Delivery of Bereavement and Family Support Services through the Defence Community Organisation
The objective of the audit was to assess the management and effectiveness of DCO’s delivery and coordination of support services to ADF families, in particular support services provided when an ADF member is seriously injured or ill, or dies in service.
1. Serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) exposes ADF members to significant risks and personal pressures, which can also affect their families. Families may require support following the death, injury or illness of the ADF member; and while members are deployed, undergoing training or participating in exercises. The regular relocation within Australia of ADF members and their families can also affect their links to extended family and their integration into local communities.
2. All levels of command in the ADF share the responsibility for providing support to Service families. Accordingly, Defence has long recognised both the need for, and the benefits of, investing resources to ameliorate the adverse effects of service life on ADF members and their families. In 1996, Defence formed the Defence Community Organisation (DCO), as the key service delivery agency within the Department of Defence supporting ADF commanders to meet their formal responsibilities for the welfare and morale of ADF members and their families.1 DCO and its services are a significant component of the broader support framework Defence has in place for ADF members and their families.2
3. Approximately 112 000 ADF members and dependants may potentially call upon the family support services administered by DCO.3 While DCO’s primary focus is on family support, it also provides services affecting single members at the request of commanders4 or in situations involving serious illness, serious injury or death. The ADF’s increased operational tempo5 since the deployment to East Timor in 1999, and the nature of recent operations (such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq) have increased the risk and incidence of injury or death among deployed members and the need for DCO’s services.
4. The DCO budget for 2012–13 is $38.5 million, and is in addition to other Defence support services provided through the ADF, such as Defence Chaplaincy services and those provided at the unit level. As at August 2012, DCO staffing consisted of 32 ADF members and 206 Australian Public Service employees. DCO operates from its headquarters in Canberra and 11 DCO Area Offices (some with multiple sites) across Australia.
5. The ANAO has not previously conducted a performance audit of DCO’s delivery of support services to ADF members and families. It was considered timely to conduct such an audit, in light of the acknowledged effect that the ADF’s operational requirements have had on ADF members and their families as a result of the increased operational tempo of the last decade.
6. The objective of the audit was to assess the management and effectiveness of DCO’s delivery and coordination of support services to ADF families, in particular support services provided when an ADF member is seriously injured or ill, or dies in service.6
7. The focus of the audit was on the following range of support services provided by DCO to help ADF members and their families:
- bereavement support for families of ADF members who die in service;
- support for seriously ill or injured ADF members to enable family visits;
- support for families when the ADF member is absent from home on training, deployment, or other ADF service;
- mobility support, including support for children changing schools, and members with dependants accessing different state services;
- the Defence Child Care Program;
- counselling services;
- community capacity building, intended to link the ADF community with local communities; and
- management and policy advice to the ADF.
8. DCO provides some additional services that were outside the scope of this audit. These were:
- the support DCO provides to the families of members involved in Commissions of Inquiry.7 These are established primarily to inquire into the deaths of ADF members that appear to have arisen out of, or in the course of, their service; and
- DCO assistance to support ADF members in their transition to civilian life, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).8
9. Defence invests significantly in the provision of support services to ADF members and their families through DCO, which has a budget of $38.5 million for 2012–13. Recognising that the effective delivery of ADF family support services has the capacity to ameliorate the adverse effects of Service life on Defence members and their families, and so improve their wellbeing, Defence views its investment in DCO services as an important contribution to the operational effectiveness of the ADF.
10. DCO’s services are often accessed and delivered in circumstances of stress and uncertainty for Defence families. These stresses can arise following the death or injury in service of an ADF member; in the context of regular relocations; and overseas deployments and training exercises.
11. Overall, Defence’s management and delivery of ADF family support services, through DCO, has substantial strengths and Defence is broadly successful in delivering assistance to ADF members and families. However, there are aspects of DCO’s management and delivery of its services that could be improved, including DCO’s management of client confidentiality when providing bereavement support and counselling services to ADF families, and DCO’s administration of some bereavement entitlements. Some of the issues ANAO identified as requiring attention went beyond DCO as the service deliverer, such as the Ministerial Determinations and policies relating to the provision of Defence entitlements and family support to de facto partners9 of ADF members who have not been administratively recognised as such by Defence, prior to an ADF member’s death or serious illness or injury. During the course of the audit, Defence agreed that there would be benefit in using discretions already available to it to provide support in situations where administrative requirements have not been met beforehand and is also progressing new Ministerial Determinations affecting this issue.
