University of Newcastle improving student experience???

A number of decisions and actions by the University of Newcastle (UON) leadership over the 12 months or so, have left me disillusioned and angry.

I’m sick of their rhetoric that they are making changes to improve the experience of students, I cannot support some of their decisions, and I am angry when they have shown little empathy and compassion.

The Vice Chancellor and University management have continually claimed that:

Our focus is on improving the student experience. Our students can feel comfortable with their degree selection knowing we will help them map the best program [or degree] to achieve their study and career goals.

Their actions do not support this claim. Time and time again, I hear of ways that students are being negatively impacted by the proposed changes. There is no better example than the axing of the degree I used to teach into: Australia’s first (and only) Master or Graduate Certificate in Family Studies.

The University continues to tell students:

Please be assured that the degree you are enrolled in is the degree you will graduate with.

The university also claims that:

The University will ‘teach out’ discontinuing programs, meaning that any students who have already commenced a degree will be able to complete that program.

While the first statement is technically correct, the second is simply not true. Yes, students will be still be able to graduate with the degree: they just can’t complete any family studies courses (or subjects) because we are NOT allowed to teach out the degree. They can complete the degree by undertaking other postgraduate level courses from the UON or from other universities. The problem is that we started the degree because there were no other family studies degrees in the country so there are very few other relevant courses in the country. Continue reading

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COVID-19 and Family Violence Services in the Hunter

Photo by a Name.Narrate.Navigate participant

These are some reflections by Louise Rak, Tamara Blakemore, Joel McGregor and me about the impact of COVID19. They were written last year and, while the impact of COVID in Australia was not as great as feared, the reflections are still relevant.

Although so far, Australia has escaped the high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths experienced by many countries, it has not been immune to many related social, political, and economic challenges. In this post we discuss impacts of COVID-19 in relation to domestic and family violence and family and community service responses. We draw on our experience as practitioner-researchers with Name.Narrate.Navigate (NNN), a preventive intervention program exploring trauma-informed, culturally sensitive responses to youth perpetrated domestic and family violence.  NNN works with young people who have committed family and domestic violence, are identified at risk of encountering the justice system for the same, or who live in family and community contexts with high rates of family and domestic violence. At the heart of the program are small group workshops with young people to examine the role of violence in their lives and to build skills that can help them explore alternatives to violence. NNN also works to upskill practitioners in a range of sectors to work with these young people in ways that address the spectrum of violence, abuse and trauma from victimisation through perpetration. Central to NNN are practice principles of mindful engagement, reciprocal communication and relational and reflective practice.

In late-March 2020 as the number of COVID-19 cases grew, Australians were directed to stay at home as much as possible. Social distancing measures were introduced and enforced and a range of businesses and services were directed to close. In this context, face-to-face workshops with young people involved in NNN ceased, and the NNN team commenced regular online meetings to work, plan, and debrief with each other. Depending on how we were travelling, our debriefs became longer and we connected in deeper ways than we would have, had we not had the shared challenges brought by COVID-19. Our discussions covered the challenges of home schooling while working, managing being with our families more, supporting aging parents and immune supressed children , fears for the health of ourselves and others, lack of toilet paper, new recipes, what we were reading or watching, and a pervasive concern for the young people we work with. We dissected ways to continue to support young people who use and live in violence, in the age of physical distancing.

But increasingly we wondered about the impact of COVID-19 on families experiencing violence (in many forms) and the services supporting them. Having experienced the benefits of our regular check-ins with each other, we decided to meet via Zoom with the broader community of practice associated with NNN. Through these conversations we were able to support each other and share experiences of trying to continue working meaningfully with people, especially those young people who use and experience violence themselves. This paper discussed two of these conversations with practitioners, one in early April (at the height of the restrictions), one in early June (by which time some of the social distancing measure were being relaxed and schools had returned to face-to-face teaching).

The first conversation (FG1) was held with members of the NNN practitioner working party (which consists of community practitioners working young people or addressing domestic and family violence), and the second (FG2) was held with the NNN steering committee (which consists of managers from local services and government departments.) Through the conversations or focus groups, practitioners identified challenges they, and the people they work with, faced as well as opportunities and positive outcomes they saw resulting from changed practice in response to COVID-19. For some practitioners and managers, the experience of COVID-19 challenged their assumptions about the people they work with, their ability to cope with adversity, and established ways of working with them.

