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Earlier this year, the Refugee Council of Australia contributed to an evaluation of the Settlement Grants program.  The program provides funding through the Department of Social Services (DSS) to organisations supporting new arrivals to settle in Australia. The program focuses on supporting humanitarian entrants and other migrants in their first five years in Australia.

The evaluation comes in the context of $141.463 million funding allocated to the program over the next five years. The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has been analysing the distribution of Settlement Grants data for several years.

The evaluation, commissioned by  DSS, was conducted by the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre. It looked at whether the program responds appropriately to settlement needs. It also reviewed how effectively and efficiently the program engages clients and achieves its goals. The evaluation team consulted many stakeholders. These included service providers, non-settlement bodies and ethno-specific community organisations. The team also conducted fieldwork in New South Wales (Liverpool and Auburn), South Australia (Adelaide City, Salisbury and Playford) and Victoria (Shepparton).

The final report was released in August 2017.

Key findings

The report found that the following areas of the program work well:

  • Most service providers thought that the program was flexible enough to deliver support tin culture-specific contexts, and to respond to specific client needs
  • The eligibility period of five years after arrival was enough for most clients
  • Most services are well-integrated with mainstream services
  • There were good outcomes in the government priorities of ‘the three Es’ (English, employment and education)
  • Most clients were satisfied with the program, and how it had helped them integrate into life in Australia.

The report also identified areas for improvement.

  • Funding: most service providers reported that there was not enough funding
  • Access to services: some groups of people with high needs were not supported, either because they were not eligible or there was no clear pathway for support
  • Ongoing support: some clients need assistance beyond five years
  • Service structure: there is some overlap between the four service streams, with ethno-specific organisations missing out on significant funding
  • Program structure: the program lacks clear guidance concerning the required outcomes and the priority areas for settlement in the National Settlement Framework.

Key recommendations

  1. Meeting client needs: consider creating a medium level of support for clients whose needs fall between the intensive case management of Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) and Complex Case Support (CCS) and the low-intensity Settlement Grants program
  2. Service structure: consolidate the four service streams into two. These could be the individual stream (focusing on a life course approach and tailored responses) and the community stream (building the capacity and reach of ethno-specific organisations)
  3. Eligibility: research how to best meet the needs of clients who require support after five years, balanced against the goal that the program should encourage self-reliance. The solution may be an approach independent of the Settlement Grants program
  4. Collaboration: strengthen links between the Settlement Grants program and mainstream services on the policy level, to encourage giving vulnerable migrants higher priority across the range of services (for example, Jobactive)
  5. Program structure: clarify program objectives and how to measure outcomes. While the framework should not be prescriptive so service providers can be responsive, clearer guidelines can improve the provision of services. Greater opportunities for providers to share best practice can also encourage innovation in the field
  6. Data Exchange (DEX) and monitoring: improve the evidence base, through increased guidance for service providers in using the DEX system.

The report concluded that the program occupies an important space in the range of available services. It found that the program generally meets the needs of eligible migrant groups in Australia. However, changes could help make sure that the program works most effectively towards its goal of cultivating social and economic wellbeing, independence and community integration.

Author: Amanda Ngo