Purpose, audience and background

Purpose and audience

This strategy offers a vision and roadmap to embed clients as partners in all aspects of work related to The Orange Door. It also defines client partnership in The Orange Door and provides context for this work. It builds on the commitment across the family violence and children and families reforms to recognise and be guided by the experiences of people who have experienced the family violence and/or family services systems.

This strategy proposes ways for The Orange Door to realise the vision for client partnership and the inclusion of the voice of clients set out in the DHHS Community Services Quality Governance Framework and Client Voice Framework. To this end, it comprises a set of initiatives which could be implemented as part of the project to design and deliver The Orange Door. Implementation planning would need to further consider the required resources, alignment with other work and priorities across the wider project.

The strategy is intended for use by:

  • FSV leadership and project staff, to support the implementation of the enablers and initiatives outlined in the strategy.
  • Leadership (including practice leadership) of The Orange Door partners, to align to the vision for client partnership.
  • Other stakeholders across the service system leading related and intersecting pieces of work.


What is client partnership?

Consistent with the DHHS Community Services Quality Governance Framework, client partnership in the context of The Orange Door is defined as systems, processes, leadership and culture where client engagement is actively sought and supported at all levels, from engagement in direct service provision, service design and delivery to governance and oversight.

Following is a description client partnership from the perspective of clients. It was developed based on a review of client partnership in other service contexts, and interviews with clients as part of the strategy development.

As a client, I know I’m a partner when:

  • you partner with me from the start
  • I can see how what I’m contributing makes change
  • I have a view of the whole process I’m being invited into (not just glimpses)
  • I have a say in decision-making
  • there is an exchange of skills and knowledge between us
  • it feels authentic (and not like a staged promo pic)
  • I feel like I’m more than my story (and others think I am too)
  • you can respond to me when and where I need
  • you respect me, my cultural background, and my human rights

Effective client partnership is crucial for improving clients’ experiences and outcomes, and for designing and delivering services that meet people’s needs. Clients are able to identify issues and opportunities that are often invisible to service providers and have a right to influence decisions that impact them individually and collectively.

An inherent power imbalance exists in many service provider-client relationships, which can inadvertently re-traumatise people. This imbalance can be addressed by actively building authentic partnerships with clients in their own support, and throughout the design, delivery and continuous improvement of services. Many clients from diverse communities or with intersectional needs experience barriers to accessing services and are often left out of conversations about how the system could be improved.

Client partnership can help clients to:

  • feel like things are being done with and for them (and not to them)
  • heal and recover through being heard and improving the service for others
  • develop their professional and advocacy skills

Client partnership can help services and systems to:

  • deliver a higher quality and safer service (as part of continuous improvement)
  • tailor services to client needs, preferences and values
  • build trust in the service and service system more broadly

The system needs to work harder to genuinely partner with clients across all communities and backgrounds, and this strategy aims to help The Orange Door work towards that goal.

Person-centred practice

In the community service sector, a person-centred service is one where:

  • people are enabled and supported to meaningfully participate in decisions and to form partnerships with their service providers, with respect to their own support and the design and improvement of the service system
  • people’s values, beliefs and situations guide how services are designed and delivered
  • people are included in shaping their own support and the service from the beginning – not after decisions have already been made

Examples of person-centred practice include: clients being involved in planning and decision-making about service responses for them; offering service responses considering the whole person, taking into account their physical, cultural and social context; sharing information. Person-centred practice is underpinned by people in Victoria’s fundamental rights to live free from violence, choose who to associate with and to have a home and family free from interference (unless required by law).

Accordingly, practice in The Orange Door is based on person-centred principles which define a client partnership approach to service delivery. The overarching principles, as defined in The Orange Door Interim Integrated Practice Framework, are:

  • ensure safety and wellbeing is paramount
  • support agency and empowerment (this principle talks to the heart of client partnership, through respecting clients’ needs, decisions and choices)
  • keep perpetrators accountable for violent and abusive behaviour
  • promote self-determination among Aboriginal people
  • be accessible and responsive to risk and needs

This strategy aims to extend the use of these principles beyond the client level and apply them to the operational and system levels responsible for delivering and developing The Orange Door.

Client partnership in government and community services

There is a shift underway towards more authentic partnership with clients in government and community services. This follows many inquiries and reviews finding that the absence of the client voice contributes to poorer outcomes for clients. Client and family partnerships, co-design, engagement and person-centred care are highlighted as key areas of focus in the design, delivery and improvement of services across the DHHS Community Services Quality Governance Framework and DHHS Strategic Plan. The Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended government and agencies identify and develop ways to ensure the voices of clients inform policy development and service delivery (see recommendation 201); and the voice of victim survivors was a focus area for the Family Violence Reform Implementation Monitor in its second report.

