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Social Work news archive

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SPAHC academic has given evidence before the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System

The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System has continued it’s important work this year, despite challenges in conducting public hearings due to COVID-19. Dr Melissa Petrakis, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work, has appeared as an invited Witness to speak to the theme of 'Hopes and aspirations of the mental health system'. Her Witness statement has just been released and forms requested, formal evidence before the Commission that will inform ongoing work and the final report.

In addition to her lecturing role, Melissa is a Senior Research Fellow at St Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne). She has recently been appointed to a review of their model of care to be conducted between August and December this year. Melissa is the Chair of the Board of Tandem, the peak body in Victoria representing organisations and individuals advocating for family and friends of people living with mental illness. She has this year conducted two statewide zoom forums, to have Commissioners meet with carers and answer their questions, that are publicly available online.

Melissa has spent more than 10 years researching the needs of individuals experiencing mental distress and their families.

Implementation science 3.0: the third decade

At the end of May, Prof. Aron Shlonsky, Head of the Social Work department, was involved in a webinar which attracted around 500 participants, titled “Implementation Science 3.0.The webinar was the 1st of a 4 part series of online events prepared by the organisers of the 2021 Evidence and Implementation Summit. The co-editors of the recently published book Implementation Science 3.0  Bianca Albers, Robyn Mildon, and Prof. Aron Shlonsky, discussed pertinent questions that researchers, practitioners, and policymakers will face in moving forward in a new, third decade of implementation science. Click here to access the Webinar.

Compulsory income management study

Income Management (IM) was introduced in Australia in 2007 as part of the former Australian Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). It has since been expanded to include young people and other groups considered ‘welfare dependent’ under trials in several states and territories. IM quarantines a proportion of social security payments, including income support payments such as Australia’s Newstart Allowance and Family Tax Benefits.A/Prof. Philip Mendes form the Department of Social Work is involved in a study, which aims to understand the lived experiences of those who are subject to compulsory income management, and feed these findings back to policymakers. You can read more here.

Implementation science 3.0 Webinar

At the end of May, Prof. Aron Shlonsky, Head of the Social Work department, was involved in a webinar which attracted around 500 participants, titled “Implementation Science 3.0. The webinar is the 1st of a 4-part series of online events prepared by the organisers of the 2021 Evidence and Implementation Summit. The co-editors of the recently published book Implementation Science 3.0  Bianca Albers, Robyn Mildon, and Prof. Aron Shlonsky, discussed pertinent questions that researchers, practitioners, and policymakers will face in moving forward in a new, third decade of implementation science. Click here to access the Webinar.

Placement experiences from the front line during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Second year Master of Social Work student Jacinta Woehl, featured in an insightful LENS article, sharing the ups and downs of her placement experience during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“My placement was with a Forensic Mental Health team (FMHiCH) at a Monash Health Community facility in Dandenong. The placement continued through COVID-19. Our clients are referred to us from Corrections Victoria and are on a Community Corrections Order, which is designed to support them function in the community and reduce their risk of recidivism.

We work with them until the end of their order. The support we offer includes social work, mental health nurses, psychology, exercise and physiology, and speech therapy.

I started on 17 February. COVID-19 was known about, but there were no restrictions. In my fourth week, I was planning a forum for forensic mental health clinicians for April. I started planning on the Tuesday, but by the Thursday I had to shut it down. In those few days everything changed very quickly, and I wasn't sure if my placement would continue.

This role would usually be very hands-on, meeting with our clients face to face, but it changed in March to phone assessments. It made it more difficult, because being able to read their body language makes quite a big difference to the assessment of their presentation. Phone assessments also make it difficult to draw out some of the information we need. In some ways, that has been a bonus, because it's been about honing in on those skills that you normally wouldn’t be putting into practice. It's more difficult to assess the client, but we're gaining new skills.

The clients were not generally affected. Some found it easier to talk on the phone because they didn’t have to find their way to us from where they were living. Some were homeless or live in boarding houses. Some hadn't been as engaged because they didn’t have to pick the phone up, but generally we're doing quite well with client engagement.”