Concerns about increased risks

Most of the practitioners and managers we spoke with were concerned that in the contexts of COVID-19 “risk has increased for a lot of families” (FG1). Particularly relevant to this journal were risks concerning interpersonal conflict and family or other violence. Practitioners and managers told us that because families were at home much more there seemed to be increased tensions and conflict between family members and that this conflict could lead to increased risks such as homelessness. For example, young people living with their grandparents had conflicts about refusing to stay at home with the grandparents saying:

 “This is not safe. Can you just stay home?  You need to also think about the risks that it poses to us when you are walking around and hanging out with your friends.” And that then leading to family conflict quite a bit. Leading to our young people then leaving home, being homeless, having to go into refuges. (FG1)

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Best practice in counselling and mediation services: A collaborative case study of Uniting

Best practice and trends in counselling and mediation services in NSW (cover of report)

Last year Tamara Blakemore and I completed a project with Uniting NSW exploring best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation, and the summary report has just made available on the Uniting webpage. The full report—Best practice and trends in counselling and mediation services in NSW: A collaborative case study of Uniting—is available here.

The project involved  a rapid review, interviews with 30 Uniting staff, a survey of people who had used Uniting counselling and mediation services and a review of Uniting’s counselling and mediation policy and practice documents.

The following is a brief overview of the report. You can download the formatted version, find it on  Pages 4-5 of the full report or read the text below the image.

Summary of Best Practice and Trends in Counselling and Mediation Services in NSW

Uniting values a culture of evidence for, and from, practice and has a long tradition of supporting family wellbeing through their post-separation counselling and mediation services.  Together with a team from the University of Newcastle, Uniting have undertaken an extended program of collaborative research exploring best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation.

What does existing evidence identify as best practice in post-separation counselling and mediation services?

Rapid review of the available evidence identifies the following best practice principles for post-separation counselling and mediation services:

  • Best practice is flexible, facilitative and fit for purpose
  • Practitioners are critical for best practice outcomes
  • Best practice requires appreciation of factors that frame client’s experiences and likely outcomes (i.e., it is responsive to context and complexity)
  • Best practice meets multiple and often conflicting aims & objectives of diverse populations of clients.

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People who don’t respect other people aren’t welcome on my blog

I’m quite angry. I don’t like it when other people try to share a message of exclusion and hate (although they would disagree) through my blog.

In 2013, I shared the image above with the following comment

This is a very powerful image – thanks to The Other 98% (Facebook and webpage) for creating a great message about the human cost of seeing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as the OTHER. 

Today, Marilyn, added the following comment to my post.

Hi Graeme,
I have been reading posts regarding this topic and this post is one of the most interesting and informative one I have read. Thank you for this!
I can’t simply go without leaving a comment. This post is a great read. I hope you can take the time to read my post as well. [A link was provide here that I have deleted.]
Thanks,

I thought her comment was pretty strange because, while I love the graphic, it was quite over the top to call it “one of the most interesting and informative one I have read”. When I followed the link Marilyn provided it went to a blog post that was essentially saying that LGBTQ are “sinners,” are “sexually perverse” and practice “unnatural sex.” She went on to say that when Jesus comes again “His truth will end the bondage of sin” and nobody will be left behind as heaven comes to the world.   

There can be little doubt that Marilyn’s comment about my post was not only misleading, but was quite untruthful. I do not believe that she thought my post is a great read (I mean I don’t think it is a good read, it was a great image but not a good read) and I’m sure she only left a comment in the hope that others would come and read her post. .In a way I think her deception on my blog gives an indication of how much we should trust her blog.

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Posted in Social change | Tagged | 4 Comments

Postcards from Practice: Initial Learnings from the Name.Narrate.Navigate Program

I’ve been part of a practice/research project, Name.Narrate.Navigate (NNN), a program exploring trauma-informed, culturally-sensitive responses to family and domestic violence by young people. NNN, works with young people who have committed family and domestic violence; are identified at risk of coming into contact with the justice system for the same; or who live in family and community contexts with high rates of family and domestic violence. The program also works to upskill practitioners in a range of sectors to work with these young people in ways that address the spectrum of violence, abuse and trauma from victimisation through perpetration.

We have just published a summary of some of our initial learnings. The report is freely available in two formats from https://nova.newcastle.edu.au/vital/access/manager/Repository/uon:37573

  1. Single page to a page (better for reading online)
  2. Two pages to a page (possibly better for printing.

As the project included photovoice activities, our graphic designer (Louie Hahn who used to work at the Family Action Centre) was able to include lots of photos. It is amazing the difference the good layout can make to a report.

Following is the abstract of the report and some pages from the report.

Executive summary

NNN is a preventive intervention program focused on psychoeducation and skill development for young people at increased risk of using violence, those already using violence in their interpersonal, family and domestic relationships, and the cross-sector workers who support them.

It aims to increase knowledge and skills, strengthen adaptive behaviour and build connections for greater confidence and coping.

NNN was developed and is continuously improved by a program of community-based participatory research involving Aboriginal elders, community members, practitioners, peak bodies and young people. It is distinct from other preventive intervention initiatives in its dual focus on working with young people and practitioners.