The DHHS Community services quality governance framework outlines the roles and responsibilities of the department, sector and service providers to deliver services that are safe, effective, person-centred, connected and underpinned by continuous improvement. It details the systems that services should have in place to support client and family partnerships.

The DHHS Client voice framework (to be published in late 2019) aims to promote the value and influence of the client voice in all aspects of community services design, development and delivery. It gives a reference point for everyone working in community services to assess and reflect on how things are currently done and develop new ways of working, with the constant commitment to improve client outcomes. It notes some examples of innovative and effective approaches to hearing the voice of and partnering with clients across the community services sector. However it also highlights variability across these activities. Despite best intentions, staff at all levels (from practitioners to leadership and governance) often find it difficult to find effective and meaningful ways to partner with clients. The Client Voice Framework outlines a vision for a system where the client voice is embedded in the way we do our work; supported by information capture and analysis at a systems level to identify and share best practice, benchmark client experience, drive and support system improvement and track changes over time.

Aboriginal self-determination and Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way

Aboriginal self-determination is the most fundamental of all rights for Aboriginal people. It means Aboriginal people and communities having true freedom, full and total control of their own safety, healing, connections to land and culture, communities, futures and lives. Aboriginal self-determination in a family violence context is a systemic shift from government and the non-Aboriginal service sector, that requires the transfer of power, control, decision-making and resources to Aboriginal communities and organisations. Aboriginal self-determination is the foundation for better outcomes for Aboriginal people. The Orange Door Interim Integrated Practice Framework describes in detail how practice in The Orange Door promotes Aboriginal self-determination, including by:

  • including Aboriginal people in governance arrangements from the beginning
  • recognising the inherent strength of Aboriginal culture and that a healing and whole-of-family approach is the longstanding attribute of Aboriginal communities that The Orange Door will learn from
  • working with Aboriginal people to shape the design and implementation of The Orange Door from the start and building relationships and partnerships with community organisations to support culturally appropriate and safe pathways and choices
  • including the principles of Aboriginal self-determination all operational guidelines, agreements and position descriptions

Non-Aboriginal services have much to learn about genuine partnership from the Aboriginal community. Many Aboriginal services already adopt a client partnership approach to their work, building from core values centring on family and community. Aboriginal communities often see Aboriginal services as part of – rather than separate from – community, which provides a strong foundation for partnership.

The commitment of the Victorian government to support self-determination has strengthened structures and processes to support partnership between government and Aboriginal people and communities. Dhelk Dja: Safe Our Way outlines a vision for a future where Aboriginal people live free from family violence, and an agreement between government, service providers and Aboriginal people to realise that future. It is one leading example of partnership and is consistent with the ‘empower’ approach to client partnership (as mentioned in the DHHS Stakeholder Engagement and Public Participation Framework).

Intersectional approaches

Intersectionality helps us to understand how power differences can impact across multiple social characteristics and environments in which they are experienced. Adopting an intersectional approach:

  • supports the identification of barriers to safety and access to services that individuals experience due to discrimination on the basis of Aboriginality, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, colour, nationality, refugee or asylum seeker background, migration or visa status, language, religion, ability, age, mental health, socioeconomic status, housing status, geographic location, medical record or criminal record
  • enables the service system to better understand and respond to the complexity and spectrum of vulnerability and family violence in relation to people with a diverse range of social characteristics
  • works towards creating and sustaining a service system that is inclusive, safe, responsive and accountable for all

Everybody Matters: Inclusion and Equity Statement (Everybody Matters) sets out the Victorian Government’s ten-year commitment to ensuring that the broader family violence services system is well-equipped to respond to all Victorians who have lived experience of family violence, across all diverse community groups with appropriate and inclusive support. Everybody Matters represents the first attempt by the Victorian Government to apply an intersectionality framework across an entire reform agenda.

How this strategy was developed

Across March and April 2019, a six-week process to develop this strategy was carried out by a design team of nine people, comprising:

  • people with lived experience of family violence and family services
  • practice leaders from The Orange Door
  • policy and project staff from FSV
  • leadership from FSV and a CSO partner in The Orange Door

The team took part in four half-day workshops and additional desktop research, interviews and activities with people with lived experience of services and other stakeholders. The process was supported by FSV staff. The design team was given the opportunity to build on established and emerging practice in client partnership from other contexts, as well as generate new ideas.

The team arrived at a set of initiatives which form the basis for the strategy, which was further refined by during the drafting process.