12. DCO provides bereavement support to the families of ADF members who die while in service and also supports the chain of command so that the ADF can meet its family support obligations after the death of a member.10 In doing so, DCO administers a range of related entitlements, including financial assistance for funeral expenses and a bereavement payment, which is an interim support payment for a person financially dependent upon the deceased member.11 In the course of the audit, the ANAO observed Defence and ADF staff involved in supporting ADF members and/or their families affected by a death in service, serious illness or injury. Both the resources applied by Defence towards providing these support services, and the approach of the personnel involved, reflected a commitment to delivering high standards of assistance. However, there are aspects of DCO’s management and delivery of its bereavement support services that could be improved.
13. In providing bereavement support, Defence needs to better inform bereaved families and significant others of any limitations to client confidentiality which may result from their acceptance of assistance from DCO. This issue arises because Defence’s bereavement support arrangements have developed so that DCO now performs a risk management function for Defence while also providing bereavement support to ADF families. DCO has not consistently explained to bereaved families all of the purposes and uses for which it collects personal information from them—which can include the collection of information to inform Defence’s risk management activities—and/or their rights under the Privacy Act 1988 (the Privacy Act). Further, Defence has not consistently obtained their informed consent to the collection of this information for all of these purposes and uses.12 There remains scope for Defence to improve the information it provides to bereaved families and significant others, to enable them to make informed choices before accepting Defence bereavement support.
14. Further, the way in which Defence has structured its bereavement support arrangements, and DCO’s implementation of those arrangements, gives rise to a risk that bereaved de facto partners may not receive Defence and DCO bereavement support services if their relationship is not officially recognised before the member’s death. Official recognition relies on the member informing Defence, which is not always done as members may forget to do so, or may choose not to do so for a variety reasons.13,14
15. DCO also plays a central role in providing family support to seriously ill or injured ADF members through the Australians Dangerously Ill (AUSDIL) Scheme. The AUSDIL Scheme benefits seriously or very seriously ill or injured ADF members by funding and assisting a close relative or dependant to travel to the member’s bedside to provide support. Overall, DCO has effectively managed the AUSDIL Scheme.
16. Historically, providing counselling services to ADF members and their families has been a key component of DCO’s work. Following the recommendations of a Strategic Review of DCO undertaken in 2008,15 DCO has been changing its approach to the provision of counselling from what had, in practice, often been direct ongoing service provision to a brief intervention and referral model that seeks to either resolve issues quickly or refer clients to external community services wherever possible. DCO has developed criteria to guide its decisions relating to brief interventions and external referrals.16 The criteria direct DCO staff to refer on to community service providers those clients requiring specialist counselling, including relationship counselling (a significant presenting issue).17 However, the current guidance made available to ADF members and their families does not fully inform them of the counselling services they can expect to receive through DCO, and there would be merit in reviewing that guidance. There is also a risk, to be managed by DCO, that there will not always be adequate community services available where ADF members are posted. In the course of the audit, DCO informed ANAO that it was in the process of seeking funding from within Defence to pay, ‘in exceptional circumstances’, for counselling when community services are inadequate.
17. In addition to counselling services, DCO delivers a wide range of other programs to provide support to ADF families. Several of these programs provide support to ameliorate the effects of mobility on ADF families. The school and disability support programs, in particular, provide effective support for families transitioning between school systems and disability services in different States. DCO has also reviewed and redeveloped its employment skills program for partners of ADF members. This program has been very popular and the program funding was recently increased.18 In addition, DCO manages the Defence Child Care Program (DCCP), at a cost of $2.75 million in 2011–12,19 which Defence considers to be an important mobility support and retention measure.20 Defence child care centres are managed by a contracted provider and in May 2012, Defence provided places for approximately 778 children of Defence employees.
18. DCO has been undergoing significant change since 2008. This is partly in response to the ongoing deployment of ADF personnel to Afghanistan, and partly in response to the 2008 DCO Strategic Review and a subsequent Workforce Review which gave rise to changes in DCO’s structure. These changes have included the redistribution of DCO’s staff to meet changes in the demand for DCO’s services, a process which encountered significant delays. With the completion of the Workforce Review and the approval of a new Service Delivery Model for DCO in November 2011, work has now commenced on a number of delayed reforms, including the community capacity building initiative.
