The experiences people have when they use community services are the richest and most important source of information about the quality and safety of those services.
Actively empowering clients to have their voices heard, to make informed decisions and to have real influence leads to services that are better tailored to individual needs, preferences and values. It helps prevent avoidable harm and results in better outcomes.
When we seek, listen to and act on the client voice, we can make real and lasting improvements in ways that matter most to clients.
What is client voice?
Client voice refers to any and all expression of the views, needs, experiences or outcomes of people who have lived experience of community services. They could be individuals, family members or carers.
Client voice includes all information (verbal or non-verbal) derived from a client, in any form including:
- Interactions with community service workers
- Complaints and other feedback mechanisms
- Input to service reviews, evaluations and consultations
- Participation in advisory groups and committees
- Information contained in case files and case management records.
The client voice is also expressed through actions such as disengagement with services and supports or changing levels of engagement over time.
Client voice is relevant at all stages of a person’s involvement with the system. It is also relevant at all levels, from direct client care to service planning and design. Individuals at every level of an organisation have a role to play in seeking, hearing and responding to the client voice. This includes frontline staff, volunteers, policy makers and members of governing bodies.
Why client voice is important
Client voice brings critical attention to real or potential situations of harm. Multiple inquiries and reviews following system failures and adverse events across health and community services have revealed the absence of both effective governance and the client voice as factors contributing to harm.
The Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended government and agencies identify and develop ways to ensure the client voice is evident in every level of the system from service delivery to policy design.
At a systems level, embedding the client voice in the way we do our work promotes integrated services, enhances opportunities to share best practice across the sector, and encourages active participation of clients in service evaluation, planning and design.
Community services quality governance framework
The Community services quality governance framework outlines five core domains of best practice, including client partnerships. A key component of delivering on this domain is promoting the status, presence and influence of client voice in all aspects of community services delivery and design.
A series of initiatives focussed on the client voice are being undertaken which aim to:
- Build a shared understanding of client voice
- Engage community services in creating an open and transparent culture which seeks and values client voice
- Improve the capture and use of client voice
- Embed client voice in the community services system.
This work is being undertaken across multiple areas of the department and will inform the development of additional tools and resources. It builds on the practices and approaches we know work well and will evolve over time in response to learnings and successes.
The Client voice framework for community services aims to assist individuals at every level of a community service to critically assess their current practice in relation to seeking, hearing and responding to the client voice. The framework seeks to evaluate the client voice in community services delivery, design and review as well as in system-level policy and planning. It will also act as a resource for clients, helping them understand the ways in which services seek to listen and respond to the client voice.
The framework is intended to provide overarching principles and guidance to drive and anchor related work across the department and emphasise the critical link between quality governance, client voice and outcomes. It provides useful information on how to translate the principles into practice.
The guidance provided in the framework is relevant to all Victorian community service organisations such as those providing child protection, disability, alcohol and drug, community mental health and family violence services.
The Client voice framework for community services is deliberately aligned to Safer Care Victoria’s Partnering in Healthcare Framework released in March 2019. This recognises that some organisations and clients span and access both health and community services.
Client voice technologies are critical in ensuring opportunities for client voice are maximised. The department is supporting the development of an interactive app "Your Voice" to support the capture of client experiences in out-of-home care.
More information on this project will be available soon.
Quality and safety oversight measures are an important element of the implementation of the Community services quality governance framework. They help identify areas of strength and deficit to inform continuous improvement planning.
Client experience measures are being developed in alignment with the Client voice framework for community services. They will strengthen the information already available through client complaint and feedback data.
A suite of core client questions is being developed with the questions intended for universal application across community services. The core client questions will complement and align to the client experience measures.