Common Elements: supporting a shift to online practice

Australian Aboriginal Woman Hugging Her Grandaughter

CEI has been supporting a trial of the Common Elements Approach with frontline child and family service practitioners in Victoria since 2018. The Common Elements Approach uses discrete evidence-informed practices or sets of strategies to respond flexibly to the needs of clients. This approach helps build programs and services that can be better tailored to the needs of children and families.

The emergence of COVID-19 has seen a dramatic change in the way that agencies involved in the trial are working with their clients, with most shifting rapidly to delivering services via telephone. The adaptability and flexibility offered by the Common Elements approach has been a strength for helping with this shift in practice.

One of the biggest challenges of phone-based service delivery is no longer having visual and physical cues from clients. Practitioners have described initially feeling less confident in assessing and managing risk; finding it more difficult to maintain good engagement; and feeling that communication issues were affecting their work. As one practitioner said: ‘You need to be more cautious early on (in the conversation) ... ask more questions to paint a picture'.

The Common Elements Approach has helped to overcome these barriers. For example, in the absence of visual cues, CEI-supported practitioners have used communication strategies outlined in the common elements practice guides to improve communication and engagement and keep their work with clients moving forward. During telephone sessions practitioners have used the ‘seeking feedback' common element. This evidence-based practice involves asking families to provide verbal feedback about whether the support they are receiving is meeting their needs, and what can be done to better support them during telephone sessions.

The implementation support provided by CEI has been a key part of supporting agencies through this rapid shift in how they deliver services. As the Common Elements Trial continues, CEI will continue to focus on helping child and family services to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and families. Find more on CEI's Common Elements work here.