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Message from FSSI’s Director

As the Coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, our commitment to our mission is more important than ever – A strong community supported by a diverse, high quality, responsive and innovative social services sector.

The FSSI Team has been working remotely since March 2020 however we will be returning to the office in February 2021. Like many other teams, we are planning our transition back to campus and new hybrid ways of working. The FSSI Team can be contacted via email and phone.

As we plan our return to campus, let’s look back at 2020…

January

We started 2020 with a long to do list and full of excitement about the year ahead. We were looking forward to welcoming new team members for our expanding suite of projects and initiatives and continuing to work collaboratively with teams across RMIT.

February

In early February FSSI and the Disability Service Commissioner hosted two visiting experts who were involved in the roll out of the registration scheme for social care workers in the UK: Marian O’Rourke Interim Director for Regulation and Standards, Northern Ireland Social Care Council and Fidelma Carolan from the Leadership Centre. During their visit, Marian and Fidelma met with representatives from State Government, peak bodies, service providers, unions, researchers and teaching staff to share learnings from the UK experience supporting the growth and development of the social care workforce. Click here to read our blog Valuing social care workers: The Northern Ireland Experience.

By mid-February, the Covid-19 pandemic was spreading quickly and FSSI – along with the rest of RMIT – was making plans to ensure that our team stayed healthy and safe.

March

By late March, RMIT’s City Campus had closed and the FSSI Team was working remotely. As we adjusted to our new “offices”, we set up new team routines to support each other and to stay connected including daily “Check In” meetings and weekly FSSI Quizzes.

April

Throughout April we adapted projects to the new operating environment and – thanks to the enormous efforts of RMIT’s vocational education teachers to transition programs to online delivery – the first cohort of Higher Apprentices commenced their studies.

We also started our vlog series with an interview with Member for Cooper, Victoria, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills and Shadow Assistant Minister for Aged Care Ged Kearney. The vlog series has featured diverse and inspirational leaders including former CEO of Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria Emily Maguire, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency Muriel Bamblett, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President Martin Bean, Victoria’s Disability Worker Commissioner Dan Stubbs and Family Safety Victoria CEO Eleri Butler.

May

By May, the FSSI team had successfully transitioned evaluation activities, adopting new ways to engage with diverse students including trainees in the Community Traineeships Pilot Project.

We also shared original and curated content with past participants of the Leadership Intensive Program via the Leadership Matters enewsletter.

June

In June – as Victoria’s case numbers started to rise – we worked with the FSSI Fellows and Friends to develop FSSI’s Beyond Covid-19 Research Strategy. The Strategy identified six key areas:

* Workforce transformations;

* Remodelling social service training;

* Adaptive leadership;

* Recovering from differential impacts;

* Digital transformation and the digital divide; and

* Capitalising on locality.

These six key areas have shaped FSSI’s research activity in 2020.

In June, 2 cohorts commenced in the DSS funded Reach, Train and Employ Project – led by the Council of the Ageing (COTA). FSSI is leading the evaluation of this project.

July

With the onset of Victoria’s second lockdown, FSSI and VCOSS started reaching out to community service organisations to find out how they were responding to the challenges of 2020. The Stories Into Evidence Project has helped to understand both the changes to “felt demand”, the nature of service adaptations and the effects of these adaptations – both intended and unintended – on people who access services.

In July, FSSI submitted a Progress Report that outlined activities funded by Keeping Our Sector Strong: Victoria’s Workforce Plan for the NDIS as well as other Government-funded initiatives.

August

In August, FSSI’s first PhD candidate – Liz Hudson – submitted her thesis. Liz’s research project – titled “Gateways and Gatekeepers: An exploration of the issues facing people with episodic disability as they access self-directed support under the Australian National Disability Insurance Scheme” – was supported by funding from Keeping Our Sector Strong: Victoria’s Workforce Plan for the NDIS. Liz talked to FSSI Director Micaela Cronin about her research in a vlog titled “An Appetite for Improving Mental Health Services”.

in August we commenced delivery of the 2020 Leadership Intensive Program, this time online, to 70+ leaders from the family violence sector. While not without challenges, the online delivery enabled leaders from across Victoria to participate in leadership development at a critical time. We also hosted our first “Fireside Chat” on mentorship featuring Sandi de Wolfe and Maree Walk and made a submission to the Mental Health Royal Commission to inform thinking around mental health workforce transformation.

September

In September we welcomed 8 students from RMIT’s Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and Master of Social Work programs who undertook their final placements at FSSI. During their time at FSSI, the students – Ritah, Kate, Jemma, Myolie, Matthew, Rachel, Lizzy and Dimitri – undertook a range of tasks including writing knowledge reviews and supporting evaluation activities. The students embraced a range of learning and development opportunities and also shared their insights on what they want from their leaders in the social service sector.

October

In October we farewelled FSSI’s Deputy Director – Research, Associate Professor Paul Ramcharan. Paul played a critical role in the development of FSSI, establishing and leading the Institute’s research and evaluation activities. In late October, colleagues and friends from across academia and the community sector met to recognise and thank Paul for his tireless work to support and strengthen the workforce and achieve better outcomes for service users.

In October 2 cohorts of students commenced the DET funded and VCOSS led Innovative Traineeships a further iteration to the Community Traineeships Pilot Project. FSSI is evaluating both of these programs.

November

As we emerged from over 100 days of lockdown, we were focused on reconnecting with family, friends and colleagues as well as completing our 2020 projects. We also started to make plans for the future including thinking about returning to campus in 2021.

December

December saw the Youth Action Research Group (YARG) from the Community Traineeships Pilot Project present their ideas to enhance to the traineeships program to the Project Management Group. A great achievement that will help to strengthen the program for future cohorts.

We also completed the evaluation of the 2020 Leadership Intensive Program and Leadership Network and completed our research on the impact of the NDIS on Victoria’s disability advocacy sector.

Supporting the workforce of the future

The Future Social Service Institute (FSSI) is a collaboration between the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) and RMIT University, supported by the Victorian Government. A core component of Keeping our sector strong: Victoria’s workforce plan for the NDIS, FSSI was established to “drive world-leading education, training and research for the disability and broader social services sector”.

This green strip features white text reading: The future Social Service Institute supports the social service workforce. Australia's fastest growing jobs sector - the workforce of the future.