On 30 May 2019, approximately 250 professionals from across the WA family law sector gathered at the University Club of Western Australia for the WAFLPN Annual Conference. This year’s conference theme was “No One is Perfect: Exploring the connection between parenting capacity and children’s wellbeing”, which emerged from the feedback provided by attendees of the 2018 WAFLPN Annual Conference.
Tony Hansen’s daughters, Savannah and Montanna Hansen, opened the conference with a beautiful Welcome to Country which showcased the knowledge, talents and strong cultural connection of these young Noongar ladies. Tony Hansen then proceeded to impart some knowledge on parenting from an Aboriginal perspective, particularly highlighting the childrearing and cultural practices which differ from non-Indigenous Australian norms and understandings.
Tony, Savannah and Montanna Hansen were the first recipients of this year’s speaker gifts – intricate wooden paddle boards hand-painted by Aboriginal Mental Health Worker and artist Sally-Anne Gamble.
Master of Ceremonies and WAFLPN Chair Rod West then welcomed the Honourable Justice Gail Sutherland, Chief Judge of the Family Court of Western Australia, to perform the opening address. Her Honour provided an insightful reflection on this year’s conference theme and spoke about the role of the Family Court in identifying risk factors for parents and children.
The former Chief Judge of the Family Court of Western Australia, the Honourable Stephen Thackray, followed with a presentation on the Jiji Nyirti project. Highlighting the barriers preventing Aboriginal people from accessing family law services, the Honourable Stephen Thackray spoke about how the Jiji Nyirti (little children) pilot project in Newman sought to provide a culturally appropriate wrap-around legal service. The presentation concluded with some feedback from clients who had accessed this “Helping Court” and a look ahead at the future of the project.
Building on everything that had been shared thus far, Rohan Collard from Wungening Aboriginal Corporation talked about the various considerations that need to be taken into account when assessing the parenting capacity of Aboriginal parents and carers. Rohan provided valuable advice on working effectively with Aboriginal clients and emphasised the role of practitioners in supporting a culturally competent service system.
After a short morning tea break filled with lively discussion, delegates returned to the auditorium to hear from keynote speaker Rose Cuff, Statewide Coordinator of the FaPMI (Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness) Program in Victoria. Drawing on her extensive professional experience, Rose spoke about the importance of engaging and building positive relationships with parents living with mental ill-health based on a shared understanding of parents’ and children’s needs. As part of her presentation, Rose shared videos from parents and children talking about their lived experiences, which enhanced audience understanding of parental mental ill-health and demonstrated the effectiveness of appropriate and timely support.
It was then time to hear the President of the Children’s Court, Judge Julie Wager. Judge Wager spoke passionately and candidly about the Protection and Care jurisdiction of the Children’s Court and her hopes for future reform to support a more therapeutic court model.
After a varied and exciting first half of the conference, it was time to head outside to enjoy the pleasant weather and a delicious hot lunch. The foyer was abuzz with lively chatter as delegates networked with fellow professionals and shared their learnings from the conference so far.
As the lunch hour drew to a close, delegates poured back into the auditorium to hear from the next keynote speaker, Dr Margaret Spencer from the University of Sydney. Dr Spencer delivered an energetic and informative talk about enabling justice for families where a parent has learning disabilities. She expertly incorporated historical context, past and current research, her personal and professional experiences, videos interviewing families about their lived experiences, and a discussion of actions undertaken at state, federal and international levels to provide a holistic overview of the topic.
Finally, audience members got to hear the Department of Communities perspective on Parenting Capacity Assessments from Senior Consultant Psychologist Dr Veronica Edwards. As someone who has completed and supervised Psychology staff in the completion of Parenting Capacity Assessments, Dr Edwards provided a valuable perspectives that helped delegates situate the issues discussed throughout the conference within current policies and practices.
After another short tea break, delegates returned to the auditorium for a closing panel discussion with Judge Wager, Dr Veronica Edwards, Rose Cuff, Dr Margaret Spencer and the Honourable Stephen Thackray. Stephen Clarke expertly moderated the panel discussion, curating a selection of questions submitted by delegates via the conference mobile application throughout the day.
Too soon, the day drew to a close, marking the end of another successful WAFLPN annual conference. The WAFLPN Steering Committee sincerely thanks everyone who attended the conference in Perth, participated in one of the livestream events at Geraldton and Carnarvon, or livestreamed the conference from home. We invite you to provide feedback to assist us in planning for next year’s conference and look forward to you joining us for our conference in 2020.
If you missed the WAFLPN Conference this year, you can access speaker presentations, video recordings and additional materials shared by presenters on the Members Section of our website.