Cashless welfare is doing more harm than good

New research from has found cashless welfare and other forms of income management are having negative mental health impacts on users due to stigma and people are struggling to buy essential items. Listen to comments from Social Work’s Associate Professor Philip Mendes on  ABC Eyre Peninsula and West Coast and 2CC

Social Worker joins review panel

Dr Melissa Petrakis has been appointed to the Asia Pacific Journal of Social Work Development Peer Review Panel due to her recognised 'experience in research and publication, particularly in the Pacific region'. In this role in 2020 she will contribute to review of the journal’s peer review process, advise on editorial policies for the journal, and has been asked to suggest the theme for a forthcoming special issue. The journal is noted to be the longest established and continually publishing journal that addresses the nature, role and character of social work and related fields across Asia and the Pacific. The journal has been edited and produced as an official publication of the Department of Social Work, National University of Singapore, across the almost thirty years of its life. It is published by Taylor Francis in the United Kingdom.

Final report Launch for Social Workers

Last week, Judge Amanda Chambers, President of the Children's Court of Victoria, and Magistrate Jennifer Bowles formally launched the Final Report of the Crossover Kids study entitled, 'Crossover Kids: Effective responses to children and young people in the youth justice and statutory Child Protection systems'. Authored by Professor Rosemary Sheehan and Dr Susan Baidawi, the Report presents the findings of a Criminology Research Grant-funded study from the Australian Institute of Criminology, with additional funding from the Victorian Department of Justice and Community Safety.

The report explores the outcomes faced by children who experience involvement with both child protection and youth justice systems in Victoria. Grounded in a two-year study with the Children’s Court of Victoria, the report presents a cohesive picture of the backgrounds, characteristics, and pathways traversed by 'crossover children'. It makes recommendations for improved prevention, diversion, and responsiveness to the unique needs of this group of vulnerable children.

The Final Report and  Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice summary article are both available on the Australian Institute of Criminology's website.

From left to right: Dr Susan Baidawi, Children's Court President Judge Amanda Chambers, Magistrate Jennifer Bowles, Magistrate Fiona Hayes, Professor Rosemary Sheehan.

Celebrating Success

Social Work’s Dr Susan Baidawi has been awarded an Australian Research Council DECRA Award for a study investigating the phenomenon of children who cross over from statutory child protection systems into youth justice systems. Through an analysis of Children’s Court files and international policy, this study will generate new knowledge regarding the characteristics and trajectories of crossover children. The findings will inform novel and effective approaches to preventing and responding to the drift of children from child protection into youth justice systems, improving social and economic outcomes for young people and the broader community.And finally for the Social Work department, Melissa Petrakis has recently been elected to the Board of Tandem, the peak body for mental health carers in Victoria. This appointment is testament to Melissa’s research in the area of carer responsive practice and practice-based research, and for recruiting and nurturing HDR study in this area.

ARC Linkage Grant for Social Work

The Department of Social Work’s Emeritus Professor Chris Trotter, Professor Rosemary Sheehan and Professor James Ogloff from Swinburne University have recently been awarded an ARC Linkage Grant in partnership with NSW Juvenile Justice. The project aims to examine the effectiveness of an innovative NSW government program which seeks to enhance the safety and rehabilitative culture of juvenile detention centres by increasing staff interpersonal skills through specialist training, coaching and supervision. The study is significant because little research has been done on this issue and it is an issue of urgent community concern as exemplified in recent government inquiries. Expected outcomes include a template for good practice in detention centres in Australia and internationally. The results can lead to improved practices in youth detention with benefits for this highly disadvantaged group of young people and in turn for community safety.

PhD success

In late May, the Social Work department graduated 3 new PhDs: photographed from left: Dr Josy Thomas, Dr Euan Donley and (far right) Dr Wendy Rollins. In the centre are proud Department of Social Work colleagues Dr Melissa Petrakis (main supervisor for Josy), Dr Catherine Flynn and Dr Samone McCurdy.

Josy Kadavil Thomas' thesis is titled: "Family Burden and Social Support in Mental Illness: A Comparative Study in Schizophrenia and Mood Disorders".

