How to break down barriers to collaboration and create meaningful partnerships

How to break down barriers to collaboration and create meaningful partnerships

Lottie Turner and Marika Manioudakis
10 March 2021

This webinar discussed the value of investing in meaningful partnerships to improve outcomes for children and families.

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Audio transcript: How to break down barriers to collaboration and create meaningful partnerships

Audio transcript (edited)

MS SMART: Welcome everyone to today's webinar, How to break down barriers to collaboration and create meaningful partnerships. My name is Jess Smart and I'm a senior research officer here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. So before we begin I would like to start with an acknowledgement of the Bunurong and Wurundjeri people who are the traditional custodians of the land on which I'm speaking to you here in Melbourne. I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present and emerging of the Kulin nation and extend that respect to other Elders and Indigenous Australians attending this webinar today. Collaboration between agencies and disciplines in the child and family sector is a really longstanding issue. We know that there's a genuine desire for us all to work together for the benefit of our clients but there can be structural communication and practice based barriers that can make this difficult. So last year we held a number of webinars that looked at collaboration from a few different angles but we recognised that there's still much more ground to cover. So today we want to continue the conversation with our amazing panel members, you'll meet them soon, and we want to discuss various ways in which services are collaborating across the health justice landscape and look at how we can break down the barriers to establish successful partnerships. So let's introduce our presenters. So Lottie Turner is Partnerships Director at Health Justice Australia, working to support effective practice across the health justice landscape. This includes convening, brokering and mentoring health justice partnerships. And Health Justice Australia works to bring health and legal services together to address the complex problems in people's lives in ways that agencies cannot do alone.

MS TURNER: Kia ora Jess, thanks for having me, looking forward to the discussion today.

MS SMART: Great, great to have you here Lottie. And Marika Manioudakis is the Manager of Family Violence Initiatives. Is Marika – there she is, hi. Where was I? Is the Manager of Family Violence Initiatives at the Eastern Community Legal Centre. So with a foundation in behavioural science, Marika's work is primarily focused on improving the support available to women who are experiencing family violence, particularly through their experience of the legal system. Marika also manages the Mabels, WELS, SAGE and HEAL Programs, I think she's going to talk a bit about the Mabels program today. And these programs seek to respond to the intertwined legal, family violence support and financial counselling needs of women and their children experiencing family violence. Hi Marika, welcome.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: Thank you, it's a privilege to be here.

MS SMART: Great to have you. So okay before I hand over to the presenters we thought we'd give you a short video with some of the highlights from three of the webinars that we ran last year that addressed cross sector collaboration.

(Start of video)

