Roadmap for reform

Roadmap for reforming the Child and Family Support System 2021–2023 outlines the steps that the Department of Human Services is taking that will improve early intervention services for children and families with complex needs. These steps are in line with the whole-of-government strategy, Safe and well: Supporting families and protecting children.

The case for change

One in three children born in South Australia is reported to the Department for Child Protection by age 10. We know these relate to matters of genuine concern.

Many families have multiple and complex needs that can impact on parenting, including:

  • domestic and family violence
  • parental alcohol and other drug abuse
  • unaddressed or poorly managed mental health needs
  • homelessness
  • financial stress and long-term unemployment.

When children are removed from their families and placed in care, this is a traumatic experience that can continue to impact health and wellbeing throughout their lives life and across generations.

For Aboriginal families, this is made worse by the intergenerational trauma from children being forcefully taken from their communities and culture.

The continuing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care demands major changes to the governance, design, practice, and workforce of early intervention services. We need to work together to address the impacts of intergenerational trauma from experiences of colonisation, the Stolen Generations, and other past discriminatory government policies.

Our reform provides an opportunity to create a better alignment between the needs of children and families and the services that aim to support them.

We will do this by developing a more sophisticated understanding of what these children and families need through studying causes and better measurement of outcomes.

Adopting this approach will improve our visibility of cumulative harm, an important recommendation made by the Nyland Royal Commission, and support our capacity to monitor equity in access to services.

By building new data systems and implementing new tools to measure family complexity and service impact, we will be able to reach new levels of understanding to inform system-wide planning.

Through our contribution to the implementation of the Safe and well strategy, child and family support services will be strengthened to work with higher levels of complexity and risk, providing the right service intensity over the right duration, according to the level of complexity faced by families.

We know that positive outcomes for families will be assisted by delivering an interconnected system dedicated to child and family support, working alongside families, the Department of Child Protection and other key agencies including Health and Education.

The new child and family support system

Many services and programs are playing a role in supporting families to keep children safe and well at home and reduce the need for children to be removed from their families to ensure their safety.

The Child and Family Support System is made up of a spectrum of services are able to respond to different degrees of complexity and safety concerns of children and families. These services span from community capacity building through to intensive case management.

We know that in 2019–20 there were approximately 8,600 families at high risk of continued and escalating contact with the tertiary child protection system. At this stage of the reform, the service system must be strongly focused on these families and be flexible, to enable them to shift between services of varying levels of intensity as their needs change over time.

To support higher levels of complexity and need, we have commissioned new non-government Intensive Family Services and repositioned our government Safer Family Services. Our new approach will ensure our efforts are focused on intervening earlier, and more intensively, to keep children safe in their families and prevent them needing to enter out-of-home care.

Our research has identified four population groups who are likely to experience the most challenges and develop the most complex needs, and therefore require assistance from multiple service systems. As a result, we are focusing our early intervention efforts on these groups and designing services that specifically meet their needs, as we know they have contact with multiple service systems. Prioritising these population groups, particularly at the early stages of parenthood and family formation, is likely to maximise the service impact and disrupt intergenerational vulnerability.

When working effectively with families with multiple and complex needs we must develop and maintain strong connections between the CFSS, DCP, and other key partners in domestic violence, health, education, early childhood and community services.

By working together to strengthen families, and by sharing responsibility for vulnerable children and families, we can ensure the best possible outcomes.

Our priority populations

Infants at risk

Every year, over 1000 families are reported for concerns about unborn children. Of these families, about one third are likely to have one or more children enter care within four years.

Young parents

A large proportion of children in care have a mother who had their firstborn before they were 20 years of age. Often these mothers are at increased risk because of their own child protection history, with about seven in 10 having a subsequent engagement with the system.

Adolescents with complex trauma

More than half of all child protection reports are about children and young people aged between 8 and 18 years of age.

Aboriginal families with multiple and complex needs

Aboriginal children are significantly overrepresented in the child protection system and represent approximately one-third of all children in out-of-home care.

Our healing approach

Firstly, we must deeply listen and give status to the voices of the children and families who are most affected by this system and often have the least control and power in it. To do this effectively, we need to understand our power and privilege in this system and find ways to support self-determination where possible. We will commit to truth telling about the impacts of colonisation. We will acknowledge and work with the strengths and the resilience in children, families and cultures. We will understand ourselves, our privilege and the assumptions within which we live and work.

