The Year in Review: The North West Communication Coordinator Network

The Northwest Communication Coordinator Network has been running for nearly 10 years! Two Speech Pathologists facilitate monthly meetings and site visits focusing on training, peer support and mentoring. Communication Coordinators from 8 different disability services are involved in the network. Communication Coordinators are Disability Support Workers who receive extra training and support to implement communication strategies in their service.  Communication Coordinators reflected on the barriers, enablers and successes of 2018.

A visual aid to support understanding and participation

Enablers to creating a culture of communication

Communication Coordinators listed many factors that promote a culture of communication at their services. A key factor identified was interest and support from staff. Communication Coordinators noted that having a collaborative and supportive team was essential in implementing strategies across the service. Support from managers was another factor that was identified as important. 

One Communication Coordinator stated that they have a supportive manager who is pro-active in promoting communication and that it filters down to the rest of the staff.

The monthly Communication Coordinator Network meetings were identified as highly valuable, as they provide the opportunity to share ideas and resources, receive specialised training and peer-support. Training on the topics of communication levels and appropriate strategies, sensory focused approaches, positive behaviour support and supported decision making were identified as appropriate and valuable. 

Communication Coordinators commented that the specialised support provided by the speech pathologists who facilitate the Network is highly valuable. One Communication coordinator said that receiving professional support in their own working environment provides an opportunity for practical suggestions that are relevant to their service.

Barriers to creating a culture of communication

Communication Coordinators identified the biggest barrier to creating a culture of communication at their services as insufficient time. Most Communication Coordinators are given one day per week away from clients to fulfil their Communication Coordinator role. It was reported that planning, creating and implementing communication strategies across the service needs more time than this.

Many Communication Coordinators noted that there is no time allocated for staff training. Training time would be invaluable in supporting staff to increase their knowledge and skills around communication. Another identified barrier was changes in service delivery attributed to the roll out of the NDIS. Some Communication Coordinators noted an increase in casual staff and decrease in permanent staff at their service. Many reported that this makes it difficult to implement consistent and sustainable communication strategies.

Achievements in 2018

There have been so many positive outcomes from the Communication Coordinator Network in 2018!

A strong theme has been increased opportunities for participants to make choices in daily activities. Two Communication Coordinators reported that participants are now choosing and purchasing their own drinks out in the community, where they were not previously. They reflected that participants are becoming more confident and independent.

Each monthly meeting includes Key Word Sign practice on different vocabulary, such as birthdays, holidays and football. Some Communication Coordinators have seen increased use of Key Word Sign by staff and participants at their service. One Communication Coordinator is a Key Word Sign presenter and another one is attending presenter training in January.

One Communication Coordinator has been heavily involved in NDIS pre-planning at their service. She has completed communication audits for each participant. These audits are used throughout the pre-planning process to identify goals, resources and services that would benefit the individual. A pre-planning Talking Mats set has been developed and a plan has been made for each participant to have a Talking Mats conversation prior to their next NDIS planning meeting.

Some cards for Talking Mats

Visual aids are common strategies used across services. One service has created communication boards to be used in every program. Another service has created a birthday calendar which is generating a lot of excitement; some participants are even making each other birthday cards. One Communication Coordinator has focused on supporting staff to use communication apps such as Tools2Talk+ and Key Word Sign Australia. They commented that staff are beginning to create their own visual aids for programs.

A big focus of the Communication Coordinator Network this year has been on how to successfully implement strategies. It can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure to produce lots of strategies and content but it is important to give each new strategy enough implementation time in order for them to be effective and sustainable. There have been ongoing discussions about the importance of working with staff in programs to modelling new strategies and seek staff input. Staff may require ongoing support to understand what a strategy is, how it is useful and how to use it with a participant. Giving enough time and support is essential for our work as capacity builders.

It is amazing to see such dedicated Communication Coordinators and we look forward to an exciting year ahead!