One of the interesting findings from the interview data concerned fathers abuse of service systems. 29 of the 50 women reported to us that they experienced systems abuse after separation. They reported that they had to engage with multiple systems and services and that at times perpetrators exploited the inconsistencies between these systems and services. Perpetrators engaged in manipulative engagement or non-engagement with services and systems to exhaust the personal and financial resources of women including their allocations of Legal Aid. His behaviours and tactics are hidden, you know they're hidden by him and the current system supports them being invisible by being fragmented and not coordinated. Community of practices has had a tremendous influence on increasing our domestic and family violence informed practice across the agencies and strengthening our multiagency work together with us in this community of practice applying the safe and together model for our cases. Just to give an example of a tool that we use, it's a safe and together tool and it's known as the case plan grid or we call it sometimes the accountability plan or a risk management plan. And it demonstrates how we on one document, can have his patterns of coercive controlling behaviours, we have the impacts on the kids and the family functioning that his behaviours have caused. And we also have on that plan what we want him to change and then who can support this change and how we know it will be different. And we can see how this is a document that we can use across the system, across services. Services who only work with perpetrators have an opportunity and need to proactively connect with services that are partnering with survivors for ongoing risk assessment, risk management and effective safety planning. Rather - and checking in with her rather than safety plans being done to survivors, instead survivors are then you know leading the way in that. That's really important. What we have found is having a consistent approach when working with fathers who perpetrate violence against their families, focused on their behaviours and them as parents across services, and not blaming the mother for the harm he is causing. That is our experience in working with services. Creating one system that is focused on him as a parent and his parenting choice to use coercive control as a source of harm for his children, this is a shift that we have found has made the difference. The alcohol and drug workers felt that referring to family services or child protection might breach client confidentiality or derail or affect their therapeutic relationship. Again some clients felt that they didn't need a referral or that the worker felt the client had adequate support to keep their child safe. Both workforces noted similar organisational and historical issues including reporter fatigue. So for instance where they had reported or referred a number of times but hadn't been successful or didn't understand what had happened to that referral. They also noted a lack of understanding of the processes around referral. Both felt that referring to the other service caused feelings of stigmatisation and that there was issues among communications and relationships between the two. Child and family workers felt that alcohol and drug services couldn't care for their client, that there was long waitlists, client complexity and access to services were impediments. They also found that there was an inability to find the right service and/or there was no relationship or direct link to alcohol and drug services, so it was a difficult process to refer. There were common barriers to each sector reporting to each other, mostly centred around associated stigma and harm to the therapeutic relationship. Both sectors acknowledged the good work being done by the other sector but also noted that the different paradigms of how to approach service delivery made this a challenge because they felt their client issues and service approaches were very different. So many practitioners, simply do not work in ideal collaborative environments and are left to navigate the street level complexities of imperfect systems with little explicit training or advice. Even when practitioners do work in environments in which cross-sectoral collaboration is supported, it is unlikely that top-down efforts at collaboration will provide them with all they need to bridge professional silos. So there's been this frustration that abounds from both sides of the picture here, so there's frustration on behalf of the child protection service about how can they not know these things, child protection is everybody's business. We then really miss this key opportunity from the alcohol and drug service and from this child protection service to focus on the well-being needs of this family. So we can at times then lead us to over underestimate risk to the child or underestimate risk to the child. And both of these things aren't in the child's best interests. It's not in the parents' interests and it's not in the family's interests. So we know that many individuals who have substance use also may have other problems, other adversities that both arise as a consequence of their substance use, or also maybe actually arising and promoting substance use. This includes things like unemployment for instance, or poverty or are at risk of violence for instance. So all of these factors are all things that we need to kind of incorporate into the framework and although substance use in itself might be the individual risk factor that we're kind of now in doubt, we have to also kind of balance that with what else is going on for the individual. I think that collaboration is so important in the space but it isn't necessarily incentivising and it can be really challenging to do both in terms of time and workload requirements which can be intense on both sides, workload requirements as we've heard as well. And certainly something that I've noticed and benefited from during COVID is this pivoting to online technology and the ability and capacity to organise teleconferences where previously that was quite challenging. So I think any opportunity to sort of engage in a shared dialogue with someone from the opposite sort of framework and opposite system, really gives you an opportunity to understand where those intersections lie, where you can actually work together and understand as well where there might be pieces of information for instance that you weren't aware of that can actually assist all practitioners to work more effectively. In our consultations with practitioners and other professionals, we were really hearing that they were having difficulties trying to work together collaboratively across roles. And this seemed to be a tension that was particularly felt between child protection and child and family welfare services. These cross-sectoral tensions were really mostly the product of structural level difficulties. So this could be things like not having enough time or resources to work together effectively, practitioners having to act outside their roles, not enough services to refer clients to, not enough information and so on. Collaborative competence can be strengthened by these three broad strategies, understanding, clarifying and communicating. Each organisation is really going to have its own history, it's legislative framework, and then things like organisational identity, its values, languages, cultures and so on. When this is really well understood across both parties, it can be a real asset to collaboration. So bringing that diversity of perspectives and expertise can be invaluable for working out complex practice issues and it can lead to creative solutions for clients. Having clarity around your own roles and responsibilities is really important. You could ask questions like for example what are the decision making processes I'm expected to follow. What procedures should I follow when I have concerns about the safety of children or families that I'm working with. How do existing protocols and regulations affect the scope of this work, and it's important to also know the same about your collaborative partners. So this can all help to contribute to a more effective working relationship. You might even find it useful if possible to bring all parties together to discuss their roles and responsibilities, particularly when you're able to reiterate shared goals. So remembering that role clarification can really be an ongoing process, and this might be something that needs to be kind of consistently negotiated and also reinforced. So again we had a couple of ideas for practice with this one and some of them for example were checking in with your supervisor if you feel like the reality of your daily workload isn't really reflected in your role statement, this might be something that needs to be discussed and reviewed. So this is when you really feel like you're working outside the scope of your role, and this was something that came up a lot in the forums that we ran with practitioners last year. Other ideas included mapping out services in your area and trying to keep this information as up to date as possible, and also again to just reiterate your shared goals. So try and keep in mind that even when it doesn’t feel like it, it is likely that there is a shared goal between practitioners and also with your clients which will be about keeping children safe. It's likely that everyone is trying to do their best to achieve these goals and it can be helpful to articulate this when there's some tension within that relationship. As well as things that I'm sure you're already doing like active listening and nonverbal communication, these are some of the points to remember as part of your ongoing interactions. So they could be things like naming the process, so what is and isn't working, that can be really helpful. Particularly if the relationship was feeling a bit stuck. And I also just want to highlight sharing joint successes which can be really important. And again we had some practical ideas from proving these high-level communication skills including a couple, for example, meeting face to face wherever possible, this can help to build rapport and really minimise miscommunications. And clearly delegating tasks during the case planning phase, particularly when those tasks come up that might not fit into anyone's specific role. And the last one was to agree on your communication, expectations and processes ahead of time where possible.

(End of video.)

MS SMART: Okay so that was just a little bit of scene-setting for you, a little bit of reminder of what we did last year. I'm now going to hand over to Lottie.