19. There has also been recent progress in finalising key policy documents, some four years after senior Defence decision makers had requested this occur. In August 2012, during the course of the audit, Defence finally approved new policy documents intended to implement decisions originally made in 2008 by the Chiefs of Service Committee (COSC) to refresh the governance of ADF family support policy and DCO’s operation.21 The process for developing these documents was protracted, resulted in some change to the articulation of the policy as compared to the draft approved by COSC. It also lacked clarity around the responsibility within Defence for policy ownership and development.
20. The ANAO has made four recommendations to assist Defence and DCO achieve improvements in the provision of ADF family support by: reviewing the definition of Next of Kin and improving guidance to ADF members; improving the management of privacy, particularly in the context of the provision of support services for bereaved families and by engaging with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; and clarifying and communicating the eligibility criteria for DCO family counselling services.
Governance and coordination of Defence support to bereaved ADF families (Chapter 2)
21. There is an opportunity to better coordinate the support which unit Commanding Officers, Defence Chaplaincy and the DCO Bereavement Support Teams provide to bereaved ADF families. Defence’s system of bereavement support reflects the key role and responsibility of the unit Commanding Officer and the supporting roles of Chaplaincy and DCO. The high-level Defence policy in the relevant Defence Instructions and the Defence Casualty and Bereavement Support Manual establish these Defence-wide roles and responsibilities and give DCO an important coordinating role.
22. DCO has recently developed an internal bereavement support manual which has not adequately incorporated these interdependent responsibilities and roles, and has instead restructured Defence support around delivery by the DCO Bereavement Support Team. In particular, DCO’s internal manual does not adequately recognise the key roles and responsibilities of unit Commanding Officers and Defence Chaplaincy. Accordingly, there would be benefit in harmonising the policy and procedural guidance on bereavement support contained in DCO’s internal manual with the higher level guidance contained in the relevant Defence Instructions, Defence Manuals and Ministerial Determinations.22
23. ADF members, including those on operational deployments, are at times not adequately recording their Primary Emergency Contact (PEC) and Next of Kin information. This presents a risk for Defence in completing timely and accurate notification of injury or death to ADF families. In this context, there are further steps Defence can take to support deploying members, so that they understand the nature of the decisions they make when nominating a Next of Kin or a PEC. The failure to nominate can have practical implications for family and affect the outcomes for individual family members or significant others at a sensitive time. For instance, in the Defence Manual determining policy for support at the time of a funeral, the Next of Kin is the focus of bereavement support, and a chapter recently added to that Manual links eligibility to visit the injured member to the member’s nominated PEC.
Delivering bereavement support to bereaved ADF families (Chapter 3)
24. Bereavement support, including helping ADF families with funeral arrangements, is an important function that occurs in emotional and often complex circumstances, especially following operational deaths. On occasion, most notably following operational deaths, DCO’s role can occur in a situation of intense community interest and media scrutiny, with Defence supporting the family and also endeavouring to reasonably inform the Australian community through the media. DCO’s staff are required to offer support to assist the grieving family through the bereavement stages, while also providing support to the ADF chain of command, including by identifying and managing potential risks to Defence’s reputation.
25. In performing this risk management function, DCO’s Bereavement Support Teams report through DCO Headquarters to Defence on any foreseeable risks to Defence’s reputation arising during the provision of bereavement support. Defence needs to better inform bereaved families and significant others of any limitations, as a result of DCO’s dual responsibilities, to the client confidentiality that DCO can provide to them if they choose to accept assistance from DCO.
26. DCO has not consistently explained to bereaved persons all of the purposes and uses for which it collects personal information and their rights under the Privacy Act. DCO has also not consistently obtained their consent to the collection of this personal information. Accordingly, there is scope for Defence to improve the information it provides to the bereaved to enable them to make informed choices before accepting Defence support.
27. Defence’s support of bereaved de facto partners can be problematic at times. There is a risk that bereaved de facto partners—who have not officially been recognised as such by Defence before the member’s death—may not receive Defence and DCO bereavement support. During the course of the audit, Defence advised the ANAO that it agreed that there would be benefit in it utilising existing flexible discretionary clauses contained in the relevant determinations under the Defence Act, which underpin support for families, to provide bereavement support to an unrecognised de facto partner in these circumstances. Defence also agreed there would be benefit in ensuring that future determinations clearly contain such discretion so as to enable decision makers to provide support to the family of injured or deceased members and is in the latter stages of finalising such a determination on Defence dependants.
