North Coast NSW
Mid North Coast LHD Mental Health and the Department of Community and Justice (previously the Department of Family and Community Services).
Mid North Coast Local Health District Mental Health Service and the Department of Community and Justice under the Kempsey Place Plan, took an innovative and original approach to the introduction of a peer worker in the region. The peer worker role was set up to work across two key areas; both the local Mental Health Service and Department of Community and Justice. The project was designed to improve collaboration, integration and understanding between two key Government service providers. The services focused on working with the most vulnerable people to reduce homelessness, domestic violence, re-offending and the impacts of mental illness.
The outcomes of the project resulted in better prevention and earlier intervention for people with complex mental health problems. The project helped reduce issues of mental health, unstable housing/homelessness, child protection and domestic violence for the most vulnerable people in a region that is one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged in NSW1
Department of Community and Justice as well as other service providers often struggle to know how to best engage and support people with a mental illness and co-morbid drug and alcohol issues.
People who experience mental illness have much better outcomes when they receive early referral to necessary services and/or when they interact with services that understand what mental health and general supports are best suited to them.
For people with a mental illness, the amount of support and type of services they have access to often depends on whether the individual has advocacy support from the public mental health service, a non-government mental health service, or from their family/carers. For those people who have this support, outcomes can be positive. For people who experience mental illness along with co-morbid drug and alcohol issues, who do not currently have advocacy links, understanding the housing and community service system can be difficult.
For the staff working within the Department of Community and Justice knowing how to best engage, identify, refer and support people with mental illness and co-morbid drug and alcohol issues can also be challenging.
By having a peer worker, working in the Department of Community and Justice a two-way link between staff and people who experience mental illness and co-morbid drug and alcohol issues was developed.
The Peer Worker was co-located on-site at the Department of Community and Justice office to:
- Support the engagement of people experiencing mental health issues, who require access to housing support and those existing clients of Department of Community and Justice that may have particular mental health needs.
- Support the staff of the Department of Community and Justice and other providers, to develop their skills, knowledge and approach to working with people who experience mental illness through the peer worker’s personal lived experience.
- Assist Mid North Coast LHD Mental Health Service with referring people to the best Department of Community and Justice supports.
- Develop of clear referral pathways that direct clients to the right mental health care in the Kempsey region.
The Peer Worker Project is designed so that the peer worker is located at the Department of Community and Justice office in Kempsey and is therefore accessible to both consumers and staff. The peer worker is available to attend home visits alongside staff and can also attend Mid North Coast LHD Mental Health Services to assist consumers in relation to their Department of Community and Justice needs. The focus of the role is to support Department of Community and Justice clients to access needed mental health support services if required.
The Peer Worker Project model has enabled people to receive peer support in a very clear and targeted way.
By having a peer worker, working in the Three key aims of the project were achieved. These aims were:
- Creation of better referral pathways and collaboration between Mental Health Services and the Department of Communities and Justice.
- Improve engagement and support for Department of Community and Justice clients who need mental health support in addition to housing and community services.
- Improve Department of Community and Justice’s staff knowledge and skills in supporting people with mental illness.
Initial program evaluations has included staff feedback surveys, feedback from people with lived experience who have been supported by the peer worker and statistics on referrals received as well as the kind of support provided.
Results have shown the project improved access and provided support for people with complex mental health issues across the two Departments and achieved these changes in a region with longstanding social challenges. Feedback from clients who have been supported by the peer work program found that the role has greatly improved their mental health by helping them navigate and find effective support in both services. Better service navigation can ultimately improve people’s access to housing and education.
The success of the Kempsey Peer Work model has led to ongoing funding for the service with plans to expand to other mental health sites across the Mid North Coast LHD. The Project is scalable and can be expanded to other mental health services. Discussions with the Department of Community and Justice at a statewide level is occurring with other ‘Place Plan’ projects around NSW seen to be able to effectively use this model.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016, Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), cat.no. 2033.0.55.001