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Intervening at school Posted: Thursday 3 August 2017

For some kids, the simple act of going to school is one they are not prepared to do. They may be simply bored, or they may fear for the safety, and even life, of their siblings or parent if they leave the house. It is these underlying causes of truancy and other troubled behaviour that the collaborative intervention panels formed at schools across Queensland’s south-east region seek to address.

The panels were the brainchild of Department of Education and Training’s Student Protection Advisor, Kerri Chard, a former child protection practitioner, who was working on a project to enhance schools’ abilities to respond holistically to children and families impacted by trauma. She was looking for a way to improve engagement between schools and the Family and Child Connect (FaCC) and Intensive Family Support (IFS) services, and address student’s issues before child safety needed to get involved.

Initially finding it difficult to get traction with the new referral and reporting pathways, where concerns are first referred to FaCC rather than the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services (DCCSDS), Kerri approached DCCSDS’s Principal Child Protection Practitioners. She proposed the idea of place-based collaborative panels in schools as a response to young people in out-of-home care and as an early intervention tool for staff worried about students with indicators of difficulties at home.

The panels bring DCCSDS, Department of Education and Training, FaCC and IFS together in a local area, within a particular school. Over the past five months, several panels have started up across the Gold Coast, Logan and Brown Plains catchments, with the first one established at Mabel Park State School in March. 

Since then, they have seen some great results.

Principal Child Protection Practitioner for the south east region, Angela Kerslake, said a key focus of the panels is to get families the support they need as early as possible to reduce the likelihood of future contact with the statutory child protection system.

“Through these panels we are able to build strong collaborative partnerships, which enables schools to identify worries for children and families early,” Angela said.

“It also improves referral pathways so that families get connected to the right services to help them with their particular issues before they escalate.”

The panels meet monthly to discuss individual families, facilitate referrals and review the progress and outcomes of those referrals. This ensures families are offered, connected to, and engaged with appropriate support. The panel also ‘troubleshoots’ any engagement or service system barriers that may crop up. Families who have multiple and complex needs around safety and wellbeing will be linked with IFS. 

“We are able to provide the schools with advice on how to better engage with the families and help them to get the support they need. It’s also a way to maintain accountability and make sure the students, and their families, are provided every opportunity to seek and receive the right support,” Angela said.

Overwhelmingly, Angela said, when you ‘scratch the surface’ of problems with school attendance, you find more complex issues underneath.

“Many children presenting with issues such as poor school attendance are referred to Family and Child Connect, where further engagement and assessment with the families often reveals a number of complicating factors that are affecting school attendance. 

“Family and Child Connect then supports that family to engage with their local services to enhance family strengths and functioning with a focus on increasing the child’s school participation.”

So far, five panels have been held at Mabel Park State School and seven families have started receiving support from FaCC and IFS.

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