. There is a limited formal evidence base to draw upon in understanding how telepractice can effectively be used in the child and family services sector. This presentation will outline the results of two studies, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (VIC) in 2020-21. The first is a Delphi study which drew on the experience of a panel of experts to build consensus on contemporary best practice in telepractice. The second study is a qualitative research project that examined families’ experiences of services delivered using telepractice.
Overall, the aim of the symposium is to reflect on the rapid pivot undertaken by the sector to continue service delivery during COVID-19, and how this opportunity has highlighted the potential of a blended model of care to meet the needs of all families in the future.
Elly Robinson is a skilled project manager and accomplished writer and author, with expertise in the interface between policy, practice and evidence. She is a qualified public health and adolescent health specialist who has led multidisciplinary teams to deliver national and state-level projects on mental health, child protection and family law.
Dr Gina-Maree Sartore is a Senior Research Specialist with the Parenting Research Centre. She works with government departments and family support agencies to understand and use evidence for making policy and practice decisions. She has expertise in family and parenting support, domestic and family violence, and cognitive and developmental psychology.
Dorothée Crawley commenced her career with CatholicCare Wilcannia-Forbes as a Family Worker in Bourke 20 years ago. She now supports CatholicCare leadership in the design, development and implementation of new programs. In the last two years much of her focus has been on transitioning face-to-face services into the tele-practice space.
Emily Wailes is the Principal Practitioner, Clinical Services at The Benevolent Society. Emily is a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist with a passion for supporting person-centred practice that creates sustainable change.
Zvezdana Petrovic has worked at the Parenting Research Centre (PRC) since February 2009 and has been involved in a broad range of projects focused on improving outcomes for children and families. She has extensive experience in both quantitative and qualitative research design, data collection and analysis including for continuous quality improvement (CQI) initiatives, as well as conducting evidence reviews and evidence-building work for a variety of programs in the sector.