Centacare’s Family Preservation Service works with families to address safety concerns and increase parenting capacity.


Rosie had it all until a family tragedy turned her life upside down.

Overwhelmed by grief, she began substance misuse, lived in squalor with her children and multiple pets, and was at high risk of self-harm.

Due to concerns about the children’s safety, the Department for Child Protection (DCP) referred Rosie to Centacare’s voluntary Family Preservation Service (FPS).

“Situational crisis can be debilitating and it can happen to anyone,’’ says manager Natalie Patmore (pictured).

“Whether you’re affluent or not, if your whole family network breaks down, how do you get out of that whirlwind if you don’t know how to obtain supports?”

The FPS works with families of children from birth to 18 years who are experiencing abuse or neglect, to address safety concerns and other lifestyle factors affecting ability to parent.

While generational dysfunction and neglect often play a part, families face “enormous life challenges’’ for a variety of reasons, says Natalie, citing accumulating crisis, unemployment, financial difficulty, poor mental health, and environmental stress.

“In Rosie’s case, she simply just spiralled into grief and things became too much,” Natalie says.

“Society makes assumptions around child protection, but it happens in all demographics of the community. Some people we support have had highly successful lives.

“Our hope is that when we step away from a case, the families have a foundation for success and improved health outcomes, and can start to embrace family life and enjoy it.’’

Working in partnership with DCP, Family Preservation provides households with intensive one-year case management, including health intervention by a clinical nurse.

In-home and community support is provided up to twice a week to build resilience and parenting capacity to prevent family breakdown. Care team meetings are held for the first three months of intervention to monitor and celebrate change with families.

“Everybody deserves a chance but you don’t want to set a family up to fail either so there must be some slight indication of capacity and strength to make change,’’ Natalie says.

“We are able to assess and unpack the stresses of families quite quickly. We come in with a strengths-based approach and try and normalise their challenges so they don’t feel shame or that they’re being judged.

“We tell them that once we open that door, we are not going to give up hope; we are going to be knocking every week at the same time and, in the end, they realise well, actually, somebody does believe in me and so they start to believe in themselves.’’

Family Preservation workers Eve Heller and Laura Hooper highlight the significance of the many small steps families take along the way to positive change.

“We don’t get to see the long-term outcomes but it’s what we do with the families and the children in the period of time we’re working with them that can set them up for much longer,’’ Eve says. For example, advocating for speech and occupational therapy to address a child’s developmental delay.

“The children might be in mainstream education but their development is way behind but the family hasn’t had capacity to address those needs, so the children are lost,’’ Laura adds.

“To be able to support kids into a special education class and know they are attending every day because they’re at a level that’s appropriate to them, means their future is suddenly a lot brighter.

“Everybody deserves a chance.’’

In Rosie’s case, involvement in Family Preservation led to improved school attendance and health outcomes for her children.

She was supported to access counselling, financial management and help around the home, and her self-confidence grew as her social isolation decreased.

Rosie reports she is feeling hopeful and more in control of her life today.