Euan Robert Donley's thesis is titled: "Risk Assessment and Management of Psychiatric Patients in the Emergency Department during a Mental Health Crisis" (Main supervisor Professor Rosemary Sheehan).

Wendy Elizabeth Rollins' thesis is titled: "Social work - client relationship practice: exploring social worker perspectives" (Main supervisor Dr Deborah Western).

Grant Success – Social Work

Associate Professor Philip Mendes, Dr Bernadette Saunders and Dr Samone McCurdy from the Department of Social Work, with Dr Rachel Standfield from the Monash Indigenous Centre have received a grant worth $128,462 from the Trustees of the Sidney Myer Fund to support their Indigenous Care Leavers in Australia: A National Scoping Survey project.

VICSERV is the peak body for the Mental Health Community Support Sector in Victoria.


The organisation publishes a newsletter called 'Factsline' and a peer-reviewed journal called 'newparadigm'. In June 2017 the newparadigm Journal Editorial Group put out a Call for Abstracts for the Spring/Summer edition of the journal. The edition set out to explore 'leading edge sector and consumer led research as it is applied to mental health and cross sector approaches to practice'. This was exciting to me since many of the HDR students in the Social Work Department are pursuing practice-based research and are mid-way through their candidature - potentially with results to share of relevance to the field for practical application; so there is a wonderful sense of immediacy in sharing findings with the field with this opportunity.
Proudly I can share that Monash University dominates the issue! There were 4 publications accepted:

  • The Reasons for Use Package: how mentoring aids implementation of dual diagnosis practice by Kevan Myers (PhD student), Simon Kroes (MPhil student), Sarah O’Connor (Neami National) and Dr Melissa Petrakis
  • Cultural humility training in mental health service provision by Mayio Konidaris (PhD student) and Dr Melissa Petrakis
  • Recovery co-design and peer workforce development in the acute inpatient setting by Jacinta Chavulak (Honours graduate 2015), Liam Buckley (Senior Lived Experience Peer Worker, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne) and Dr Melissa Petrakis
  • Somewhere to be safe: women’s experiences of a women only Prevention and Recovery Care service by Karen Dixon (MPhil student), Alys Boase (CEO ERMHA), Professor Ellie Fossey (Monash, Head of Department, Occupational Therapy) and Dr Melissa Petrakis

As is noted in the Editorial by Debra Parnell, the Policy and Communications Manager at VICSERV, to introduce the selection of these 4 papers:

A number of the research initiatives presented in this edition focus on building capacity in order to improve practice and outcomes: a research collaboration between Nexus, Neami National and Monash University resulted in the development of a new approach to dual diagnosis capacity through the provision of training to improve dual diagnosis practice. In this research a dual diagnosis package – the Reasons for Use Package – employed a mentoring component, which assisted in confidence and knowledge following the training.

Another strong theme in the research showcased is around innovative models: Mayio Konidaris and Dr Melissa Petrakis outline the delivery of training on ‘cultural humility’ to enable mental health workers to critically reflect on their own values, attitudes and behaviours when working with culturally diverse consumers, carers and families. The evaluation of this innovative approach to improve assessment and recovery outcomes for people from culturally diverse communities found there were benefits to be gained at both individual worker and organisation levels, as well as for practice.

Also around innovative models: After identifying that half the number of people who were admitted to in-patient units through Emergency Departments were first time admissions and that half of those people experienced seclusion, an innovative pre-admission liaison program was established at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, using a peer worker as a central component of the intervention. Although the project drew on a small sample, it identified and confirmed that participants valued being informed, having contact with people who have a shared experience and having safe and positive links in the ward.

Across the research themes there is a focus on consumer perspectives as well as active participation in research: Researchers from Monash University, in collaboration with Ermha, analysed the feedback from women who accessed Victoria’s first women-only Prevention and Recovery Care (PARC) service, to inform further development of the program. The research found that residents had overwhelmingly high satisfaction levels with the program. This and other benefits identified from the model strengthen the calls for more women-only PARCs and other gender specific programs.

The papers can be found here

Dr Melissa Petrakis