Administering financial entitlements for bereaved ADF families (Chapter 4)
28. DCO’s administration of Defence entitlements for bereaved ADF families does not fully reflect the ADF Pay and Conditions Manual (PACMAN), which sets out the criteria for the entitlements. This arises in two areas: funeral entitlements for travel and accommodation—where DCO’s internal guidance may act to restrict families’ access to ADF entitlements—and the DCO-administered bereavement payment, which provides interim financial support to a person who was financially dependent upon the deceased member.
29. In relation to funeral entitlements for travel and accommodation, the ANAO observed instances where the Defence Casualty and Bereavement Support Manual (DCBSM) and the DCO Critical Incident Manual23 provide guidance for DCO staff which is inconsistent with PACMAN. The Personnel Policy and Employment Conditions Branch, the responsible area in the department, advised ANAO that the Ministerial Determination as expressed in PACMAN takes precedence over the DCO Critical Incident Manual and the DCBSM. Accordingly, there would be benefit in Defence aligning these manuals with PACMAN to reduce the potential for errors in the administration of bereavement entitlements.
30. Under the criteria set out in PACMAN, eligibility for the bereavement payment is based solely on a person’s financial dependency on the deceased member. However, DCO practice and internal guidance apply narrower criteria for determining eligibility for a bereavement payment than that contained in PACMAN. For instance, PACMAN does not require a beneficiary to be a Defence dependant and recorded on PMKeyS, whereas DCO has applied these criteria in determining eligibility. As a consequence, the potential exists that DCO may have excluded some otherwise eligible recipients.
31. In response to the issues raised by ANAO during the course of the audit, DCO recognised that there may have been inconsistent application of the proper qualifying criteria in the decision-making process for the bereavement payment. DCO has agreed to revise its decision-making brief for the bereavement payment; record its reasons for decisions; write to a person considered for the payment to explain the decision and inform them of their rights of review. DCO has also decided to review all bereavement payment decisions where a bereavement payment was not granted in 2010 and 2011.
Family support for seriously ill or injured ADF members (Chapter 5)
32. Defence established the AUSDIL Scheme to benefit seriously ill or injured ADF members by funding and assisting a close family member or dependant to travel to the member’s bedside to provide support. Overall, the AUSDIL Scheme has functioned successfully and as intended.
33. DCO administers the AUSDIL Scheme and provides social work services and family assessments for AUSDIL visits, with the aim of minimising the stress to the member and family resulting from the member’s hospitalisation. In doing so, DCO’s delivery of AUSDIL support involves additional complexities and restrictions that go beyond the administrative intent of the Defence-wide guidance on the AUSDIL Scheme. In particular, DCO’s approach involves assessment and case management by DCO Defence Social Workers which can require the collection of personal information.
Counselling services (Chapter 6)
34. DCO is redesigning its counselling services to meet Defence’s requirement that it refer families to existing community services wherever possible. Over the last several years, DCO has been changing its approach to the provision of counselling from direct ongoing service provision to a brief intervention and referral model that seeks to either resolve issues quickly or refer clients on to appropriate external services. To enable this, DCO has changed the criteria which regulate access to DCO counselling services and reduced the range of circumstances in which DCO will directly provide counselling.
35. There is a risk, to be managed by DCO, that there will not always be adequate community services available, particularly in some areas where ADF members are posted. These risks are of potential concern to ADF members as they do not have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) funded by their employer such as that available to other Defence employees.24 To address the risk of a shortfall in community service providers, DCO informed the ANAO that it funds the purchase of specialist counselling services, including relationship counselling, for a number of families each year and is seeking funding within Defence to continue this practice. There would be benefit in Defence reviewing DCO’s planned provision of counselling services, including the criteria for direct provision by DCO of counselling, and communicating to ADF members and families what their access to services will be.
Privacy and confidentiality in DCO
36. DCO provides services to ADF families while also providing advice and support to Defence. In particular, Defence has a need to be kept informed about factors which may affect ADF members’ preparedness for service, and DCO can encounter situations where its responsibilities to manage its clients’ confidentiality can come into conflict with its role in advising Defence. The Privacy Act requires Australian Government entities to maintain a client’s privacy unless they have the client’s consent to release information, or unless safety or legal considerations override the right to privacy.25 Confidentiality is an important consideration for clients when deciding whether to access a service, and Defence could resolve the potential for a conflict of roles by obtaining informed consent before providing counselling services to ADF families.
