Events My personal learning journey

FRSA 2011 conference day two

The Family Relationships Services Australia Conference was my first in this sector. As an educator, I found it a valuable opportunity to learn more about the courses I’m supporting our trainers and practitioners to develop.


Day two of the conference started off with Dr. Fiona Arney of the Menzies School of Health Research discussing Innovation and Planful Implementation of programs to combat Child Abuse and Neglect.

The question to answer is: Why is it that programs that prove successful in trials don’t seem to work or make it into practice?

Now obviously there are a lot of answers to that. But as in the education sector – see my blog post “Why is the VET sector disillusioned with e-learning” from April this year -implementation has a lot to do with it.

Some organisations attempt to adapt a program without careful thought around what the key ingredients are that make it successful.

Others try to skip stages of implementation to save time or money, neglect to get buy-in from key influencers in the organisation, and others still don’t have a clear picture of what the program is specifically all about and why they are implementing it in the first place.

When it comes to training, I was unsurprised to learn that a coaching approach that gets people hands on applying the knowledge, skills and attitudes that underpin the program is the most successful. Constructive vs. Instructive learning activities yielded a success rate ratio of 95% to 5%. In fact when it comes to behaviour (read practice change) , the researchers Dr. Arney was quoting – Joyce & Showers –  are quoted as saying they felt training and coaching to be “one continuous set of operations designed to produce actual changes in the classroom behavior (sic).” Newly learned behaviors take practice – in a learning setting and on the job – and coaching is vital to the process of new practitioners embedding these behaviours.

Second keynote

The next speaker was Jonathon Nichols, the CEO of Inspire Foundation. He started off with a few minutes of one of the videos from the powerful Shift Happens video project series – which is always an eye-opener and shakes the cobwebs out for a new audience. Especially one where some had a late night at the conference dinner and dance. Here is a link to the most recent one –

Inspire works a lot with youth suicide prevention and the statistics on youth suicide shocked me.

As Fiona McDonald of Relationships Australia WA remarked in a conversation we had later that day, for a lucky country with all of the abundance we have, we also have an amazing amount of unhappy people.

Jonathon Nichols from Inspire presents Youth Suicide statistics

That 70% of people who need help don’t seek it is equally shocking. Reaching these kids is vital. Because they are avid and ind-depth users of technology, their norms in terms of communication are very different from ours.  They use a combination of texting, phone calls, IMs, Facebook postings and other tools depending on context. So using technology to reach them makes sense.

Of course, face to face is the ideal – but as Clayton Christensen et. al write in the book “Disrupting Class” – disruptive innovations start out as not fully evolved, bug-free alternatives – but they start off as being useful and better than nothing.

Nichols’ presentation was interrupted with a live cross to Prime Minister Gillard’s announcement about the pay equity decision for social and community workers. It’s not going to happen overnight – this pay rise will be phased in over 6 years, starting December 2012 and the Government is promising to increase funding to current Commonwealth-funded programs.

Panel on Workforce Development

After a break, I chose the Workforce & Quality Changes for FSP (Family Services Programs) panel to get insights into the issues in terms of training that the sector is facing.

Jenni Hannan, GM of Services for Anglicare, Western Australia did a great job in presenting the sort of complex scenarios people in the sector are likely to face and highlighting the range of skills – from working with children, to financial counselling to working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse people – that those working with families are likely to require.

The first panellist to present was Professor Bill Martin of the University of Queensland. He shared statistics about the Family Relationship Services sector as a small niche in the Family Support sector. Compared to Aged care with an estimated workforce of some 207,000 direct care workers, Martin estimated that the number of Family Relationship Service Practitioners is likely around 7,000.

Martin says that his research shows that the sector as a whole is an ageing one and cited statistics that would suggest at least a third of the workforce in FRSP is over the age of 50. As recruitment is largely from outside the sector with the result that 42% of FRSPs have less than 5 years experience in ANY Community-Services related field, it seems self-evident that, as Martin claims,  half of the people in this sector feel they should have additional skills.

Retention strategies, Martin feels, should tap into the altruism that attracts people to the field in the first place. It is instrinsic motivators, combined with a supportive, nurturing culture that will help organisations hang onto their staff.

Next up was Penny Crofts, from the Family Action Centre of the University of Newcastle. Having taken part in a Glabal Consortium for Education in Family Studies, Penny offered up the question of whether or not Family Studies should be an academic discipline – and, in so doing, allow for interdisciplinary linkages across health, education and other sectors yet remain conceptually unique. (she quoted Hollinger, 2002 for this last but I am unable to provide a link to the research as there are several Hollingers out there).

Crofts feels there is quite a lot of difference that a discipline would make. Amongst them are:

  • Elevate status of family scholarship and practice
  • Match national research and policy focus with education
  • Foster a community of scholars to enhance teaching and research
  • Foster partnerships across policy, practice and research
  • Contribute to development of public policy

For the full list, I’d suggest you seek out her presentation and research.

Professor Morag McArthur of Australian Catholic University was up next to discuss issues around working with children. She discussed a “New Sociology of Childhood” where it is acknowledged that children experience the world differently from adults and have the ability to shape their own childhoods and should have the right to have a voice and be engaged in the processes that affect their lives.

She then shared a picture of the complexity and depth of issues around families and children. One aspect of dealing with families that is incredibly complicated IMHO is that 1) while Emotional harm is now the most common form of reported harm to children in Australia – and 2) is increasingly recognised as occurring in the context of family violence and high conflict – 3) the large majority of it does not meet the threshold for state intervention by Child Protection Services. I do not have the full bibliography of her sources for this information but the citations for the the first statement is AIHW 2009 and for the second she cited (Brown & Alexander 2007; Grimes & McIntosh 2004; McIntosh 2002, 2005). The third had no citation.

