On Tuesday 26 April, 2AY aired an interview Sarah Rogers (Manager, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service) and I recorded with Sandra Moon on her breakfast show. The topic was the recent release of the Royal Commission into Family Violence report, and some of the impact for our community. The report’s recommendations are very comprehensive and will take years to implement, involving substantial funding along with systemic change. It is a serious attempt to address a major social issue.

2AY have made a commitment to UMFC to be a major corporate partner and assist us to communicate with our shared audiences. Our first radio interview is only the beginning of what will hopefully be regular opportunities for our messages to be aired. This is very exciting and a great responsibility for us to use the media to inform and educate our local community about social issues.

This development has come about because of the partnership UMFC has with Dutch Media, the marketing gurus who helped us redesign our logo, brand, and website. Our gala night on the 13 February was very successful because of Dutch Media’s leadership in organising our association with SS&A in Albury. Dutch Media has also guided us in developing our marketing strategy, intended to raise our profile and forge positive, mutually beneficial business partnerships. Indeed, these activities form the beginning of our marketing strategy, which will encompass: TV, radio, print, and digital (website and social) media.

It is amazing to meet such creative and dynamic people, who are so responsive to our cause, and willing to give their time and expertise, when they are flat out in their daily work. This generosity is inspiring.

Click below to listen to the interview in full:

I attended a meeting at DHHS on the 29/3 to hear from two speakers from the Annie.E.Casey Foundation in New York. This $3 Billion private foundation was established by a man raised by a single mum and named in her honour. The Foundation carries out research into effective services for vulnerable families. They were brought out by DHHS after the Minister’s visit to NY last year and to assist with the Roadmap for Reform. There were a number of comments I thought you might like to hear too. Like Australia, there is an over representation of children from minority groups in out of home care. There was a comment that cultural sensitivity training didn’t seem very effective in changing this fact, rather what was important were the outcomes at critical decision points in the family/child’s life. The national average in the USA of where kids were placed was around 50% foster care, 25% kinship and 25% other (e.g. residential care). In Victoria we have a much higher placement rate in kinship and that’s where they want to get to as well. The comment was made that some of the best work in kinship was done by kinship specific agencies with best practice being staff tracking down kin placements 24 hrs a day.

There is a greater use of adoption in the States compared to Australia but the rates of older children being adopted had fallen from 20% in 2004 to 16% in 2012. There wasn’t any difference in the profile of children in residential care and foster care and in fact most kids in residential care do so as their first placement. The research shows that after 6 months, kids in residential care don’t fare well and the policy is to have such placements change as quickly as possible.

The key change they recommended to improve the out of home care system would be to have dedicated support staff for foster parents (as distinct from Victoria where the foster care worker supports both the carer and the foster child and sometimes the child’s family). There was a measurement tool being widely used and claimed as empirically validated, the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP), which could be used by all stakeholders (i.e. carers/ child/ worker) and the comment was made that some children disclosed more information on this then in conversations with staff or carers.

The Foundation’s website is worth a look, and I believe based on our Minister’s comments we should expect to see some of this work happening in Victoria. To finish, I was struck by the comment concerning kinship care and who was best to offer support to such carers. The essential point for such carers was if the provider was trusted by the local community. This endorses the language we hear about place based responses and should encourage our commitment as a local provider to our families.

Last week the agency enjoyed a very busy and successful time. We had our tri annual audit of our DHHS funded services, with two auditors on site all week reviewing all aspects of our work. It was very pleasing to hear their comments, with commendation to the agency on our client focused culture and sound corporate governance. Our thanks to all staff and clients involved, as well as our colleagues in other community agencies and DHHS for their positive and supportive comments. Receiving such strong independent endorsement of our work gives all of us even more incentive to achieve at a higher level again. We welcome this external scrutiny as it confirms our own perceptions as an organisation committed to excellence and accountability.


In the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review, there is an interesting article about corporate emotional culture. Typically when culture is discussed it’s to do with how people think and behave, cognitive culture. This is important, but there is another aspect to do with how people feel about their workplace, emotional culture. The authors suggest the two types of culture are communicated differently. Cognitive culture is typically transmitted verbally, emotional culture, non verbally through facial expressions and body language. They also claim that research has shown the significant impact of emotional culture on performance. Positive emotional culture is associated with better performance, negative emotions like fear, to poorer outcomes like higher turnover.

There are three methods for promoting emotional culture proposed in the article. First, identifying the emotions you want to promote and consciously supporting their expression when they occur. Equally it is important to manage the negative emotions when they occur, like through supervision. Second, modelling the emotions you want to promote. This is based on the idea that feelings are contagious. Having people who smile lifts the mood compared to neutral or grumpy faces. The third might be named as, fake it till you feel it. You mightn’t feel like smiling but doing so can change your mood and those around you.

While it is clear that top management sets the example and the rules, middle managers and front line supervisors make it happen on the ground. One of the biggest influences on staff is their immediate boss, so they need to set the right example.

Finally the article makes the point that an organisation needs to be consistent with it’s culture and operations and processes. There needs to be some coherence between what the organisation says it stands for and the way it goes about its work.

