Exploring communication patterns within and across a school and associated agencies to increase the effectiveness of service to at-risk individuals
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The significant standpoint in this study was that schools’ key role was to educate and yet this process would be severely impeded when a student receiving the education was at-risk. Agencies external to the school provide support in various forms to these individuals with the view of decreasing their at-risk status, thus providing an environment conducive to learning. Communication was posited to be a fundamental process essential to the provision of support and education to these at-risk individuals. The conceptual framework in this study acknowledged the complexity of school and organisational environments and was founded upon four key theoretical perspectives; organisational communication theory; a psychological orientation provided by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; a social reconstructionist perspective; and constructs underpinning at-risk status causal factors. This research study sought to identify communication patterns existing within a selected school, and between the school (in this case) and associated agencies that were supporting the at-risk individuals. The results of this study, derived from in-depth interviews and questionnaires with agency personnel and school staff, demonstrated that although formal patterns of communication did exist they were inefficient and cumbersome. Formal patterns of communication were subsidiary to informal networks between colleagues. In this study, the school was frequently excluded from informal and formal agency communication patterns. Intra-agency and intra-school communication patterns were characterised by a top-down orientation with administrators tending to control the flow of information. A major finding was that there were considerable barriers to developing more effective communication patterns.The greatest impediment to communication was case workers’ fear of breaching the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988, even when dealing with such serious issues as children’s safety. Other less serious, but still substantial barriers, included agency territorialism, poor marketing of services, and individuals’ biases against particular support agencies. A surprising finding was that case workers’ and educators’ conceptualisations of the causal factors which contribute to an at-risk status were well aligned. The family factors, which included drug addicted, alcoholic, violent, criminal, disinterested and/or neglectful parents, problematic siblings, and coming from an English-as-a-second-language background were deemed to have the most significant influence towards creating an at-risk status. School-based factors such as stressed, intolerant, inexperienced, and/or non-supportive teachers, an inadequate and/or violent school environment, and a lack of individualised support were deemed to have the least impact on developing an at-risk status. As a result of this research a model has been proposed which outlines the creation of a State Support Brokerage Authority whose mandate would be to centralise, coordinate, and ensure quality of service to at-risk individuals across the state. This body would utilise a technological solution to enhance and coordinate the communication patterns between all potential stakeholders to facilitate appropriate and timely interventions.
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