McArthur went on to reinforce the points made by Jenni Hannan – that there are a huge range of skills and nuances of skills necessary to dealing with children. Organisations must determine basline skills necessary, provide ongoing professional development and mentoring and collaborate & communicate effectively across sectors.  

The need for a shared language across sectors is one I’ve heard from professionals recorded as part of the AVERT Family Violence Induction training videos  produced by Relationships Australia SA and from other speakers throughout this conference. I would also suggest they develop a taxonomy of key terms so that research and knowledge sharing could be better facilitated.

Dr. Jonathan Touissant, the Director of Innovation and Business Development at Interrelate Family Centres was the final panellist to present. He introduced himself as the only non-academic on the panel and after quoting Lady Gaga on the power of being different, gave a presentation on tapping into intrinsic motivators in order to build worker satisfaction.

I enjoyed what he shared about the SCARF model of what taps into intrinsic motivators. SCARF -: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others was  created by David Rock (Your Brain at Work). Download a PDF overview (95.4 KB).  Rooted in social neuroscience, SCARF explores 5 domains of human social experience:

  • Status – relative importance to others
  • Certainty – ability to predict future
  • Autonomy – sense of control
  • Relatedness – sense of safety with others
  • Fairness – fair exchanges with others
I found this model very similar to John Keller’s ARCS model of adult learner motivation, where ARCS stands for:
  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction

 Building Capacity – Standards stream

After a break for lunch, my two colleagues and I headed into the afternoon stream of which we were a part.

Competency standards

CSHISC Competency Matrix buttons
CSHISC Competency Matrix buttons

The first speaker in the Building Capacity – Standards stream was with Rebecca Tidey of the Community Services & Health Industry Skills council. She discussed what I thought were innovative ways of using competency standards.

She discussed how by using the Common Units tool on the CSHISC web site, you could look at units of competency common to both the CHC08 Community Services and HLT07 Health Training Packages and use these units of competency to inform any Training Needs Analysis you’re doing in-house.

The Common Unit tool on the site groups units of competency by Competency Groups, which made browsing a snap.

I’m going to be working with our online facilitators to improve their skills in using Moodle and online tools, so I was delighted to find that under the Training competency of group there is a formal unit of competency dealing with proficiency in the use of electronic materials.  I’ll be reviewing my training plans for our trainers and consulting with the manager of the RTO to find out what I could do to map my plans to this unit of competency and provide some benefit to others in the organisation.

The units of competency are also browsable to Functional Groups (occupationally similar), Skill Sets and Job Roles.  You must be logged into the CSHISC web site to use the tools available, but registration is free and instant. You’ll find it at:

Working with diverse groups in relationship education

The second speaker was Fiona McDonald from Relationships Australia WA and she was WONDERFUL.  Pardon the blurriness of the shot – I didn’t want to show faces so turned off the flash on my phone.

Exclusion - a physical demonstration
Working with diverse cultures can be a dance

Her session on Building capacity in diverse communities through Cert IV in Relationship Education got us up and moving as she handed out roles for us to react within and led us out into the hallway.

She then read out common descriptions of service provision – after hours, central location v. suburban or rual, various permutations of requirements for communications between genders, attitudes of the presenter to equality, English only, etc – and asked people to step forward or backward depending on whether the description included or excluded them.

She very quickly made the p0int that what might seem standard sort of procedure for some ends up excluding quite a lot of others.

She then shared the story of a learner who grew up in a country with a lack of educators, so his experience of classroom learning consisted of an instructor delivering information to some 100 students at a time.

As a result, his instructivist approach was challenged and needed to be overcome.  

She starts her facilitators with a 5 minute session – which he was able to easily do – then has them lead a 30 minute session and videotapes them.

The learner in question saw his approach in action and realised he needed to create more opportunities for interaction and participation from his clients.


Relationships Australia SA were the final presenters in this stream and we presented on e-learning.

Iain Henderson, the manager of the Australian Institute of Social Relations was keen for us to share our journey thus far and emphasize that we support our training practice by working closely with practitioners, supported by solid research and learning theory/pedagogy/andragogy and that we favour a blended learning approach.

Naomi Ebert-Smith, our video guress extraordinaire, presented on the use of video to create realistic and impactful scenarios – and how to achieve professional results.  I presented on the research underpinning e-learning.

I used Prezi for the first time and have to say I was pretty impressed with it as a way of showing the relationships between sections of a presentation.  Here is the end result:

Conference close

The day finished with the Honourable Diana Bryant – Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia and I have to say as a veteran of a few dozen conferences that I have NEVER seen so many people stick around for the final address.

She encouraged the sector to use the challenges ahead in terms of funding as opportunities to explore innovation and new ways of working.

She also stressed the need for cooperation and collaboration across the sectors – especially in tight budget times.  

Her Honour finished by saying that in tough times remember there was always black humour, dark chocolate and red wine to lift our spirits.

My take-aways

I came away from the conference amazed at the paralells between the two sectors I work across – education and community services.  I feel an urgent need to learn all that I can to improve online educational experiences in the sector as well as to provide opportunities for the ongoing coaching and mentoring that result in embedding innovative practice.

E-learning shouldn’t only bring face to face learning online -but should also harness the affordances of technology to offer new – and sometimes better – learning experiences than in face to face.

E-learning is NOT a poor cousin of face to face learning – it is a valuable new environment we MUST explore to reach out to groups that increasingly use technology for so much of their communication and social interactions.

My questions to ponder

How can I beter address the needs of people who need to be able to put complex psychological and legal concepts into practice? And how can I infuse online learning with the warmth and SCARF this altruistic, feelingful yet professional group of people need to feel supported?