MS TURNER: Thanks Jess, tena koutou katoa. Before I begin today I first would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we are all joining this webinar today. For me that is the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. And I pay my deepest respects to their Elders past and present. I want to acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded and that there are ongoing impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But I further want to recognise the resilience, the strength, the pride and the leadership in collaboration from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For those of you who don't know us at Health Justice Australia, we are a national charity and centre of excellence for health justice partnership. We support the effectiveness and expansion of health justice partnerships and work to change service systems to improve health and justice outcomes through knowledge and its translation, building capability of practitioners and services across the health justice landscape, and really driving systems change. Now while health justice partnership is a place-based model and ways of working can really vary within and across localities and individual partnerships. Broadly we describe it as partnership to embed legal help in healthcare services and teams to improve health and wellbeing for individuals through direct service provision and the places they access. People and communities vulnerable to complex need by integrating service responses around client needs and capability, and populations experiencing vulnerability through advocacy for systemic change, to policies and practises that affect the social determinants of health. Now, health justice partnerships are just one example of cross sector partnership and collaboration, and I know that many of you are engaged in your own collaborative efforts. What I'm hoping to do today is to take stock of some of the global lessons that have emerged over the past 15 or so years in building effective partnerships and collaborations. Now much of this content will be familiar to you either through previous CFCA webinars or just through the work that you do every day. But what I want to do is really render some of that work visible to you so you can have the tools and resources to draw upon to work effectively in this way. I'm first wanting to start by reminding everyone that working in partnership is a tool we can employ when seeking to address complex problems and it's not always necessary. And I think we'll come back to that in responding to some of the questions a little later in the webinar. Many of the services we work with across the health justice landscape are investing in partnership and collaboration to address thorny complex socially determined challenges that no one discipline or service can address alone. Challenges that in many instances are exacerbated by service system fragmentation and inaccessibility. For example, family and domestic violence, mental illness, addiction, independence and as I mentioned in my earlier remarks, the ongoing impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In this and previous work I see the exciting and invigorating opportunity for partnership to address complex and dare I say it, wicked problems. But often it's easier to see what's hard, and I wanted to say that you are absolutely not alone in some of the challenges you're facing when it comes to designing and implementing effective cross-sector collaboration. Indeed, groups like the partnership brokers association have collected over a number of years now, evidence of universal challenges that arise when diverse individuals, teams and organisations and communities are seeking to partner. Some of these challenges include, and again some of these will be familiar um through watching the previous clip, a focus on difference as a barrier instead of an opportunity, real or perceived power imbalances between partners and a lack of exploration of different types of power and how it is held and manifests. The stealth and often unspoken expectations we carry, the assumptions and stereotypes we make of others and real or perceived hidden agendas of the people we're working with. Competing demands, priorities and interests of different partners, and finally the way in which we armour up or put our defences up and fall back into our individual ways of working when we're faced with uncertainty. ****The thing is however universal, these challenges aren't insurmountable. I think if we can name them and expect common challenges that emerge when collaborating, we can arm ourselves with the tools to address them. As I mentioned earlier, some of those tools will be very familiar to many of you given the work you do and the disciplines you come from. So I wanted to share a few of them now. I think there are a range of principles that can be considered and drawn upon ah when working with others to build and maintain effective partnerships, and I think there was a recognition in the earlier clip about the leadership that's required to support and enable effective collaboration and that is absolutely true. I would also say, and it is certainly Health Justice Australia's perspective that frontline practitioners are critical levers to systems change and certainly the systems change agenda of health justice partnership. So what does that look like for frontline practitioners? Well firstly, I think we can each recognise the value that comes from diverse perspectives, including when those perspectives are at odds with our own. This might involve finding new ways to relish and proactively use this diversity, presumably accessing new perspectives, knowledge and practise is a key driver for why you're seeking to partner in the first place. And this leads to the second principle. For me, that is a rumbling with the other big old P in partnering and that is power. Remember there are lots of different forms of power that will manifest when working with others across sectors, and that can be drawn upon quite critically at different points. You've got authority-based power, institutional power, social power that could be attributed to different identities, knowledge-based power, personal, informal. So how might you identify power? You can try a simple power audit. You can do this as an individual or you can undertake this as an exercise within your partnership. This might involve reflecting on where and in what contexts you have power and what sort of power that might be. What resources and privileges does that power bring? How do you currently use it and how might you use it differently. If you're brave enough you might even ask your colleagues to share their thoughts on the power they feel you hold. Once you've seen and named the different forms of power in your partnership, I really encourage you to work on building equitable approaches and relationships where each partner is respected and valued for who they are and what they bring to your partnership. Now transparency and openness are other really important principles when it comes to working effectively in partnership, and this is really about communicating with your partners early and often. Are you faced with competing priorities? Well talk to your partners about them. If you're open with your partners, if you're sharing your challenges, space can be created for understanding and the building of trust. Challenges that arise when working in partnership will likely have a partnership based solution, so don't feel like you have to have all the answers all the time. Poor buy in is often a challenge that we hear a lot of at Health Justice Australia, and if that's the case for you, revisit the extent to which all partners have had the opportunity to form a partnership that is mutually beneficial. Competing interests and demands will be there, so look for them, name them, look for the alignment and be okay sometimes to agree to disagree. But if you can't get below the surface to understand why and how competing interests show up, they will get in the way each and every time. But surfacing competing interests and demands can provide a space in which just maybe people can let go of some of the interests that don't serve your shared purpose and goal. And finally, working in uncertainty and complexity, the spaces in which partnership is often adopted as a tool is really hard work. Identify and draw upon all the things that feed your ability to have courage to keep showing up in this work. Ask for help and ask for what you need. Go into partnering with the knowledge that there will at times be discomfort and at certain points you'll experience what feels like failure. Disarming yourself of the need to have the answers, control and perfectionism - perfection, is a courageous act when working in this way. Exploring and adopting a partnership approach is a risk but I think a courageous risk in response to a system that dare I say it is broken and is not working. Some people in organisations will have different appetites and tolerance for risk, so I'd really encourage you to get familiar with that in your partnership, um get familiar with what risk means to each partnership - each partner rather, and the partnership as a whole. So those are some of my high level reflections on how a principled approach can benefit the work of partnership and collaboration, and I now have the absolute pleasure to handover to my colleague, Marika Manioudakis, of Eastern Community Legal Centre, to operationalise some of those principles for us and reflect on what they've meant for their health justice partnership. Thanks, Marika.