37. The audit found that Defence is unclear as to whether the relevant Defence Instruction26 —which requires Defence personnel to report to Defence about information relating to a member’s health which may affect preparedness for service—applies to DCO staff when providing family support. Further, DCO‘s internal guidance on client privacy does not inform its staff of the effect the above Defence Instruction, and another Defence Instruction on reporting member behaviour,27 can have in limiting the rights of a DCO client to confidentiality.28 Nor has DCO informed its clients of these possible limitations.
38. There would be merit in Defence: determining whether DCO staff are bound by the limitations to client confidentiality in the two relevant Defence Instructions; aligning DCO’s internal guidance and information for ADF families with the principles in the Privacy Act; and ensuring that any limitations on privacy applying to DCO services are disclosed at the outset of a client engagement so that, in accordance with the Privacy Act, DCO obtains informed consent before delivering services.
Mobility and deployment support and community capacity building initiatives (Chapter 7)
39. DCO effectively operates several programs which provide support for ADF families when they have been relocated due to service requirements.
40. School support programs are intended to assist ADF families transitioning between school systems in different states. The Defence School Transition Aide Program places Defence School Transition Aides (DSTA—primary school) and Defence Transition Mentors (DTM—high school) in selected schools which enroll high numbers of children from ADF families. The DSTAs and DTMs are not teachers but employees who help students integrate into new schools and different state education systems. DCO also supports ADF families through its nine Regional Education Liaison Officers—DCO staff who are professionally trained teachers—who provide advice for parents of children changing schools.
41. The Defence Special Needs Program (DSNP), which is delivered in cooperation with the Defence Special Needs Support Group (DSNSG), is for ADF families with a dependant who has special needs because they have a physical, intellectual, sensory, learning or behavioural disability or because they are gifted. When ADF families relocate in response to the member’s postings, they can face differing eligibility criteria or a waiting period before they can access state or territory special needs assistance. The special needs assistance provided through the DSNP seeks to ameliorate these consequences of relocation.29
42. At a cost to Defence of $2.75 million in 2011–12, the Defence Child Care Program (DCCP) aims to provide Defence families with priority of access to child care centres by securing places for mobile Defence families, particularly in areas where community demand is high or near Defence bases in regional or remote areas where services are not sufficiently available. Defence advised the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel in February 2011 that the provision of priority placement in child care centres operates as an effective retention measure for ADF personnel. At the time of that advice, most of the centres were operating at a financial loss primarily due to their location and their variable utilisation rates. Defence engaged a child care consultancy to review the DCCP in 2010. The consultant concluded that, given the unique constraints of providing childcare to ADF families, Defence’s child care management model was the most efficient and effective arrangement. The consultant reported high levels of satisfaction with the program, some areas of unmet need, and also some locations where demand for DCCP places exceeded supply.
43. The Partner Education and Employment Program (PEEP) is a DCO-managed employment skills-development program for partners of ADF members. DCO has recently reviewed and redeveloped PEEP, a program which has been very popular, and which has recently received an increase in funding.
44. In a 2009 Defence survey of family members, 47 per cent of the respondents commented upon Defence’s deployment support. Respondents reported significant dissatisfaction with Defence support, stating it was common for them to not receive monthly DCO deployment contact phone calls, which are intended to offer DCO support to families as needed. Defence had relied upon the ADF member providing their permission for DCO to contact their family. Two key stakeholder groups contacted by the ANAO during this audit, Defence Families Australia (DFA) and the DSNSG, expressed a preference for Defence to develop a system for DCO deployment-support contact which did not establish the member as the gatekeeper for access to support. Following discussions in late 2011 between Defence and DFA, Defence instituted a new approach which removed the requirement that the member provide permission for deployment support calls to be provided. This new approach involves an opt-in selection by families wishing to receive deployment support calls.
