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Monday 17 Dec 2018

EO's report - December 2018

By: Sandy Ross

Enter 2019

As this Devil’s Advocate issue goes out, we see the end to a tumultuous 2018. The last two months of the year have been dominated by the DSS tender decisions. The decisions seem to be designed to maximise disruption, possibly in the misguided belief that this will somehow improve services. Simplistic application of competition principles in the community sector has long been a damaging approach to policy, and it is disappointing to see DSS persist with such discredited policy instruments, and compound the damage with timeframes so unrealistic they forced ministerial intervention. The 2014 tender process, having made similar errors, was subjected to forensic examination by a Senate Committee with recommendations for reform, that appear to have been roundly ignored by the Department.

The silver lining to all this is that it appears to have driven a realisation from both State and Federal governments that they need to work together to better coordinate financial counselling funding and services. Actually, the State government has been aware of this for some time, but at long last the Federal government has started to acknowledge this too, so some positive reforms might yet emerge. Consumer Affairs Victoria is to be commended for the leadership it has taken in getting dialogue going.

Also on a more positive front, the re-elected Victorian State government has promised to double the sector’s capacity in specialist family violence financial counselling positions. This is a desperately needed boost to the sector, and we look forward to consultations with Consumer Affairs Victoria on how the resources can best be deployed in the sector. We will be seeking input/comments from financial counsellors about this issue in the new year.

Lastly, as we head into the festive season break, it is timely to reflect on how work roles have evolved over the last year. Across the sector there are issues with heavy workloads, exposure to vicarious trauma, stress and burnout amongst financial counsellors. This is a matter of ongoing discussion by the FCRC Board, and we are planning a multi-pronged approach to this issue:

  • Data collection to document the size, nature and extent of the problem
  • Advocacy with agencies and government on the need to improve risk management in this area (to better protect their staff from hazardous work), including the promulgation of work load standards by FCRC
  • Work with financial counsellors to ensure best possible supports and protections are in place – including through CPD content, but also through fostering and supporting peer interactions outside of the workplace
  • A realistic approach to demand that puts response to it back onto funders rather than onto agencies and FCs

We welcome input into these important issues; if we can organise systemic rather than individualised responses to the terrible pressures being placed on FCs we hope to make the role more productive and sustainable into the future.