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: Thank you so much, Lottie. It's great to be collaborating with you today. To begin with, I too would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land from which I am presenting to you from. The land of the Wurundjeri people. I would also like to pay my respects to their elders, past and present. I would also like to acknowledge the work of Mables that has been led by our partner organisation Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service, the number of other Aboriginal community controlled organisations within our area and the community members in our region that have also contributed their knowledge and expertise. Today I have the privilege of talking about Mables. A collaboration of diverse organisations and professionals who have come together to improve the service system response for women and children experiencing family violence. I also have the privilege of representing the voices of women who have accessed Mables and the feedback that they have provided us. Just a warning, this is one of my favourite topics so I can get a little bit carried away sometimes. As mentioned by Lottie earlier, Mables is a health justice partnership. It's a collaboration between Eastern Community Legal Centre, Maternal and Child Health Services within two local government areas in the Eastern region of Melbourne, and Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service. The vision of Mables is to provide an early intervention response to family violence within the maternal and child health context. By improving the responses of maternal and child health, legal, family violence and Aboriginal support services in the coordinated and integrated manner. In practise, the model integrates a family violence legal clinic within maternal and child health services to assist and empower women who disclose family violence to their maternal and child health nurses. A family violence lawyer and a family violence advocate provide women with trauma-informed family violence and related legal advice, safety planning, information and referrals in the same appointment. In addition to this Aboriginal women and mothers of Aboriginal children are provided with the option of a specialist family violence response from an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation. Between 2015 and 2020, 753 women have been referred in to Mabels for assistance and many more children have been indirectly assisted. Through the design, implementation and continuous evaluation of Mables, we have developed many insights into the outcomes, successes and challenges of the program. As an overview, there is no doubt that the success of Mables is the direct outcome of a strong multi-disciplinary partnership across all levels of our organisations founded on shared values and goals, that provide an integrated inter-disciplinary approach and that meet the diverse needs of women by placing them and their rights at the core of our decision making. Maternal and child health services, family violence services, legal services and Aboriginal healing services each in their own right have critical roles to play and bring with them a vast amount of knowledge, expertise and experience. Integral to Mables however is the collaboration of the partnership and the shared commitment to finding solutions that place the women and her child or children at the center of service design, protect the universal accessibility of maternal and child health services, prioritise the specialist family violence framework and protect the integrity of the legal framework. That sounds quite simple when I just - put them in dot points like that, and I guess in practise what that means and what I was asked to talk about in terms of acquired outcomes is really that women have access to a specialised early intervention family violence legal program and again too that seems to be quite a simple statement so I'll break down a few of the words that are in that statement and primarily I'll be talking about access, what I mean by specialised, what I mean by early intervention and then what a family violence legal program looks like. So by access, I do mean that women are referred to Mables by their trusted maternal and child health nurse. Sometimes and more often than not women are telling us that the only reason they're talking to us is because their nurse recommended that they should. The program reaches out to women referred within just a few days of their referral being made, so we do proactively try and facilitate engagement wherever and however possible. The program also proactively provides women with the option of engaging with an Aboriginal service. The service is provided onsite during non-COVID times of course within the maternal and child health clinic, so it's a trusted safe space for women to access. Often women will also book in an appointment with their maternal and child health nurse and be able to have the measurements of their babies being taken to I guess provide a bit of a guise about them accessing a different type of service within the maternal and child health site. By specialised, I mean that Mabels has been developed uniquely for the maternal and child health setting in which we're providing the service; that it's been developed using the strong partnership approach, and utilising the expertise of each of the partner organisations; that it respects the trust and relationship that women have with their maternal and child health service, and the maternal and child health nurse, and seeks to enhance that relationship, and tries to avoid compromising it in any way; and that it is led by an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation in responding to the needs of Aboriginal families. Part of that specialisation is also providing an early intervention approach, which means, for us, working with women as early as possible in their experience of family violence, when they might only be at the start of identifying their partners behaviours as controlling or violent, and only starting to see the risks posed towards themselves and their children; providing information, support and advice to a woman whilst she's at the stage of contemplating her options in seeking safety. And sometimes there's almost the mistake of thinking that this work might be easier than some of the crisis response, but I guess what we've learnt in developing an early intervention response is that it does take a different type of skill and a different type of practice to be able to respond to women in a way that supports them to move through the contemplation phase of their experience to where they feel that they can choose options. And this really does mean being led by the woman and respecting her self-determination. And I guess also doing whatever we can as a service to increase her trust in the family violence service system and the legal system, and I say that with a little bit of doubt about how much trust we can create in systems that I guess as practitioners we've also seen sometimes can't be trusted, but at least working with her to empower her to feel ready to navigate those systems. And also in developing a family violence legal program. So for Mabels, that means providing a legal service through a family violence and trauma-informed lens, ensuring that children are kept visible throughout this experience - it's not necessarily an easy task within a legal service response; ensuring that a woman is provided with legal information and advice that is informed by the risk to her safety, and intertwining risk assessment with legal options and safety planning with legal processes, so that she can safely access the legal system in seeking safety for herself and for her children. And I guess a really practical example of that is, sometimes when we just - we talk about intervention orders, and the need to apply for one in order to seek protection, but just the very idea or concept about attending court for a woman could actually be quite a dangerous thought. So it is how we can talk to her about her safety in applying for an intervention order, and how we can plan her safety around that, so she does feel like applying for an intervention might be an option she may be able to take up. And I guess in just talking through the way the program's been tailored to respond to women, and I guess how women may benefit from those outcomes, I'm hoping that you've also been able to gauge from a practitioner or a service perspective what this might mean in terms of the benefits of collaboration. And just to go through, I guess, a few points that for me stand out, is that maternal and child health nurses have a streamlined accessible program that supports them to respond to disclosures of family violence through their mandated family violence screening; that Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service is able to lead strategies that more effectively respond to the needs of Aboriginal families; that the capability and practice of each of the practitioners is enhanced and developed through shared learning experiences, both formal and informal; that practitioners feel more able and better supported to respond to the needs of women and children experiencing family violence; that it provides practice-informed evidence about how the family violence service system, which I use as a broad term to include all services that work with women and children experiencing family violence, can more effectively work to reduce the harm caused through family violence. And I guess even more importantly it provides an advocacy platform on which we can share the knowledge and experience we have gained through our collaboration. And on that note, I just reiterate how privileged I am to have had this opportunity for the platform, for being part of this webinar today. I will now hand back to Jessica.

