Date: 27 February 2020              Location: Oaks on Market, Melbourne

Background

‘Common practice’ elements is a term used to describe technical micro-components of practice which have been proven through evidence to be effective within the child and family service sector. Common practice elements are particularly valuable as they are applicable in a variety of contexts and can be combined in multiple ways. Our understanding of the use of common elements within the child and family service sector is growing. Frequently used common elements include, but are not limited to:

  • client engagement
  • problem solving
  • family communications skills
  • responding to priorities
  • trauma informed work
  • motivational interviewing techniques
  • working with CALD communities
  • working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Recently, the Centre hosted an OPEN forum to broaden the conversation across the sector around the use of common elements in practice for child and family services.

Five presenters showcased the work that agencies and researchers have been progressing over the last twelve to eighteen months. They shared their learnings, challenges and successes on the journey to evidence-informed practice across a variety of service provision contexts. 

Presentation

The forum was facilitated by Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare. Deb introduced the session as a celebration of the sector’s journey towards building an evidence base of ‘what works’ to improve outcomes for children and families.

Megan Peacock – Manager Evidence and Practice Development, Bethany Community Support

Megan has worked in community services for twenty years.

She has worked with a number of different populations – including children, prisoners and refugees, as well as in disability and aged care. She has worked as a practitioner, a project manager and a researcher, including work with both Monash University and the University of Melbourne.

She is currently working at Bethany Community Support on a variety of projects focusing on implementation and practice development.

In her presentation, Megan gave an overview of Bethany Community Support’s journey to embed common elements into their practice, and talked to how they implemented the approach across different teams.

Dr. Melinda Polimeni, Director at the Centre for Evidence and Implementation

Melinda is a registered psychologist and researcher, specialising in service design and implementation.

She has over fifteen years experience working to improve the uptake of evidence-informed practice across the child, family and welfare sectors, through the use of implementation science and support. Melinda is also a leading international figure in the application of common elements, and collaborates with global leaders in this field to further develop and refine this approach.

In her role as Director at the Centre for Evidence and Implementation, Melinda is responsible for the delivery of a portfolio of projects utilising the common elements approach – including current trials in Victoria and South Australia. She is also currently collaborating with Monash University to embed common elements in the pre-service training curriculum for social workers.

In her presentation, Melinda focused on defining what common elements are, and their role as ‘building blocks’ for evidence informed practice.

Annette Michaux, Director at the Parenting Research Centre

Annette has over 20 years of experience in child and family practice, policy and research management.

She has previously served as General Manager of Social Policy and Research at The Benevolent Society, CEO of the NSW Child Protection Council, and as a senior policy staffer at the NSW Commission for Children and Young People. She has also worked in frontline child welfare and community development in the UK and Australia.

Currently at the Parenting Research Centre, Annette leads significant, evidence informed policy and practice initiatives that help clients achieve their intended outcomes. Annette directs a number of government funded, national and multiyear initiatives including the Parenting Research Centre’s contribution to Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health and the Reframing Parenting Initiative.

Annette’s presentation focused on the development of practice frameworks as a way to shape and define common elements. She also spoke about how importance of translating the big-picture principles of our frameworks into micro-skills that practitioners can use to effectively engage families.

Dr Lynette Buoy, CEO of Windermere

Dr Lynette Buoy has many years of experience working to improve outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged children, families and the community.

She previously served as the CEO for the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, CEO for the Lady Gowrie Child Centre, and General Manager for The Smith Family in Western Australia. Lynette has been a board member for Domestic Violence Victoria since 2014.

Lynette commenced working as the CEO of Windermere in 2013. Windermere is a large local service provider in Melbourne’s South East that works with over 20,000 people annually.

Lynette’s presentation focused on how Windermere developed an evidence-informed practitioner framework to engage clients more effectively, and how they worked to embed this across the organisation.

Emily McDonald, Practice Lead Evidence Based Programs, Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

Emily is a mental health social worker and family therapist with a 25 years of experience.

She has worked across multiple sectors such as child, youth and family services, child and adult mental health, child protection, family violence, community health and family law services. Emily has supervised and lectured in child mental health and social work. She is also an experienced senior manager and practitioner with a background leading and implementing whole of organisational practice and service design work.

Now at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, Emily has extensive skills in developing innovative models, programs, services and continuous improvement processes that are designed to place clients at the centre of practice. She is dedicated to ensuring that practice and service developments are aligned to sector progressions, and lead to broader systems change.

In her presentation, Emily situated the common elements initiative within the broader context of the Centre’s work supporting the sector to provide safe, effective, connected and person-centred services to Victoria’s families and children.

Panel and Questions

To finish close the forum, all of our speakers participated in a panel discussion, and took a number of audience questions.

This panel was facilitated by Deb Tsorbaris and Catherine Cooney from the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare.

 Participant Reflection

Catherine Cooney, Practice Lead: Common Elements (CFECFW)

There were several ‘aha’ moments for me at this forum.

Annette Michaux discussed her new research, which goes deeply into what motivates parents to engage in voluntary services. There is evidence that if we change the language that we use in these early conversations that vulnerable families will engage more consistently. One example is using language which prioritises children’s developmental needs and how the parent can respond to that, rather than what the parent needs to do to ‘tick boxes’ to be a good enough parent.

Melinda Polimeni spoke about the work being done at universities to upskill social work graduates more consistently by using the common elements. Monash University is developing a common elements course for social work students.

Lynette Buoy discussed the culture change that an organisation needs to tackle to implement any ‘whole of service change’. Consistency of language, buy-in from staff at every level, reiteration and continuous monitoring and improvement are required to see a systemic change. Lynette reflected that it was an extensive piece of work to get staff to refer to their consumers as service users rather than ‘my client’. It seems small but it is important, as it speaks to the self-determination of the service user – and language used by staff should reflect this.