Community capacity building
45. Following its consideration of the recommendations of the 2008 DCO Strategic Review, COSC30 decided that DCO should undertake more concerted community development as a means of improving ADF families’ connections with the wider community. DCO’s Community Capacity Building program was initiated in October 2009 to achieve that aim. However, the rollout of the Community Capacity Building program has been delayed due to the delay in completing the DCO Workforce Review, which was not finalised until November 2011.31
46. The Family Support Funding Program (FSFP) administered by DCO provides grants of up to $50 000 to ADF and community groups to undertake family support projects at a local level. With an annual budget of some $1.3 million, the FSFP has historically been a major component of DCO’s community support. In 2011, DCO redesigned the FSFP grants program ‘to connect [ADF] families with one another and the wider community in which they live and operate’.32 The repositioning of the FSFP was well timed to assist with DCO’s planned reinvigoration of its Community Capacity Building program. However, the delay in concluding the DCO Workforce Review continues to delay progress in employing the Community Development Officers needed to take this program forward.
Improving and reforming DCO (Chapter 8)
COSC decisions following the 2008 DCO Strategic Review
47. The 2008 DCO Strategic Review recommended a range of improvements and reforms to DCO’s operations. In May 2008, the Strategic Review’s initial findings were presented to COSC—one of the most senior Defence committees. COSC made six decisions based upon the Review’s findings. DCO has completed implementation of two of COSC’s decisions relating to DCO’s priority tasking as a family support organisation, and DCO’s support for families attending Commissions of Inquiry.33 DCO has partly implemented two decisions relating to enhancing its community development activities and relocating its staff to match changes in demand for its services. A further COSC decision, relating to the promulgation of a draft Defence Instruction clarifying Defence and DCO’s role in supporting families, was recently partially implemented with the approval in August 2012 of three chapters of the Defence Family Support Manual. One of COSC’s decisions, regarding the relocation of individual DCO Area Offices to maximise their accessibility to ADF families, has not been implemented to date. However, Defence has advised that this cannot be implemented before the relocation of DCO staff is completed.
Renewal of the ADF family support policy and DCO governance
48. In 2008, COSC also approved a draft Defence Instruction to replace both the then extant Defence Instruction covering DCO34 and the Defence Instruction setting out the ADF’s Family Support Policy.35 COSC directed that the draft Defence Instruction was to be implemented through Defence’s System of Defence Instructions (SODI) process, but this did not occur.
49. The development of the ADF’s updated family support policy has been protracted. There was some confusion early in the process, arising from a lack of clarity about who was responsible for the development of the draft Defence Instruction, and DCO did not commence updating the policy framework36 until nearly three years later. The policy development process was also complicated by a change in how Defence managed its high-level SODI processes, and has proceeded without clear recognition of who within Defence had responsibility for the development and ownership of the policy.
50. Four years after the original COSC decision, Defence has recently approved the new ADF family support policy—the Defence Family Support Manual. The Defence Family Support Manual has replaced Defence Instructions (General) PERS 42–1 and 42–3 (the ADF Family Support Policy, and Defence Community Organisation, which established DCO’s role), and will progressively replace other Defence Instructions, as Chapters are promulgated and the Defence Instructions are cancelled.
51. In the process of developing the new Defence Family Support Manual, the articulation of Defence’s family support policy has been amended. Both the recently cancelled ADF Family Support Policy, and the Defence Family Support Manual released in August 2012, incorporate the principle that the ADF member bears primary responsibility for the wellbeing of their family. However, the previous ADF Family Support Policy, which was also consistent with the draft policy approved by COSC in 2008, stated ‘the well-being of Service families is integral to the efficiency and effectiveness of the ADF and is a shared responsibility between the ADF and the member’.37 The Defence Family Support Manual states the policy using different language, omitting the direct reference to a shared responsibility for the well-being of ADF families. However, Defence informed the ANAO that it does not consider that there has been any change to the policy intent. As it currently stands, there is wording in Chapter 6 of the Defence Family Support Manual that is not consistent with the policy.38 Defence advised the ANAO that this was a drafting error that it would seek to have remedied quickly.
52. Between May 2008 and August 2012, while Defence’s approach to family support policy was undergoing a process of consultation, DCO developed internal policy and practice manuals in advance of Defence settling the necessary Defence Instructions (and Defence Manuals). This led to a situation where aspects of DCO policy and practice manuals did not align with the extant Defence Instructions. These internal policy manuals were developed in response to the Strategic Review’s finding that DCO services were inconsistently delivered due, in part, to a lack of internal policy and guidance.39 Defence addressed several of these alignment issues during the course of the audit, in particular when the Secretary and the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) approved the Defence Family Support Manual in August 2012, and subsequently with the release of further Chapters of the Manual.