MS SMART: Thanks, Marika. And thanks, Lottie. Marika, you're saying that you're privileged to be here; I think we've privileged to have you. So thank you both for those wonderful presentations with so much interesting content in there. I would love to chat to you about them, but we have so many questions coming through, and we have so many questions coming through, and we received so many before - you know, in the lead up to this webinar. So I am going to jump right into them. And, Lottie, my first question is for you, and appropriately, it's about starting. So we've had a couple of different questions come through on this topic. So someone has asked us, 'Where do I start in creating a meaningful partnership, and how do I ensure that it will be maintained?'

MS TURNER: Oh, thanks Jess. The million-dollar partnering question. We hear this a lot, so really delighted to start the conversation here today on this webinar. I guess I would put a question back to these participants, and that's do you need to partner? Echoing what I said in my open remarks, you don't always need to. If you have the skills, the resources, the capability to address the problem that is sitting in front of you on your own, get started. There are other more transactional ways of working that may help achieve what you want to achieve as well. So start networking with stakeholders within your community who also have a vested interest in address the problem that's sitting in front of you. If you've done the work to identify that a partnership approach will be important to address that problem, then I think it's important to say that there is no one, neat, linear way to form and maintain a partnership, but all partnerships can, if they adopt a principled approach to how they work together, I think can create the conditions for their activities and their outputs to thrive. So that's really about going back to some of the principles that I flagged at the start of this session, talking about how you're going to really going to draw upon and relish the diversity of all partners; how you're going to build equitable approaches that value, respect the contributions that everyone is making; your openness and transparency; exploring the extent to which each partner is going to find the work you're doing together mutually beneficial; and really drawing on what you need to have courage in this work, because it can be really uncertain work. I think in terms of process and achieving the goals of a partnership, that will often involve a little bit of risk, some interdependence across the partners, joint processes and commitment when it comes to effort and resources. So for you and your position in this partnership, I'd really say, well, what might it look like, and what might you need in order for your team and organisation to participate in that type of activity, acknowledging some of those processes that might need to be in place. And I think finally what I will say, a bit of a plug for an upcoming resource Health Justice Australia is pulling together that will be releasing in April, and that's really about the building blocks to health justice partnership development and maintenance. And while that might be aimed at health justice partnerships, I think the principles and recommendations that are contained in that resource will be helpful for anyone embarking on a partnership journey. Thanks, Jess.

MS SMART: Thank you. And I was going to ask about resources, so thanks for doing a little plug. Everyone will just have to wait 'til April until that resource is out. I've got so many good questions here, I can't decide what to ask. I might as a question - we've had a few different questions come through about values and beliefs. And so the question here is 'How do I work collaboratively with services that have competing and sometimes opposite agendas?' So Lottie, again, I might throw this to you, and then, Marika, I've got a kind of second part to this question for you as well.

MS TURNER: M'mm, thanks, Jess. Again, just such a great question, and something that comes up a lot for me in the work that I do at the moment with health justice partnerships, but certainly supporting other quite complex partnerships and collaborations. And the first thing - again, feels like a copout, but I'm going to start my response by asking a question of this participant, and that is what tells you that your partners have competing and opposite agendas? Do you think that's based on the perception you have of them, or is that evidenced in behaviour and actions? So often what I see in partnership and collaboration is the reality of stealth expectations, of stereotypes and perceptions we have of other people, we might not be even conscious that we're behaving or thinking in that way. So again I think openness and transparency is a really important principle here. Different stakeholders will have their individual interests in forming or joining a partnership. That's one of the things that will keep diverse stakeholders and partners at the partnering table. And as individual partners, we don't actually have to let those interests go. But the role of all partners is to look for diverse and competing interests - because they will be there, as I said earlier - and name them. Where are there synergies and alignment in those agendas, and where are the gaps? Do those gaps amount to non-negotiables for coming together? That may be a decision you make, and that may inform a decision, rather, for you not to partner. That's okay. But quite critically, can they be lived with in order for the partnership as a whole to achieve its desired goal? Now, they can be really tough conversations. But like I said in my opening remarks, sometimes I think airing those individuals interests and expectations, and feeling heard and seen by others when we're able to do that, gives us the space that we need to let some of them go, maybe. There's so much I could say to that one there, but yeah, again, communication, transparency is really key. Testing the assumptions and the perceptions we have.

MS SMART: Yep. Got to be brave and get it all out there on the table. Yes.

MS TURNER: Yeah.

MS SMART: Which if you're a frontline practitioner, I think is something that people do in their work every day. So people absolutely have the skills for that. Marika, I've got a question here that - I'll just read it out, will I? I says, 'Is it really possible for a collaboration to overcome the disconnect between the focus of the family law system and the child safety system?' So maybe you can give some kind of practicable examples to what Lottie was just talking about.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: Yeah, that sounds like a really simple question. Thanks, Jess. I'm not even going to try in terms of some of the systemic issues both within the family law system and child safety system, or to suggest that advocacy for improved systems isn't integral to moving forward in improving our responses, especially around family violence. But I guess just to take it back to a Mabels level, and the way we respond to sometimes what feels like competing systems, and the disconnect between the systems, is perhaps just to focus more on where the connection is. And that's not to minimise the disconnect, but really just bringing it back to what we can influence and what we can control within our services and within our practice. I think going back to the shared values and goals is integral to this, and fundamentally nobody who works within any of these systems would really wish harm or want harm for children, and I guess working from that values-based approach can be really helpful. And seeing what we can do as practitioners to improve our service system response and fill some of those gaps that some of those bigger systems create. I guess just really practically and specifically for Mabels it means that where respecting and working within the different systems that each of our services are working within. So maternal and child health nurses have to focus on the health of mothers and their children, and they're mandated to report to Child Protection or other services where they need to have family violence advocates have a responsibility to women and their children, and have a responsibility to assess and manage risk, and they need to respond to that risk. Women have a right to legal professional privilege that respects and protects their communication with the lawyer. And lawyers have a duty to the court as well as a duty to the client, and act on a client's instructions. And I say that quite simply, but I guess we're all working within different systems and with different roles and responsibilities that each have their place within the broader system. And it's really where we can develop practice that respects each of those responsibilities and listens to the voice of women, and guided by that client centred practice that we've been able to develop practice that does focus on where that connection between the different systems lies and how we can form solutions, yeah, within those systems.

MS SMART: Okay, thank you. I've got a little set of questions here about boundaries and giving feedback to people. So again I think we might start with you, Lottie. 'How do I encourage other services or other workers to be responsible for their part of the work and not push it back onto me?'

MS TURNER: M'mm.

MS SMART: This is such a common one, isn't it?