Our healing approach will be guided by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander System Design Criteria and co-design principles developed in the Trauma responsive System Framework and CFSS reform co-design process (see EIRD website for complete versions of Aboriginal System Design Criteria and co-design principles and the Trauma responsive System Framework).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander System Design Criteria for a system

  • where Aboriginal children are front and centre
  • that reflects Aboriginal cultural strengths
  • that reflects Aboriginal people’s right to self determination
  • that reflects the truth of our shared histories, the hurts, the strengths and the healing.

Trauma-responsive System Framework principles

  • Trustworthiness
  • Safety
  • Peer and Community Support
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment and self determination
  • Know yourself and learn.

The Lived Experience Network will be supported to ensure lived experience insights are in the design of continuous trauma responsive practice. Our approach to working with culturally and linguistically diverse communities will respect the diverse and unique lived experiences and migratory journeys of individuals and families that may include intergenerational trauma.

Priority 1: Pathways

Right support at the right time

We are creating a system that encourages people to ask early and ask often, and provides families with access to the right service at the right time. Pathways are being designed to ensure children and families are assisted to reach services that are matched to their needs, ranging from universal services, to targeted and tertiary level services.

ASK Website

ASK, launched in May 2021, is a self-service website designed to provide information, or locate services, for anyone who has concerns about the safety or wellbeing of a child, young person, or family. In December 2021, a self-reflective tool for families and a portal for professionals were included. 'Just ASK' is for those unsure what help they are looking for, and the professional portal provides information, resources and services for those working with families and individuals.

Visit the Adults Supporting Kids website

Child and Family Support System Pathways Service

A centralised triage line has been established to provide a single point of entry for intensive family service referrals across the system. It is providing an alternative pathway to the Child Abuse Report Line for families who do not require a response from the Department for Child Protection. Further opportunities will continue to be explored to strengthen linkages with other service systems across the service spectrum, ranging from universal services through to care and protection services.

Child and Family Safety Networks (CFSNs)

Pathways and service coordination are supported state-wide through the establishment of local CFSNs. Child and Family Safety Networks will comprise key service partners who are able to assist families facing multiple complex issues that are causing significant concern to the safety of their children.

Smarter referral system

We are establishing smarter referral information systems and designing new processes to efficiently and fairly process and track referrals, including equitable allocation, and to better understand system performance and outcomes for families.

Priority 2: Service Integrity

Supporting and strengthening our workforce

To shift the focus of our system to families with multiple and complex needs, we must support our workforce to make this transition. Well-supported, trained, compassionate and motivated workers, able to practice with integrity in difficult situations, are critical in delivering effective service outcomes for children and families. The Child and Family Support System workforce must operate ‘as one’ so all families receive the same healing approach and quality of service, based on a shared foundation of knowledge and practice skills across all services. The system will have a purposeful and unwavering focus on building the Aboriginal workforce and supporting non-Aboriginal staff to work well with Aboriginal communities. This means supporting staff to embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Placement Principle (identification, prevention, partnership, placement and participation).

Practice framework

Shared tools, resources, policy and practice guidance will be collaboratively developed to assist at all system levels and steps of the service journey.

Culturally responsive and trauma responsive workforce training

This will be a central resource for our practitioners and leaders to strengthen trauma responsiveness at all levels of the system.

Common Elements approach

The Common Elements Approach draws on evidence informed practice and provides opportunities for reflective practice in partnership with the Lived Experience Network. The success of practitioner’s efforts in family preservation is directly related to having a stable, skilled, and diverse workforce that feels valued, supported and inspired. Common Elements are discrete techniques or practice, grounded in evidence and can be used to build client engagement and facilitate changes in family functioning to ensure the safety of children. An implementation support phase will assist practitioners to embed these elements in practice across the Child and Family Support System.

Trauma-Responsive System Framework

A new training program has been developed by Aboriginal people to build the capacity of the sector’s practitioners to work in culturally responsive and trauma-responsive ways with Aboriginal people.

Communities of Practice

Practitioners and leaders from across the sector will participate in shared learning and reflective discussions about practice and the progress of the reform.

Workforce and sector development plans

Annual action plans will be developed to make sure our future CFSS workforce has the right scale, composition and skills to meet the needs of the families we serve.

Priority 3: Service Investments

Commissioning for child safety and wellbeing outcomes

When distributing government funds to providers, we will work in the spirit of collaboration with a focus on building the capacity of the non-government sector and keeping the voices of children and families central. All funds previously allocated to family preservation and targeted intervention services have been replaced by recommissioned Intensive Family Services. Family support and early intervention services are next to be recommissioned. This will involve investing in evidence-informed service models for families with lower levels of complexity and safety risks. This includes step down services from intensive services as well as services for families who are at earlier stages of vulnerability and risk. Investing in these services will help reduce the demand for more intensive services.

