Background
The quality framework and its purpose

Background

In its 2002 report on telephone and web counselling services in Australia, Urbis Keys Young wrote:

"... there has been little emphasis on the development of standard guidelines for either tele or web counselling services ... A key reason for this is likely to be the lack of appropriate peak bodies or national associations such as those set up in the UK and the US, which has limited debates about the nature and scope of the sector and appropriate quality assurance processes."
A number of organisations have developed their own quality systems, or adopted established ones, to underpin their work and are operating at very high standards.

However, some organisations, particularly smaller ones, have found established systems unavailable or difficult to access. The resources required to adapt them have been out of proportion to the service's size. With this in mind, and in view of the significant funding for mental health announced in the 2006-07 Federal Budget, including telephone and web-based support programs, the Department of Health and Ageing agreed to support the sector to develop a Quality Framework for telephone counselling and internet-based support services.

Representatives of 27 organisations participated in a workshop in Melbourne in May 2007 and a follow-up workshop in July to develop the framework. A working group, comprising representatives from nine of the organisations, was formed to fine-tune the framework, to develop a self-audit tool that could be made available to the sector and to promote uptake of the framework within the sector.

Members of the Working Group were:
  • Associate Professor Geoff Smith (Chair) – WA Centre for Mental Health Policy Research
  • Mr Alan Woodward – Lifeline Australia
  • Ms Wendy Sturgess – Crisis Support Services
  • Ms Wendy Protheroe – Kids Help Line, BoysTown
  • Professor Gavin Andrews – CLIMATE Programs, UNSW
  • Mr Terry Houghet-Pincham – DepressioNet
  • Ms Megan McQueenie – Mental Health Foundation of Australia
  • Professor Helen Christensen – eHUB, The Centre for Mental Health Research – ANU
  • Dr Dennis Tannenbaum – Sentiens, formerly InfraPsych
  • Officers of the Department of Health and Ageing – Secretariat
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The quality framework and its purpose

The Quality Framework has two components:
  1. A document listing its core elements, a statement about the purpose of each element and guidelines outlining the evidence that organisations could use to guide quality assessment and planning.

  2. A self-assessment tool to enable service providers to identify how well they meet the framework, to determine where there is scope for improvement, and to develop an action plan and monitor progress.
The Quality Framework, which has been developed by people from the sector to inform and educate organisations within the sector, represents what was considered important to aim for in demonstrating that they were quality organisations. It recognises the substantial diversity between organisations in size, complexity, maturity, service type, technology and experience in the use of quality systems. Clearly, not all the guidelines would be relevant to all organisations and it was anticipated that each would use only those that they found applicable.

Quality is not a categorical attribute of an organisation, a characteristic that is either present or absent, and it is anticipated that organisations will see the Quality Framework as a useful tool to draw upon in the continuous process of improving services for their consumers. Similarly, the framework should not be seen as a finished work, but the start of a process that will be revisited from time to time to ensure that it remains relevant.

The Department of Health and Ageing is supportive of the Quality Framework and intends to encourage its use. It is important that organisations are able to demonstrate that they have integrated a quality system into how they work to achieve better outcomes for their consumers, staff, the organisation, funding bodies and the community. The Department, like other funding bodies, is committed to this principle. The purpose of this package is to assist organisations within the sector to develop and implement a quality system.

We commends the Quality Framework to all organisations in the sector.