MS TURNER: Indeed. And it - you know, I think this feels like a really hard slog sometimes in practice. I go back to intentionality of communication as being a big one here, and the other one for me is really unearthing some of those stealth expectations. Yours and others'. So, you know, you might be painting a picture in your head of what accountability looks like, but don't assume it looks the same for your colleagues; that their picture looks the same. So I mean I would really encourage you to speak to your colleagues to create a space in which you're normalising these sorts of conversations to say, you know, I'm keen to connect about our joint client work together and talk about how each of us contribute and work together for the best outcomes; I want to hear your perspective on what good joint client work looks like. As them what they value about your contributions to that work, and share what it looks like to you, what you value about the way in which they work. You can look for synergies in your perspectives. And I think importantly what you're doing there is demonstrating that you're interested in hearing what your colleague has to say and what their views are, and that's creating a space in which you can then have an open conversation about expectations, and to have those expectations reality checked when they don't necessarily align. I think, regardless, it's about building a culture of communication and feedback regarding process, and I think so often in partnership we see a really active investment in the outputs and activities of working in partnership, but what I would say is that the processes, the relationships that enable those activities and outputs to occur, and investment in that, is just as important. So what might it look like, and what might you need to regularly take the pulse of how you're working together, and how might you periodically draw upon and review that process over time.

MS SMART: M'hmm. Thanks. So, Marika, perhaps you can give us some examples from your work or from Mabels to answer this question. 'How do I depersonalise feedback to our partners to create a constructive conversation that moves away from blame?'

MS MANIOUDAKIS: I think a bit of this was covered in the video that you also showed at the start of this webinar, that spoke to some of the structural barriers. There's also, I guess, the issues of different organisations working together, the roles and responsibilities of different practitioners, and some of the systemic issues that practitioners find themselves working within. So I guess looking at opportunities that depersonalises it from just practitioner - like from practice, and more to those kind of broader issues, is really important. I guess the way we do that in Mabels is to create collaboration at all levels within the organisation. So there's multiple opportunities for practitioners to be working together and spending time together. It is an investment of time and resources to be doing that. Some really easy ways, I guess, that we do that, is the Mabels team will still go to the maternal and child health clinic, even if they don't have appointments on that day, just for the purpose of spending time within the shared space; shared professional development opportunities - some of them are formal, some of them are informal, but I guess taking it beyond that to having team leaders and coordinators or managers also spending time together, learning from each other, understanding the different pressures on each of our services or our, yeah, systems, and I guess then supporting that at even higher level, from senior management. I guess we are talking about time intensiveness and resources that are needed in an ever-changing landscape, so to be able to maintain a healthy relationship that remains committed to that ongoing partnership, and the investment that that really kind of needs is really important. And I guess through all of those opportunities to have mechanisms of where to feed up feedback, or to problem solve challenges, or to have to come up with solutions, yeah, having those healthy kinds of robust mechanisms we've found to be really useful in our work.

MS SMART: Yep. Thank you. I think you can forget that people are - you know, the organisational context matters, and people aren't in this by themselves, so yeah, great to remind us about that. So we've got - I'm seeing a whole lot of asterisks pop up on this question, which means this is a pretty important one, and I'm glad, because I wanted to ask this one. So there's a couple of questions here about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships or working with First Nations organisations. So I'm going to start, Lottie, with you. What does a non-Indigenous organisation need to consider in order to create a successful partnership with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation?

MS TURNER: Thanks, Jess. Great question. And I think first let me start by saying that as a white woman working for a mainstream national organisation with the mic on this question, my role is to really elevate the power and voice of Indigenous leadership in this space. So for the folks who are interested in this work, and it's critically important work, I would encourage you, if you haven't already done so, to listen and/or read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I think that provides a pretty clear call to action to White Australia, so I would encourage you to reflect on what you hear and read ah in that statement around self-determination and what the implications of that might be in your work and in your work with others. Once you've done that, I'd really encourage you to look at some of the great resources that exist out there that have been developed in this context, so the work of Mark Yettica-Paulson on deep collaboration for instance. If you're just at the early stages of thinking about a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and community-controlled organisations, if you are deep in a partnership at the moment and wanting to take the pulse of how your partnership's going, using tools like SNAICC's partnership audit tool is an exceptional resource in this space, but I think to circle back on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. My own perspective is that in this work, in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, community and community control must be at the heart of those partnerships in order to work towards self-determination, we have to be working towards that, and that takes doing things like rumbling with power so again going back to some of the points I made in my earlier remarks about what it takes to do a bit of an audit on the power that you are currently sitting with, the power that your organisation, the institution, the system you're working within has and what it might take to really rumble with that, and they're hard conversations and that I want to acknowledge but are really critical in working effectively and to, again, as I say, have community and community control at the heart of what you're doing and that may involve waiting until you're invited to work in partnership and to work effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

MS SMART: Thanks Lottie. I just lost my sound for a second there so hopefully everyone else can still hear, thank you for that. And thank you yes really important things to think about, I think, I have a great question that's come through on power which I don't think we're gonna have time to, so that's just a little teaser for everybody that is gonna need to get the follow up content. Marika, I have a question here for you and it will be great to hear about your experience with Mables and working together here. How can an organisation ensure cultural safety for our First Nations people when forming a partnership?

MS MANIOUDAKIS: I would echo everything that Lottie just said also. And I guess just in simple words would be listen and respect the knowledge and experience about First Nations people. I might just jump into a lesson that we learnt quite early on in the Mables experience and because of our partnership with Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service and the knowledge that they were able and um trusted to share with us and that was the Mables model works brilliantly within a mainstream setting where women do trust the maternal child and health nurses for the health of themselves and their children and that they at some point do trust to disclose their experience of family violence, believing that it will help them access safety, and I guess a lesson that we learnt really early on was that that necessarily wasn't something that we could assume for Aboriginal women and their families and historically the health setting and families being supported to remain together was not necessarily an experience of Aboriginal community developing alternative pathways to exploring their experience of family violence became integral to the Mables model so it wasn't necessarily that referrals would come through maternal child and health services, sometime they would more often than not come from Aboriginal organisations within the region. If mothers with young children, we could work with them to engage them with maternal child health wherever safe, it was - it was able to provide a legal program that does have that extra confidentiality that could listen to disclosures of family violence and provide an alternative response to the child protection response which isn't necessarily safe for Aboriginal women and their children, I guess being flexible to think outside of the trusted systems that White Australia is - perhaps finds more comfortable was a huge learning for us in terms of Mables and I think we're only ever at the start of our knowledge and our experience so making sure that we're being guided about how to continue that work in the future and the safest way to ensure that Aboriginal women and their children, or mothers of Aboriginal children are supported to seek safety for themselves and their families.