With the year drawing to a close I just wanted to express my appreciation to all staff and volunteers for another outstanding effort in supporting the agency’s mission.

As I said at our Xmas lunch, the great reputation the agency enjoys is because of the work done by staff and volunteers, not only this year but the years preceding as well. Next year is shaping up to be a very exciting one with our building being completed (expected round August) our DHHS audit and Gala Ball in the same week in February (!) and the implementation of recommendations arising from some significant government reviews.

So, I hope you have an enjoyable and relaxing Xmas / New Year break, because from the 1/1/16, I sense we are going to find the twelve months racing by very quickly.

PS: I also hope Santa brings you what you want!

On the 30th November, Steve Thompson (Quality Systems Manager) and I attended a briefing by the Centre of Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, at DHHS in Wangaratta, on the forthcoming Child Safety Standards. These standards to which UMFC will be held accountable come into effect from the 1/1/16. You should also know that from this date it will be a criminal offence for any Victorian adult to fail to report any reasonable belief that a child has been sexually abused by another adult.

The standards however cover the full range of child abuse and UMFC will need to demonstrate documented compliance in protocols and practices. Our evidence also has to explicitly identify our understanding of the special vulnerability of aboriginal and CALD children, as well as children with a disability.

The evidence required relates to the 7 standards, which cover things like, our child safety statement, code of conduct, staff recruitment, training and supervision, risk assessment/ reduction/removal, identification and reporting and strategies for empowering children.

You will be aware that we have already amended our code of conduct and released a child safety statement in light of this legislation. We have other measures in place which meet these standards too. However the legislation is based on the assumption of continuous improvement, meaning we can’t rest on our laurels. So, expect to see and hear more about this from next year and beyond as we strive to make our agency as child safe as possible.

On the 12th and 13th of November I spent time with DHHS representatives and agency colleagues discussing the Victorian government’s Roadmap to Reform paper for our sector. Apart from the usual presentations there were speakers including young adults who once were in care as well as young parents who received support through the cradle to kinder program. Unsurprisingly their comments resonated the loudest to most of us. One young person shared that when they entered foster care at the age of 10 yrs, they were illiterate. Their foster parent taught them to read and write. Another said that given her childhood abuse she didn’t want any contact with her mum for 2 yrs, even though there was a lot of pressure to do so. The message was the importance of listening to the child.

The young mums were equally impressive sharing their personal stories. One said she was a heroin addict when DHHS removed her children. At the time she hated DHHS but now she could say that was the right thing to do. The message was that with the right support, change was possible. What counted was having a worker who stuck through thick and thin, allowing trust to develop.

There was very strong agreement about the broad policy directions we should move toward. The importance of early intervention, the reduction of children in OOHC, especially residential care, the prioritising of culturally appropriate practice, the adoption of evidence based services with measurable outcomes and the need for place based flexible models.

I am pleased that we have had these types of conversations and feel we are well placed to rise to the challenges and opportunities that these issues raise. I anticipate that next year we shall see the beginnings of service models that reflect these aspirations, like the complete move of kinship care from DHHS to our sector. I think there will be trials of intensive foster care models aimed at moving children from residential care. The Minister was very clear when she spoke to us that she wanted to see a reduction of children, especially young children, from residential care to home based care types.

So, I think next year is going to be very exciting with more change and forums, that if done well can be the foundation of excellent work for the families UMFC was established to serve.

From the 20th to the 27th of October, Maria and I had the privilege to participate in Taskforce 1000 when it met in Wodonga and Wangaratta.

The taskforce is a review of all Aboriginal children in OOHC in Victoria, chaired by Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.

It was a deeply moving experience hearing the life stories of some 50 children, 15 of whom were under UMFC OOHC.

I was very impressed by the professionalism and compassion demonstrated by our staff who were clearly committed to achieving the best outcomes possible.

Andrew will present his report to the Victorian Parliament when his review is completed, next month. I anticipate amongst his recommendations will be for much more effort put into exploring family networks for kinship placements. One of the parts of the process was for agencies to reflect on how we could support such placements better.

I suggested UMFC could conduct a cultural audit. I have spoken with one of our Board members, Liz Hetta, to assist us in this action. This action was prompted not only by the taskforce experience but also by a comment made at the Ministerial Committee on OOHC on the 23/10. Prof Murial Bamblett was cited as saying, “If we get it right for Aboriginal children we get it right for all children.” That sounds right to me and therefore clear about the work required to make sure we do.

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UMFC acknowledges the First Peoples of Australia as the traditional custodians of the land on which we work. We acknowledge their culture is a living one, which relates to their ongoing connection to all things living and non-living on land, sea and sky. We pay our respect to their elders past and present. May our children of today lead us to a better tomorrow.


UMFC acknowledges the support of the Victorian and the Australian Governments

Commitment to Child Safety

All children and young people who access UMFC Services have a right to feel and be safe and to be treated with respect. We are committed to providing a welcoming and safe environment and working towards the best interests of children and young people at all times.