Management of complaints
53. DCO complaints processes are set out in four separate documents which are not consistent in their description of how complaints are managed and in the guidance they provide for staff. There would be benefit in DCO reviewing these documents for consistency, and considering how best to maintain staff awareness of complaints handling procedures, including through training and induction processes.
Department of Defence
Defence welcomes the ANAO report on the Delivery of Bereavement and Family Support Services through the Defence Community Organisation and agrees with all four recommendations made by the ANAO.
On behalf of Defence, the Defence Community Organisation delivers a wide range of programs and services which provide support to ADF families. The effective delivery of these programs and services helps to ameliorate the adverse affects of service life on Defence members and their families and so improve their well-being. Defence recognises the significant contribution that ADF families make to operational effectiveness and believes that this important report will assist Defence in its efforts to respond effectively to the emerging needs of ADF families.
Defence is pleased to note the overall assessment by the ANAO that Defence’s management and delivery of ADF Family Support Services has substantial strengths and that Defence is broadly successful in delivering assistance to ADF members and their families. Defence acknowledges that there is scope to improve aspects of its support.
The report notes that during the course of the audit several key policy documents have been replaced. The report recommendations provide opportunities to build upon the progress made by the Defence Community Organisation in recent years in developing and aligning family support policies, procedures and practices.
Defence is committed to providing comprehensive and compassionate support to bereaved families and the report demonstrates the complexities that exist in bereavement situations. Defence notes the ANAO recognition that the resources applied by Defence, and the approach of the personnel involved in bereavement support, reflects a commitment to delivering a high standard of assistance. Defence commits to continually improving its bereavement administration. This includes better educating and informing ADF members and their families regarding information collection and client confidentiality matters, particularly in relation to bereavement support.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs
The ANAO report highlights that the Department of Defence invests significantly in the provision of support services to ADF members and their families through the Defence Community Organisation (DCO). The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) will continue to work with Defence and DCO to help ameliorate the adverse effects of Service life on Defence members and their families.
1Department of Defence, Defence Community Organisation, The Commanding Officers’ Handbook, 13 December 2010, p. 16.
2 This broader framework includes: Unit Commanders, Unit Welfare Officers; ADF Chaplains; Joint Health Command; and several non-Defence organisations which provide support to ADF members and their families.
3 According to the 2011 Defence Census. The figure includes the ADF members (and the percentage of Reserves on Continuous Full Time Service) with partners/spouses and children. There are also approximately 3500 dependants with Special Needs (45 per cent of whom are registered with Defence).
4 For example, a commander may request DCO to provide an assessment of a single member’s request for compassionate leave.
5 ‘Operational tempo’ is defined as ‘the rate at which the ADF is able to deliver its operations effects, for example, the rate at which forces are dispatched and the time in which they are turned around for their next task’. Defence Annual Report 2008–09, p. 372.
6 Bereavement support is provided by Defence to the families of ADF members who die in service, whether or not the member died on operations.
7 A Commission of Inquiry is appointed by the Chief of the Defence Force and presided over by a civilian with judicial experience.
8 In July 2010, the Directorate of Transition Support Services transferred from the former Personnel Support Services Branch of Defence Support Operations to DCO.
9 Where this report refers to de facto partners, this includes same-sex partners.
10 Between January 2002 and 11 November 2011, there were 341 deaths of ADF members in service. During this period, between 26 and 44 service deaths occurred each year, with an average of 34 deaths per year. From the commencement of Operation Slipper in Afghanistan in 2001 to the end of October 2012 there have been 39 operational deaths, with 10 in 2010, 11 in 2011, and 7 in 2012 (as at 24 October).
11 The bereavement payment provides an income in the period before long-term compensation payments from DVA come into effect. The payment is equal to four times the deceased member’s gross fortnightly pay plus allowances.
12 Informed consent is required under the Privacy Act and its associated Information Privacy Principles.
13 The member may not be inclined to make an application for Defence to recognise their partner, or may be unaware of its importance, or the member may have been claiming benefits to which they were not entitled prior to their death.
14 As discussed in paragraph 44, Defence had also relied on ADF members to provide permission for DCO to contact their families while deployed and it was not uncommon for families to miss out on these DCO support contacts when members have not provided the necessary permission.
15 Defence commissioned the DCO Strategic Review in February 2007; it reported in May 2008 and made recommendations on DCO’s strategic direction and focus.
16 These are set out in its draft Referral to Community Service Providers practice manual completed in 2009. Notwithstanding that it is in draft, Defence informed the ANAO that it constitutes the relevant guidance for DCO staff.
