The state of the child and family support sector workforce
The child and family support sector workforce are a diverse and talented workforce critical to supporting children and families experiencing vulnerability in our community. Yet we understand very little about this workforce that is essential to Queensland’s social wellbeing and economic growth.
KPMG’s Child and family support sector workforce environmental scan starts to build our understanding of the sector workforce. In particular, the challenges and opportunities to build a strong and sustainable workforce for the future.
Population growth projections for children and young people will increase by 1.3% per annum. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island child and young people population is expected to grow at the same rate. Much of this growth will differ across the regions with highest growth in the south east of Queensland and declining rates in Queensland Outback and Darling Downs-Maranoa. However, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people highest growth will be in Queensland Outback, Cairns and Townsville.
Demand for services will continue to increase but at differing rates for different service types along the continuum of care and different regions are likely to experience higher vulnerability. Workforce demand projections vary across the continuum of care with community services and early intervention services estimated to grow at around 1.3%, child protection services at 2.5%, out-of-home care services at 2.8%, youth justice services between 3-5%, and services for children and families with multiple and complex needs 3-6.5%.
The projected average annual growth rate for workforce supply to 2030 is 2.2%. While this is higher than the expected population growth it is lower than most other estimated indicators of service demand. Without further demand information whether the projected supply of the workforce is sustainable in meeting the sector’s needs is unknown. Additionally, regional distribution of the workforce is unequal, influenced by factors including child and young people population, levels of disadvantage and need. This has not changed significantly over the last six years. Regional differences between the number of children in the region per worker suggest Moreton Bay South has the highest ratio and the Queensland Outback has the lowest (the lowest ratio being more desirable). Both of the regions also have the lowest portion of the workforce with Brisbane and Gold Coast regions employing the largest share.
Risk factors such as drug and alcohol use, criminal history, mental illness, domestic and family violence, parent abused as a child are increasing in households where a child has been harmed or was at risk of harm demonstrating an increase in complexity of service users.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people continue to be overrepresented in demand indicators such as intakes and notifications out of home care, youth admissions and youth detention and in fact have been increasing over time. Projections over the next few years show a similar trajectory.
While not a paid workforce nor volunteer workforce Foster Carers are exiting the sector at a faster rate than recruitment. Without adequate funding and support there is an increasing cohort of Foster Carers unable to manage children with multiple complex issues.
Recruitment challenges exist in rural and remote areas of Queensland including Longreach, Hervey Bay, Fraser Coast and Sunshine Coast. While recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in the sector is growing recruitment to identified positions in rural and remote areas remains a problem. Other key challenges include recruiting of residential staff and specialisation in trauma care, domestic and family violence, working with men, addictive counselling and sexual abuse.
It is estimated that expenditure grew by 9.5% on average over six years to $1.3 billion. However, expenditure in child and family services grew more rapidly in the two years from 2016-17 to 2018.19 increasing by more than 25% ($267 million).
Queensland has increased its investment into areas such as intensive family support, protective intervention services and care services but continues to spend below the national average of $1062 per child and in 2018-19 reported $943 expenditure per child.
Wage disparity and employment opportunities in the public sector or adjacent sectors was the reason given by sector stakeholders as to high turnover in non-government organisations.
Employees in the sector exhibit high levels of burnout and psychological distress. These effects may be more pronounced in frontline, younger, and less experienced fractions of the workforce. It was suggested by some stakeholders that peer support from experienced workers would provide guidance with some of the complex clients and difficult cases to less experienced workers.
Recruitment and selection, decision making autonomy, communication and vision and job security measures are factors most likely to improve psychological distress.
It was not possible to identify investment in learning and development, including qualification attainment and continuing professional development, as this data is not available. However, indications are that learning and development needs (including supervision, support and mentoring) to sustain a contemporary workforce are unmet in non-government organisations. These organisations make up over two thirds of the sector workforce with 95% employing less than 20 employees.
Stakeholders felt that greater emphasis on professional development was an area that would strengthen sector capacity, sustainability and service delivery and should be accompanied by increasing investment.