Recommissioning strategy

We have adopted a new funding approach that fosters collaboration between providers rather than competition, with a stronger focus on evidence-informed service models and outcomes for families with complex needs.

New service models

New service models will be designed for areas where there are service gaps in the system. External evaluations will inform service improvement and future investment decisions.

Post-doctoral fellowship program

We continue to support early career researchers in the areas of prevention of child abuse and neglect to deliver culturally informed research to guide policy and service development.

ACCO capability building

Thirty per cent of all funding for Intensive Family Services has been earmarked for Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to deliver services to Aboriginal people. We will support ACCOs to play a larger role in the service provision to Aboriginal children and families, and leadership roles in partnerships with mainstream services.

Research to build evidenced-based service improvements

Research collaborations have been established with universities to help build the evidence base for service responses and service model investments.

Priority 4: Building Evidence

Voices and data for system improvement and service outcomes

Knowing more about whether our efforts and investments are improving outcomes for the children and families we work with is essential to guide us as we reform our Child and Family Support System. To do this, we aim to capture information that supports a system-level and social epidemiological approach to monitoring, as well as build the infrastructure to support data collection, improved data sharing and reporting across the system. This will enable us to routinely capture information to improve referral prioritisation and service matching. It will inform the ongoing evaluation of demand for our services, which programs work for whom and the service outcomes for families over time.

Outcomes hierarchy

This is a shared framework for making collective progress toward the vision that children are safe and well at home in family, community and culture.

Aboriginal outcomes tool

An Aboriginal-led research project has been commissioned to inform the development of a culturally informed practice tool to measure the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and families.

Voices of lived experience

A lived experience network of system advisors provides an ongoing role in shaping the planning, monitoring and review of the Child and Family Support System.

Voices of our workforce and leaders

The Communities of Practice model will provide a mechanism for our workforce and leaders to draw on practice experience and innovative approaches and solutions.

Enhanced data capture

Tools are being developed to capture structured data at key points in the service journey. This will help to inform service planning and make sense of outcomes.


Understanding the impact of the reform requires monitoring and evaluation at program and system levels over the short, medium and longer term. Improved baseline risk assessment and outcomes measurement, and new performance indicators are essential to show if we are making the shifts we are aspiring to in this reform.

Data linkage, information sharing and reporting

Safe data linkage and information sharing across government and the non-government sector will be enhanced to facilitate more efficient case management. This will help guide system level planning and investment and improve our capability to identify families needing support.

The journey here and road ahead

Our immediate efforts will be focused on ensuring our new services are targeted at the most vulnerable and at-risk population groups. At the same time the new information we are collecting across the system will enable us to improve our understanding of who the most vulnerable families are, the challenges they face and their needs. We will continue to trial, test, and learn from new and innovative service models and pathways to help us build our evidence base of what works to improve outcomes for children and families, and maximise the impact of the system.

Our next focus will be working in close collaboration with our key government partners to build the service responses to evidence-informed family support services to ensure the system continues to evolve and strike a balance between providing services for high risk families to keep children safe, and support for vulnerable families earlier.

Outcomes Hierarchy

An outcomes framework for the CFSS provides shared outcomes for all services in their efforts to ensure children are safe and well at home in family, community and culture. This includes a focus on improving safety and family functioning. This framework will help align outcome-focused efforts across the system, working for children, young people and parents/caregivers to be: safe and well in families, influencing decisions and reaching potential, and connected and supported in communities and culture.

Work is progressing on the implementation of a CFSS family functioning outcomes measurement tool. Initially the Family Snapshot is being completed within the first 6 weeks of service delivery. This is completed at the start of engagement to capture data about a family’s current circumstances, stressors and strengths. It helps us understand a family’s starting point, build a system-level understanding of the families we work with and measure the impact of our services.  For more information, email the Early Intervention Resource Directorate (EIRD).

Further reading

Child and Family Support System Program Level Outcomes Hierarchy
Building a Coordinated Self-Learning Child and Family System – The Outcomes Hierarchy Working Group Review of Outcomes Measurement Tools (PDF 1.6 MB)
Aboriginal System Design Principles (PDF 312.7 KB)
Child and Family Services Outcomes Measurement: Assessment Tool Summary Chart (PDF 396.8 KB)

Other government strategies and related information

Page last updated 8 August 2023