17 There is also a difference in the availability of services depending on whether or not a serving member is also a veteran. ADF members who are veterans, and their families, have access to free counselling, including relationship counselling, from DVA’s Veterans and Veterans’ Families Counselling Service (VVCS).
18 The program budget was approximately $1.1 million before a $3 million funding increase was announced by the Minister for Defence Personnel in August 2011.
19 A consultant examined the DCCP in 2010 and reported that it was an efficient and effective program. See also paragraph 42.
20 The DCCP aims to provide Defence families with priority of access to child care centres by securing places for mobile Defence families, particularly in areas where community demand is high or near Defence bases in regional or remote areas where services are not sufficiently available. Defence does not guarantee the availability of child care as a condition of service. Defence families pay child care fees and are entitled to Australian Government financial support for child care costs, in common with other eligible users of child care services.
21 COSC had approved a draft Defence Instruction to this effect in May 2008, to replace two Defence Instructions—Defence Instructions (General) PERS 42–1 Australian Defence Force Family Support Policy, 2000 and Defence Instructions (General) PERS 42–3 Defence Community Organisation, 1996.
22 In particular, Determination 2005/15—ADF Pay and Conditions Manual or PACMAN.
23 DCO Critical Incident and Casualty Support Services [manual].
24 EAPs provide employees and, usually, their immediate family with free access to general counselling. While the employer funds the provision of services, it is not entitled to receive specific information about which employees have used the service. The DCO Strategic Review recommended that Defence explore the option of extending the Defence EAP contract for its Australian Public Service employees to ADF members’ families for relationship counselling. Defence advised the ANAO that DCO had considered this recommendation and had decided not to adopt it as Defence considers that DCO fulfils this role for the ADF.
25 Privacy Act 1988, section 14, Information Privacy Principles.
26 Defence Instructions (General) PERS 16–20 Privacy of health information in Defence.
27 Defence Instructions (General) PERS 35–3 Management and reporting of unacceptable behaviour. This includes behaviour off duty.
28 Department of Defence, Defence Community Organisation, Privacy and Confidentiality in DCO (DCO Privacy Manual), May 2009.
29 This assistance can include: a Defence funded pre-posting visit to assess and plan for local services; Defence funding for up to six months for respite care, personal care or therapy until the family is engaged with local services; financial assistance for equipment hire; assistance with accommodation and travel while moving to the new posting; and some assistance to obtain suitable housing, or to modify a house.
30 The Chiefs of Service Committee (COSC) is a senior Defence committee that includes the CDF and the Secretary.
31 As at August 2012, recruitment of staff as an outcome of the DCO Workforce Review was ongoing.
32 The FSFP is predicated on the desire of ADF families to help themselves and to determine community needs in their local area. FSFP grants are provided on a demonstrated needs basis in a competitive process: applications are assessed on their individual merits, in competition with other applicants, to meet the needs of Defence. The Program funds activities such as playgroups and community or volunteer groups that integrate ADF families into the broader community. Department of Defence, Defence Community Organisation, Defence Family Support Funding Program (FSFP) Guidelines, Amendment January 2011, paragraphs 1 and 5.
33 CDF Commissions of Inquiry inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding the death of an ADF member in Service, or deaths with a service link or connection, or other matters as determined by the CDF.
34 Defence Instructions (General) PERS 42–3 Defence Community Organisation, 1996.
35 The ADF’s Family Support Policy was set out in a Defence Instruction, DI(G) PERS 42–1 Australian Defence Force Family Support Policy (2000) which was cancelled when the relevant chapter of the new Defence Family Support Manual was promulgated in August 2012.
36 Encompassed in the DCO Defence Instruction and ADF Family Support Policy (DI(G) PERS 42–1).
37 Defence Instructions (General) PERS 42–1 Australian Defence Force Family Support Policy, 2000, paragraph 5.
38 Defence members, families and Command have a shared responsibility towards the health, welfare, discipline, and morale of the Australian Defence Force’. Department of Defence, Defence Family Support Manual, Chapter 6, paragraph 6.1.
39 In particular: aspects of DCO’s internal bereavement support manual do not accord with the relevant Defence Instructions and the Defence Casualty and Bereavement Support Manual; and DCO has developed an internal privacy manual and client information brochure which have not addressed related Defence Instructions.