Types of community engagement – creating boxes?

Types of community engagement _edited-1Community engagement covers a very broad range of meanings, aims and strategies. In teaching community engagement to undergraduate and postgraduate students, I need to find ways to explore the diversity of practice that are relevant to students from a wide range of disciplines. One approach I take is to explore practice in a number of “boxes” even though this runs the risk of inferring they are discrete areas of practices. In particular, there are three areas where I categorise community engagement even though it runs the risk of creating a false sense of separation.

The first is the way in which I structure the courses around three main modules each of which focus on a broad area of community engagement: Continue reading

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Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

I’ve decided to make this  entertaining and surprising TEDx talk, by Luis von Ahn, required watching in an online undergraduate course (or subject) I teach on community engagement (HLSC2241). Although the course is online, I haven’t included much material about online community engagement. I recently included the new version of  100 ideas to help engage your community online by Bang the Table in the required readings, and there are a couple of other optional readings about online community engagement, but it isn’t an area of community engagement I look at in any great depth. Continue reading

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Navigating dilemmas of community development: Practitioner reflections on working with Aboriginal communities

Navigating dilemmas of community development Wordle

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Intrinsically, community development involves navigating dilemmas. These dilemmas have intensified as neoliberal “arts of government” become more widespread and a “results agenda” more entrenched. Recent studies explore how community development practitioners manage the ambiguities of this current context. This article contributes by exploring how practitioners who work with Aboriginal communities in Central and Northern Australia navigate the dilemmas they encounter. Consistent with other studies, we find that practitioners draw on the foundations of community development practice while also responding to the specific characteristics of the setting. We discuss three principle strategies used by community development practitioners (patience, “letting go,” and negotiation), and we identify the implications for deepening community development practice and shifting the policy setting. This article demonstrates how even in a context that seems tightly prescribed by neoliberal arts of government practitioners are actively finding ways of valuing and supporting community knowledge, priorities, and time frames.

The following is the final submitted  version of an article (just published in Community Development) by Jenny Cameron and Paul Hodge (Centre for Urban and Regional Studies), Amanda Howard (Social Work) and me (Family Action Centre), all at the University of Newcastle. The published version is available from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15575330.2016.1205116 (for a fee unless you have access via a Library or subscribe). Continue reading

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Over 60 ideas to consider for strong supported playgroups

Supported playgroupsHow supported playgroup programs deliver their services vary. There are a wide range of practices involved in providing specific program elements, activities, procedures, philosophies, and policies that effect the way each program is provided to families. Attracting parents to the group, encouraging regular attendance and promoting participation in group activities are all important factors for a successful supported playgroup. The following ideas for helping to create strong supported playgroups is from research literature on supported playgroups. (For a summary of some of the literature see “An overview of literature on supported playgroups“.)

Facilities and Context

  • Use an easily accessible geographical location
  • Provide a welcoming, comfortable physical environment to conduct the playgroup in
  • Use a space that is responsive and flexible
  • Provide a consistent facilitator presence
  • Use trained volunteers to help run the group to free the facilitator to respond to individual parent needs
  • Keep attendance costs to a minimum
  • Subsidise transport costs
  • Build strong links with the local community to ensure families are encouraged to attend by community members
  • Be well connected to local services and referral pathways
  • Offer connections to other professionals

Continue reading

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An overview of literature on supported playgroups


(Photo: Manuka)

Family services have been using supported playgroups widely for many years to work with families who may not access community playgroups and other services1. The high cost and complexity of conducting research that clearly demonstrates the effectiveness (or otherwise) of supported playgroups, means that the available research has limitations and cannot provide clear evidence that supported playgroups are successful. The available research does, however, suggest playgroups are highly valued by services and parents, and have a range of potential benefits for parents and children.

What are supported playgroups?

With a dual focus on the well-being and development of children and their parents2, supported playgroups have been funded to help strengthen parenting skills and family support, improve the wellbeing of children and build stronger communities3. They allow parents to learn about child development, reduce social isolation, and link families with other services. In contrast to community playgroups, which are run without the support of a paid facilitator, supported playgroups are facilitated by one or two paid staff, usually with an early childhood, family or community work qualifications who are employed for their skills in recruiting, engaging and supporting families1. Supported playgroups target families experiencing multiple complex needs, or specific populations (e.g., refugee families, Aboriginal families, young parents, or families facing substance abuse or mental health issues). There are a variety of approaches to supported playgroups including: Continue reading

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Reconciliation week: It can’t stop now

Today, the anniversary of the 1992 Mabo decision in the High Court, marks the end of Reconciliation Week, which started on May 27, the anniversary of the 1967 referendum which saw over 90% of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and to recognise them in the national census.

When I was at school we learnt very little about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and colonisation. We certainly didn’t learn about massacres, children being forcibly removed from loving families and other aspects of the discrimination and racism that forms the lives of many Indigenous Australians today and in the past. Continue reading

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Engaging fathers: An overview of evidence-based practice

Engaging fathers Wordle

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Fathers are important. Research demonstrates that close involvement of fathers from birth can support positive infant and child development. This includes boosting social, emotional and academic development. Effective co-parenting, where fathers are engaged in positive ways with the mother and children is also a positive factor for children’s well-being. However, the influence of fathering on the development of children is complex with some evidence emerging that demonstrates the negative impact fathers can have on their children e.g. a father’s violence towards a mother has a negative effect on children. New approaches and understandings are developing in biology and the social sciences relating to families which further complicates the evidence.

