Clinical nurses play a crucial role in Centacare’s Family Preservation Program and Targeted Intervention Service. Their work is opening up new nursing opportunities in child protection, with a focus on improving health outcomes in vulnerable families.


CLINICAL nurses are joining social workers on the frontline of child protection in an Australian-first at Centacare.

Working in multidisciplinary teams, the nurses are paired with vulnerable families to help address and prevent poor health outcomes, such as learning difficulties and developmental delays in children.

Honed over the past eight years, the model enables the early detection of health issues, as well as advocacy and referral to specialist supports for parents, children and extended family.

“The nurses are absolutely vital in the quality of service we provide,’’ says Michelle Warner, Manager, Targeted Intervention Services (TIS).

Michelle Warner

“When parents have a trauma background and limited resources or family support, everyday struggles can be really overwhelming. Health needs can get lost in that.

“The inclusion of clinical nurses in our programs has helped us to better understand how health issues impact parenting capacity and children’s behaviour, and has also provided families with links to crucial health supports and early interventions.’’

Annette Brown is one of four clinical nurses at Centacare and works in TIS, a child-focused case management service for families where early child wellbeing or safety risk factors have been identified.

Annette was specialising in sexual health when the opportunity arose to pair her skills, and previous experience as a midwife and mental health nurse in remote locations, with vulnerable families.

“I come from a base of really strong and happy family life, so I always think other people should be able to experience that in some way,’’ she says.

“You might only see glimmers of it sometimes, but you are always hoping this generation of children will grow up knowing families as positive places.’’

Annette Brown

In her role, Annette obtains a health and medical history for each family, identifies where intervention is needed and provides advocacy and support to obtain referrals to specialist services as needed.

“A lot of my work is reconnecting families with health services they might have lost touch with due to the complexities of their lives. They may have had a negative experience and so they’ve shunned away from supports. I help them with health literacy, and to navigate the systems.

“I’m always hoping I can make some shift or change that improves their lives.’’

In 2016/17, TIS worked with 120 families, including 283 children aged 0 to 18 years across metropolitan Adelaide, the Riverland, Murray Bridge, the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula and Mt Gambier.

Referrals come from State Government departments, Child and Family Health Service nurses, and non-government organisations.

Common challenges experienced by families include mental health, poor hygiene, hoarding, pet management, accumulation of debt, difficulties parenting and managing children’s behaviour, social isolation, substance misuse and neglect.

“We look at all areas of a family’s life: what is working and what is not working, and how that is impacting on the children,’’ Michelle says. “We are really a brains trust for them around where to from here, always with a focus on the positives. It’s a privilege to work with them and their children.’’