Anne Tidyman has a background in nursing, public housing, community development, out-of-home care and public advocacy. She has volunteered and worked in the community sector for the past 15 years with a special interest in working with vulnerable communities. Anne is Manager, Child and Family Services, at Odyssey House Victoria.
Over a number of years, various Australian states and territory governments introduced legislation permitting pre-birth notifications of infants to child protection authorities. The aim is to provide supports and services to the pregnant woman to ameliorate the risk of postnatal harm. Despite widespread acceptance of pre-birth notifications as an early intervention measure, the number of infants being removed from maternal care continues to rise; this pattern is most evident among substance-using women. Compared to the US, Canada and the UK, Australia has been slow in developing models of care able to bridge obstetric services and child protection; discharge planning for vulnerable infants therefore remains fraught, particularly as there are few programs able to address co-occurring problematic substance-use, mental health and family violence. As a result, Odyssey House Victoria, through its Kids in Focus program, forged a partnership with the Women’s Alcohol and Drug Service at the Royal Women’s Hospital, the major provider of obstetric services in the State of Victoria. This presentation outlines key elements of a program positioned “at the pointy end of the stick”, the interface between obstetric care, alcohol and other drug treatment and child welfare. It describes how the Social Work Outreach program attends to safety and improves outcomes among high-risk infants and their mothers through multidisciplinary collaboration and assertive outreach. Two perspectives are presented: those of service providers and women taking part in the program.