For many fathers the modern workplace is a significant barrier to engagement with services. This is due to factors like inflexible work hours and leave provisions; employer attitudes towards fathers attending child-related events, activities and services during work hours; long work hours and increasing casualisation of the workforce, especially for low income families. Further, Government policy structurally discourages the engagement of fathers through the current arrangement of social benefits and provision of parental leave. For example, many Australian fathers do not take their available opportunities for paternity leave, or their employment circumstances (casual, contract etc.) continue to prevent this. In Australia men continue to work longer hours in paid work than their partners who tend to work in part-time employment. These structural barriers and limitations make engaging fathers challenging for many organisations and service providers. (See 36 ideas for helping to engage fathers.) Services for families and children continue to prioritise work with the mother and children and many services have less experience working with the whole family system [1,2]. Continue reading

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36 ideas for helping to engage fathers

 Grandfather, father and childrenThe importance of fathers is increasingly recognised in working with families. The following are 36 ideas that could help services engage fathers.

  1. Prioritise father inclusive practice in the annual strategic plan
  2. Ensure support for father inclusion through policy development
  3. Have an Engaging Father’s Policy
  4. Provide regular reports to the governing body on the inclusion of fathers
  5. Actively recruit male staff and volunteers
  6. Identify a specific individual within the service who will champion father engagement
  7. Provide training and ongoing professional development regarding fathers for all staff including evidence based approaches to working effectively with families
  8. Include father-inclusive practices as a core component of relevant Vocational Education and Training, undergrad and postgrad education
  9. Ensure staff understand the demographics of fathers in the community
  10. Map the strengths and priorities of local fathers
  11. Seek the input of fathers into service planning
  12. Incorporate an action research model of evaluation to refine practice
  13. Ensure the program environment is aesthetically appealing to men
  14. Adapt promotion materials and program content to be father friendly
  15. Try holistic, multi-dimensional programs that are universal
  16. Provide parenting programs which specifically target or engage fathers
  17. Look for, and consider changing, any bias towards mothers in service delivery and program development
  18. Deliver services and programs at hours that support the involvement of men
  19. Use curiosity and motivational interviewing
  20. Use a family-relationship perspective which can successfully address some of the key risk factors that affect children’s development and family functioning in diverse family types
  21. Develop goals beyond getting the father to attend
  22. Actively recruit fathers
  23. Inform fathers about services and programs
  24. Identify strengths of fathers
  25. Deliberately engage fathers in programs and events
  26. Focus on specific factors like understanding child development and creating realistic expectations of child or infant behaviour within programs and interventions
  27. Hold a vision of father’s needs that included his provider role and his relationship with his child
  28. Assist parents while parents are still together and the child is expected or very young
  29. Involve fathers despite challenging situations e.g. when parents are in conflict, domestic violence is present, or when the father has been out of contact with the child for some time
  30. Reach out to separated & incarcerated fathers
  31. Include custodial mothers in the programs when parents are separated
  32. Be aware that mothers may block or divert service access to fathers and can also instigate and support father engagement
  33. Recognise that fathers may be reluctant clients
  34. Be knowledgeable about local services for fathers and make appropriate referrals
  35. Critically reflect on practice to ensure fathers are included
  36. Do postgraduate study relating to fathers e.g. father related courses in the Graduate Certificate and Master of Family Studies at the University of Newcastle (http://www.newcastle.edu.au/research-and-innovation/centre/fac/study-with-us)

Continue reading

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Team building before facilitating

Group working rThis weekend I’m facilitating my 80th Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop (or Help Increase the Peace workshop which is the youth version of AVP), but my first on in over 14 years. One of the things I learnt through AVP is the importance of team building for the facilitation team. AVP workshop are run by a team of volunteer facilitators which means that I’ve worked with many different people of varying ability, styles and personalities. As would be expected, there have been some great facilitators and some quite poor facilitators; there have been people I’ve find it easy to work with and others I’ve really struggled with; there have been facilitators with a similar style to my own and others with a very different style.

One of the things I learnt over the years was to value different styles of facilitating. Some facilitators, whose style I found very difficult, were loved by some of the participants and their style worked much better with some people than mine. I learnt the value of different facilitation styles and personalities within a team and that sometimes a style I found difficult highlighted an area of my facilitation that could be improved. Continue reading

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Transition Newcastle Convenor report (May 2016)

Transition Newcastle bannerLast night I gave a de facto convenor report at Transition Newcastle’s annual general meeting (AGM). Even though I had stood down as convenor at the 2015 AGM, the position had remained vacant and I’ve been doing quite a few of the roles anyway. As nobody else has been able to take on the role, I have been reappointed as the convenor. The following post is based on the report I gave last night.

If we had held our AGM at the end of2015, I think I would have been reporting on a group that was in a decline. Continue reading

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