Menka Tsantefski is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work at Griffith University. For many years, Menka worked at Odyssey House Victoria conducting research on the experiences of substance-affected parents and their children, as well as designing, delivering and managing programs for children and families.
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.