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Updating “About Me”

 

Photo of Graeme Stuart

I am a passionate about helping create a just, inclusive, and nonviolent world where individuals and families are cherished and supported, and communities are vibrant and resilient. In the society I want to help create, we will live sustainably having recognised we need to live in harmony with the Earth’s environment, and there will no longer be such an unfair distribution of the world’s wealth and resources.

Even though I sometimes feel an overwhelming sense of despair when I look at what needs to change, I still believe change is possible and that it is vital we do what we can to contribute to a better world. This blog is one small way I can contribute to creating change.

In the blog I mainly discuss strengths-based approaches to working with families and communities, but also touch on environmental issues, share an occasional song or write about other things that interest me. The main audience I have in my mind as I write are practitioner and university, college or vocational education students. This means that I usually:

  • ensure my statements are backed up by evidence (defined very broadly)
  • acknowledge my sources through referencing
  • come from a strong value base but still try to remain fairly objective
  • try to write in a clear, easy-to-understand style.

Although I am in a period of transition, I write as a lecturer (based at the Family Action Centre [FAC] at the University of Newcastle), a practitioner, and father (my partner and I have two wonderful daughters aged 20 and 17).

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List of 2020 posts

(Created with Wordle)

Here is a list of all my posts from 2020 with the number of views they received as at the end of December 2020

As you can see, quite a lot of my posts don’t get that many views. It is great when a post does get widely read (suggesting it is useful to quite a lot of people) but getting lots of views is not my aim. For example, Even though it will be of interest to a much smaller audience, I will be writing more about Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) because I am passionate about our work and I hope the posts will be useful to other AVP facilitators.

There are more 2020 stats about my blog here.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Blog statistics for 2020
  2. “Course optimisation” and the end of my time at the Family Action Centre
  3. Blogging as an academic
  4. Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom
  5. Name.Narrate.Navigate: a program for young people who use violence in their families
  6. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

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Blog statistics for 2020 (Transparency report)

Total monthly blog views to end of 2020

Each year I provide an overview of my blog statistics in case they are helpful or of interest to anybody else. I know when I started I had no idea what to expect in terms of number of views, so I try to be open about what is happening with my blog. As you can see from the graph above, it was a few years before I built up any real audience.

I still don’t devote as much time to the blog as I could. Last year I blogged 26 times (Here’s a list of posts for the year and the number of views they received.)

I don’t make any money from the blog, and don’t want to. The following stats are based on those available through a free WordPress blog (with the “no ads” upgrade).

Key statistics for 2020

  • Total views in 2020—400,492 (347,260 in 2019)
  • Total views for the life of the blog to the end of 2020—1,697,196
  • Average of 1094 views/day in 2020 (951 in 2019)
  • Total visitors in 2020—271,703 (219,692 in 2019)
  • Total likes in 2020—74 (84 in 2019)
  • Total comments in 2020—106 (106 in 2019 also)
  • Total shares in 2020—9,664 (861 in 2019)
  • Total followers of blog—1310 (1178 at end of 2019)
  • Total Twitter followers—620 (611 at end of 2019)
  • Total Blog Facebook page followers—544 (516 at end of 2019)

As you can see, I don’t have lots of followers so most of my views come from internet searches.

Top posts for 2020

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Zero Gravity by Kate Millder-Heidke (A Song for Sunday)

We’ve just got back from Bushtime at Woodford. Normally between Christmas and New Year there is a large music festival with around 130,000 people at Woodford. This year, because of COVID, there was a much smaller event with only around 1250 people. It was a very different to the normal festival, but still great.

One of the highlights was seeing Kate Miller-Heidke perform. So good.

This video is from her performance of Zero Gravity at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. For those who don’t know, the Eurovision Song Contest has almost a cult following in Australia (my family normally has a party with friends to watch it) which led to Australia (to the disgust of geography teachers around the world) being part of Europe’s biggest song contest.

Zero Gravity is a song about post-natal depression. According to an Australian Story episode about Miller-Heidke:

“Zero Gravity” is about the feeling that you get when you shake off depression, when you finally wake up one morning and when you realise that it’s not there today, it’s like sort of floating up into the air.

It is an powerful song, with an amazing performance.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. All the songs
  2. Special” by LP
  3. “Heal Together” by Christine Anu, Philly, Mindy Kwanten and Radical Son
  4. “This Machine” by FourPlay
  5. “Shine” by Vanessa Amorosi
  6. “Luka” by Suzanne Vega

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

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The AVP Transforming Power Mandala in Pieces

Mandala in pieces

When we ran our first Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) basic online, I created a copy of the Transforming Power mandala that allows the pieces to be moved around. It is a bit rough, and one day I hope to improve it (or somebody else might) but I thought I would still share it so other AVP facilitators can use it if they want. I created it using Google Drawing.

Note: These instructions are for a PC so it might be slightly different on a Mac or tablet. (e.g., with a Mac, instead of right clicking, you need to hold down the Control [Ctrl] key on your keyboard when you click the mouse button.)

To save a copy

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