Anglicare Victoria serves tens of thousands of Victorians every year, working to empower them to achieve their full potential. A lot of their work is in child protection.
The state’s largest provider of out-of-home care services for children and young people, Anglicare provides many kinds of alternative homes for those unable to live with their families and ensure they are safe and nurtured. One of the most important things for a child’s development is having a stable, loving family home. Unfortunately for many children and families, this is not their reality. This is why the services Anglicare Victoria (AV) provides, for some, are crucial to their chance of a happy and stable lives.
Dean Mills is the Head of Technology at AV. He moved from the corporate world into the NFP space after 23 years working in IT and business strategy. I spoke to Dean recently about the impact AV is having on the lives of thousands of Victorians, how a pivotal moment in his own life made him rethink what he put his energies into and how technology provides incredibly valuable tools for AV caseworkers in their work supporting and caring for others.
Doing something different
Dean's decision to leave the corporate world for a Not For Profit came at a critical time in his life when, in 2009, his father suddenly died. Instead of taking the logical step to the next big corporate role, he changed course, for good.
“All of a sudden my father unexpectedly passed away and I couldn't fly back to Sydney for a final job interview. That gave me pause to stop and think: do I want to do something a little bit different? Do something where I've got expertise, but for the greater good; for a purpose-driven organisation,” Dean shares.
Dean found himself drawn to the work of Anglicare Victoria. Mostly because they were helping people in his own backyard and particularly because of the work being done to support and protect vulnerable children.
Anglicare’s specialist teams and support groups empower better decision making, whatever families are facing with the aim of offering support that keeps families healthy, independent and in control.
“These are some of the most traumatised kids you’ll find. At Anglicare Victoria we work try to provide them with some stability, expertise and the tools to and give them the best chance at a decent life,” he says.
Days at school and family outings
AV measures the success of this work by simple things like the number of days a child attends school, the number of family outings, how much a child’s grades improve, health and many other seemingly everyday activities that most of us take for granted.
From financial hardship to drug and alcohol-related problems to family violence, there are many hurdles to these children being able to achieve such simple goals.
“We take a holistic approach with the family and the child because at the end of the day what’s best for the family is what’s best for the child and vice versa,” Dean reflects. “We provide quite tailored services to support exactly what that child and family needs to help them work as a stronger cohesive unit and give that child or children the best chance at life.”
AV has a huge range of services to support families and children including parenting support, financial counselling, family violence support, as well as alcohol and drug support. For many, these services provide a way forward which may not have been possible for them to achieve on their own. The sad reality is that it’s too easy for children to slip between the cracks and having ongoing support from an organisation like AV can quite literally be lifesaving.
Technology for good
When Dean joined AV, he was able to use his years of corporate experience and technical expertise to help position the organisation to better serve the community.
“I was able to come in with a fresh set of eyes and say, let's do a current state assessment to understand what the roadmap needs to look like to build not only capability, but also build confidence with fellow directors, broader constituents stakeholders and so on.”
As Dog and Bone’s CEO, Dan McKinley always says “technology is as much about people as it is about the tech,” something everyone at Dog & Bone feels passionate about. Dean, similarly, sees his role as “bringing technology, people, and process holistically together to implement and enable technologies when the organisation has been made change-ready and understanding what those requirements are, to get to where we need to be.”
Technology is as much about people as it is about the tech. - Dan McKinley
For an organisation with over 1700 staff many of whom are frontline caseworkers, being connected and mobile is extremely important. “Being contactable, any place, any time is crucial for our work and to our clients,” says Dean.
Dealing with trauma with care
Although I was aware of the significant role technology has in AV’s work, there were several aspects that hadn’t occurred to me, like the impact that moving from being a paper-based organisation to a digital one, has had on the children Anglicare Victoria works with.
As Dean explains: “we had social workers doing everything they do with paper, so there was replication of capturing information. Shifting to using tablets and smartphones where caseworkers could record and upload to a central place any information they needed, apart from being more efficient, this means our clients, especially children aren’t being repeatedly asked to go over the details of traumatic events which makes a huge difference”.
Apart from being more efficient, this means our clients especially children aren’t being repeatedly asked to go over the details of traumatic events. - Dean Mills
This is just one example of the myriad of ways that technology enables AV to work effectively and most importantly sensitively with families and children who are already jumping huge life hurdles.
When Dean first started working with AV he was keen to bring a holistic approach to IT and it’s role in how the organisation achieved their mission. As Dean put it, “I don’t work for IT, I work for the organisation and the purpose of the organisation.”
His first step was asking himself and the team: how do we have more effective communications, how do we mobilise service delivery, how we become a data-driven organisation, how do we put security at the forefront of everything that we do and how do we build once and scale-out?
The second step was working out how to transform the way the organisation actually operated and how IT could drive the optimisation of that. Although Dean spoke about strategy, compliance, data and many other organisational priorities it was clear to me that at the heart of AV’s technology-enabled strategy was the community that they serve and their experiences and needs.
Although Dean spoke about strategy, compliance, data and many other organisational priorities it was clear to me that at the heart of AV’s technology-enabled strategy was the community that they serve and their experiences and needs. - Dean Mills
Unified Communications and Cost Reduction: Enabling AV to do more great work
Dog and Bone were lucky to have played a role in keeping AV staff and volunteers mobile and connected to each other and their clients when we helped them run an RFP that resulted in the organisation shifting to using Skype for Business. We were also able to provide them with telecommunications management and analysis that provided significant capital to AV that they could then reinvest in their operations and services to the community, something we’re passionate about helping the NFP and social sector to achieve.
Resilience in a pandemic
The arrival of COVID-19 in Victoria and the almost eight months of lockdown further highlighted the importance of mobility and connectivity in being able to consistently provide services to families and children who bore the brunt of the pandemic and associated economic downturn.
It’s clear that Dean is proud of the way AV has navigated such a tumultuous and unpredictable year with their clients being some of the most impacted by the events of 2020. "It showed us we could continue to run the business, support staff and provide critical services under business continuity and equip everybody to run under remote ways of working,” he says. Now Dean is looking forward to identifying how IT can further transform the organisation in ways that can make a real difference to the families and children AV works with.
It’s clear that Dean is proud of the way AV has navigated such a tumultuous and unpredictable year with their clients being some of the most impacted by the events of 2020.
At Dog & Bone we exist to help people and organisations like AV - our biggest impact is the flow-on effect of our work with these organisations to the communities that they serve. We’re certainly proud to be able to contribute to the work AV does supporting children and their families in finding their way to a better future.