“SUCCESSFUL FAMILIES, SUCCESSFUL COMMUNITIES”
The CEO of the Palm Island Community Company (PICC), Rachel Atkinson recently presented to the 2017 SNAICC conference the unique character of PICC and its impact on improving the wellbeing, education and health of young children and their families.
Ms Atkinson informed the delegates, “PICC has a number of distinctive features which, together, create a sound foundation for enhancing the effective, prevention-focused early childhood service system. We think there is a direct link between the way services are provided by PICC staff and the significant improvements in child protection currently being observed”.
Ms Atkinson stated that, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are rarely taken into care on Palm Island and this has been the case for a number of years. This is an outstanding and very encouraging situation given current over-representation issues across the nation”.
Ms Atkinson added, “This is not to say that all of the problems of a dysfunctional child protection system are resolved on Palm Island, this is far from the case and there is much work to be done, however, the reduction or elimination of children being removed from their families and communities is a significant step in moving forward.”
The PICC system of delivering services to families and young children has evolved over the past 7 years since the inception of the organisation.
Throughout this time Ms Atkinson stated that there had been a focus on ongoing refinement of services, the development of good governance, securing long-term stable funding and active networking that provides the internal and external support required to review, reflect and adapt services to better suit the unique character of the Palm Island Community.
- According to Ms Atkinson, the critical features of the Palm Island Community Company early childhood development service system that contribute to a successful early childhood agenda include the following:
- Local employment – this cannot be overstated and is the cornerstone of the PICC organisation
- The existence of a place-based mature organization – dedicated to Palm Island and the people of Palm Island only
- Good governance – the appointment of a skills based Board of Directors with a majority of Palm Islanders
- Accredited service
- A system of daily continuous improvement
- The establishment of the Palm Island Elders group to guide and inform service implementation and development
- Stable pool of staff with family and community natural support networks, and a deep knowledge of culture, customs, family groups, Island dynamics, resources and supports
- Strong, consistent high-quality training with practice support.
In addition, PICC has developed a highly effective integration model to produce outcomes for the early childhood development agenda. Services currently delivered by PICC include:
- Safe House
- Children and Family Centre
- Community Justice Group
- Diversionary Service
- Women’s Shelter and Services
- Safe Haven Program
- Family Wellbeing Centre
- Social Enterprises
- Family Medical Practice
- Ready Together
- Early Childhood Development, Parenting, Health and Wellbeing Program
Ms Atkinson spoke about the integration demonstrated by the PICC model, “This approach has many benefits including multiple entry points for clients, staff having a deep local knowledge, including historical knowledge and how this impacts on the community, efficient and effective referrals system and innovation opportunities to name a few. However, with integration, there are concerns that consumers may not get adequate choices in a service system dominated by one organisation. PICC is well aware of this issue and considers it to be a necessary consequence of a fully integrated system with many benefits.” To mitigate this issue, PICC has implemented the following:
- recruitment of staff across services is representative of the family groups on Palm Island
- community representation on the PICC Board
- consultation with the Elders Advisory Group to guide service establishment, development and reform and to provide advice on local issues such as any community groups take-up of services or other issues of accessibility
- a system of robust, effective and immediate referrals of clients who decline to receive a PICC service
- the use of brokerage funding to support external referral
- participation in a strong community network of services on Palm Island so that interagency knowledge is maintained
- a comprehensive and accessible complaints and feedback system
- development of policies which directly address this issue including service delivery and HR policies such as Code of Conduct and staff employment contracts
- training of staff in areas of confidentiality, ethics and managing conflicts of interest
- staff are restricted in their access to data – staff, with the exception of management, are only able to access the data of their particular service
Ms Atkinson stated that the benefits of being a local resident and staff member responsible for delivering direct services to local community members far outweigh the disadvantages as, “We know that a deep knowledge of family and community is advantageous and results in better assessment of strengths and needs”.
Ms Atkinson concluded her presentation by saying that she, “Hoped to have convinced you that a successful early childhood development system, which is delivered by local staff, and is having a direct impact on the numbers of children being removed from their community, can be achieved in a remote Indigenous Community.”
“I am hoping that I have convinced you that the employment of 100 local staff, which comprises 95% of PICC staff, is achievable and recommended to have an impact on child protection outcomes in remote communities.”
Rachel Atkinson is a proud Yorta Yorta woman. She can be contacted at the Palm Island Community Company on 07 44214300 or by email