MS SMART: We've got a question here, what have been your most challenging moments in terms of building service collaboration?

MS TURNER: For me personally I think, and I haven't spoken about this in the webinar yet, but my own scarcity mindset has been one of the most challenging things I have not yet overcome and have to continue to work on and I think we're all operating in a culture and system of scarcity from the very peak of our systems to the very grass roots of community advocacy and activism. There's never enough time, never enough resources, never enough buy in when it comes to collaboration and I think how that plays out for me when I'm stuck in scarcity is that I defend my turf and I do that particularly when I'm feeling really disempowered when I'm faced with uncertainty. This is really intentional work and sometimes I'm really bad at it, so I think it's important to name that just because I spend my days working ah in partnership and collaboration doesn't mean that I've got it nailed. It can be really tough. I'm fortunate enough to be working in a context where space is created and time is created for me to do some navel-gazed on that work and what it means for me. So I've really had to carve out that space in my own work to reflect on what my role is in what's hard, when I'm bunkering down and defending my turf, what's going on there? How is my behaviour either enabling or getting in the way of effective partnership and that might be internal partnerships within organisations that I've worked in or when I'm involved as a partner in collaborations or if I'm involved as a broker in supporting and enabling effective collaboration. Importantly I think it's also about me taking the time to consider what support and resources I need to call upon and ask for to see me through in that work and that can be really freeing. So for folks who have a familiar feeling of that on the webinar today, I would just really encourage you to ask for what you need. How can you use existing spaces and systems ah like supervision, to have those conversations, to start exploring that in safety. Sometimes line management isn't the best space for those sorts of conversations so think about what ah peer networks and trusted allies might look like, what does mentoring look like or involve in your particular context, I think working on openness and trust-building within partnering organisations can be as much an activity for within organisations as it is across a partnership, so again ask for what you need and if you can take whatever time you need to reflect on what that means for you. Journaling's a good one for me. You'll have your own tools that you're used to in this space, but yeah Jess, I think as vulnerable as that is for me to share, I think my own scarcity mindset is the biggest challenge in partnering for me.

MS SMART: M'mm, thank you for sharing that Lottie. Excellent to see you model the openness you know here with us on the webinar - no genuinely, thank you. And reflective practise is so valuable and I know that it's something that when you're working you know as a frontline practitioner you can feel like you don't have the time to do but it really is so, so valuable so thank you for reminding us of that. You've mentioned trauma-informed care and trauma-informed practise in your opening kind of to this webinar and someone has asked, 'Are there plans to roll out trauma-informed care through justice, health and human welfare sectors?'

MS MANIOUDAKIS: I might start with the personal approach to that definitely is - - -

MS SMART: Please.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: - - - um a passion that drives me to stay, to do the work that I do, I think working within the intersection of justice, health and human welfare is a really tough space to be - and to be consistently observing and the trauma that's, yeah, impacted on - experienced by women and children and other people within our community, so if it was up to me personally it would be rolled out across each of those service systems, and I guess also just the work of Eastern Community Legal Centre and the Mables program, but also a number of other integrated legal programs that we do run. We have been able to test in practise what that trauma-informed practise can really look like within a legal service and in collaboration with our partners and I think there is no doubt in our mind as a legal service but also in my mind through my role that some of the outcomes that we've been able to achieve for women and their families would not have been able to be achieved if not for that trauma-informed approach. The legal system can in itself be a source of trauma and really supporting people to have the language around that and to be advocating with them for processes that are able to consider the impacts of their trauma and to make the whole system response safer for them so that they can remain engaged with the legal system, definitely enables people to remain connected with the legal system who would otherwise be unable to or be safe to, so that's our plan. That's our advocacy, yeah how we bring together all those three different areas and with the trauma‑informed approach.

MS SMART: M'mm thank you. Okay so I have one last question. So, this person has said, 'Our relationships with partners,' I'm gonna through this to both of you so listen up, 'Our relationships with partners involve inherent power inequities because we do not start from the same level playing field. How do we acknowledge them, talk about them and make sure these inequities do not diminish partnership efforts?'

MS TURNER: Yeah, this of course - yes. That is the reality of the world we live in, the systems we work within and in part I think you've answered your own question. It's - yes you've asked how but I think just trying to have those conversations, start having those conversations, they're awkward conversations, they're hard conversations, naming them as such I think don't feel as though - like there's no such thing as a perfect process to start exploring them and I think the fact that you can name them, you can name power inequity and the fact that you're coming to a partnering table with different levels of power is opening a space for that dialogue to occur, and don't forget there are lots of different forms of power, so facilitating a process where you can each reflect on the other's power that you bring to the partnering table, and partnering work, I think what is often can be not silenced but not seen in the work of partnerships so when community is a critical partner, whatever 'community' is in your working context, and often in my experience working with complex collaborations across sectors and with the communities in which those sectors are embedded is that community members aren't often at the table at all in that process and if they are, community is often sitting with the feeling that they're really disempowered in that setting because of the institutional, the knowledge-based power, the authority-based power that also sits around the table. So, rendering visible the personal and informal power that community brings to a partnership is really important in that context. So being able to name and elevate the voice of community. The connections that community member has with a wider community and the, frankly the legitimacy of work that can occur by having partners and representatives of the community in which you're embedded at the table having an active and equitable voice, so it's a tough question to answer but it is really I would just encourage you to start having the conversations. Name the fact that you're awkward and they're hard, but name the fact that you're, you think they're really important conversations to be having and just keep doing it, is all I would say to that.

MS SMART: Thank you. Marika, did you want to add anything to that?

MS MANIOUDAKIS: Yeah I might just take it to like a maybe a practitioner powered kind of

MS SMART: M'mm, yep.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: - - - where I think there are so many layers both within who we are as individuals and um our own individual experiences, power within our disciplines, power within the time we've spent within an organisation, power because of the type of organisation that we work in, so Eastern Community Legal Centre is a multi-disciplinary legal service. We're still transitioning I guess culturally to what that multi-disciplinary legal service looks like, but I guess there is unspoken power just by working in a legal service that in the end, the legal kind of framework that we'll automatically just have power and I think as Lottie mentioned earlier and the challenges of collaboration, it's where do you go to when there's challenges or when you need safety, and often it's within the safety of your own power as a service or as a professional or as an individual. So, that can be really hard to unpack and I think one of the things that I've learnt just in terms of managing the programs is supporting individuals to go through that experience where they find a challenge and then realise that they're - they then rely on their own power to feel safe and the way that that - what that looks like in practise and how you can support practitioners to experience that and feel that and form strategies to work through that integrated practise, apart from my own tears, the amount of tears that practitioners are often in just because of working through those challenges, it sometimes hit the very core of who they think they are, um the power that they think that they have and their need to perhaps, their reliance on that power to be able to control situations, especially as a practitioner really kind of comes to the forefront, so I guess I would suggest - I guess the strategies we implement is really safe spaces to be able to address those. So offering individual I guess reflective practise opportunities for individuals who are affected because of the work that they're doing within this space. We have program-based reflective practise sessions that are externally facilitated, that have a trauma-informed approach to the way we're delivering service. So really take it away from professionals and disciplines and take it to focusing on the client and providing a trauma-informed practise which can help break down the power of individuals or systems or disciplines and then really good kind of supervision and support opportunities within the organisation that really do support practitioners to be able to identify where that power is and their response to it.

MS SMART: Yep. Thank you. Thank you both. I think we're gonna leave it there and I think that was a really good question to end on, so thank you both for sharing your wisdom and your experience and your vulnerability with us. That really was an excellent webinar and I learnt so much, so thank you both.

MS TURNER: Of course, thanks Jess, and I would just encourage people if they want to connect this is the start of the conversation for many people. They can reach out via Health Justice Australia's website which I think is in the resources connected to the webinar.

MS SMART: Great, thank you. Thanks Lottie, thanks Marika.

MS TURNER: Thanks.

MS MANIOUDAKIS: Thanks Jessica.

WEBINAR CONCLUDED

IMPORTANT INFORMATION - PLEASE READ

The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.

This webinar was held on Wednesday, 10 March 2021. Please post your questions and comments below.

Professionals working with children and families are often compelled to work together when they have mutual clients. Past CFCA webinars have explored the common structural, philosophical and communication barriers that can arise during these partnerships.

Building on these lessons, this webinar discussed various ways in which services are collaborating across the health justice landscape in Australia and break down the barriers to establishing successful partnerships. Specifically, it:

  • Summarised the evidence on how to engage in effective partnerships
  • Provided a case example of effective health justice partnership in practice
  • Featured an extended Q&A session, including live questions and questions taken at registration.

This event is of interest to professionals working in legal services, family violence and other health and social services.

Questions answered during presenter Q&A

To view the presenter Q&A, go to 35:34  in the recording

  • Where do I start in creating a partnership? How do I ensure it’s maintained? 
  • How do I work collaboratively with services that have competing and sometimes opposite agendas? 
  • Is it possible for a collaboration to overcome the disconnect between the focus of the family law system and child safety system? 
  • How do I encourage other services/workers to be responsible for their part of the client work and not push it back on me?
  • How do I de-personalise feedback to our partners to create a constructive conversation that moves away from blame?
  • What does a non-Indigenous organisation need to consider in order to create a successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnership? 
  • How can an organisation ensure cultural safety for our First Nations peoples when forming a partnership?
  • What have been your most challenging moments in terms of building service collaboration?
  • Are there plans to roll out trauma-informed care throughout justice, health and human welfare sectors?
  • How do you navigate partnerships where the partners have different levels of power? 

Related resources


Featured image: © GettyImages/SolStock

About the presenters

Lottie Turner

As Partnerships Director, Lottie is responsible for leading Health Justice Australia’s work to support effective practice across the health justice landscape, including through convening, brokering and mentoring health justice partnerships. A proud Kiwi, social worker and PBA accredited partnership broker, Lottie has spent 15 years working in health and human rights. She has led and supported complex organisational change initiatives, including the design and implementation of Cohealth’s inaugural Human Rights & Advocacy Framework; is a champion for LGBTIQ+ health and human rights, including through roles with Gay & Lesbian Health Victoria (now Rainbow Health Victoria), the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society and award-winning publication Archer Magazine; has been called on to provide advice on inclusion strategies and partnership brokerage during the Black Saturday bushfires recovery; and, in 2015, was named by Junkee.com as one of 200 young Australian changemakers.

Marika Manioudakis

Marika is the Manager of Family Violence Initiatives at the Eastern Community Legal Centre. With an educational background in Behavioural Science, Marika’s work over the last 12 years has primarily focused on improving the support available to women experiencing family violence, particularly through their experience of the legal system. This has included a number of roles at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Eastern Community Legal Centre, Court Network and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre. As the Manager of Family Violence Initiatives at the Eastern Community Legal Centre, Marika currently manages the Mabels, WELS, SAGE and HEAL programs, which seek to respond to the intertwined legal, family violence support and financial counselling needs of women and their children experiencing family violence.

Comments

Thanks this topic is timely
Carol Clark