The Communication Coordinator Network – New growth and deep roots in the Loddon Region
Grey Box tree of the Loddon region © Meg Irwin
Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service started the first Communication Coordinator Network. It has trained and supported Communication Coordinators for more than 10 years.
Communication Coordinators are disability support workers from day and accommodation services. They are skilled to give great communication support to people with communication disabilities and to improve environments, so that everyone can communicate.
The Communication Coordinator Network uses a capacity building approach. It has impacted on thousands of staff in disability-funded services. It has improved communication support and opportunities for hundreds of people with communication disabilities in the Loddon region.
How do Disability Support Workers become Communication Coordinators?
Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service forms partnerships with local disability-funded service providers.
Managers of services give their Communication Coordinator time to carry out Communication Coordinator tasks, and provide resources (such as a colour printer and communication apps). They agree to support communication access for all the people using their service – within and beyond their walls.
Each year, Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service offers training for 24 new Communication Coordinators. They may be from 24 different residential and day services across the region. Trainees attend a 6 day training course over two months. Twelve workers are accepted into each group.
They learn about communication basics, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), and how to observe communication and plan effective communication support.
They learn how to support people with sensory processing disorders or behaviours of concern.
They learn about the Regional Communication Coordinator Network and its powerful person-centred approach.
They practice communication skills, identify appropriate communication aids for people they support, produce aids, explore staff support strategies, and start improving communication access and support in their services.
At the conclusion of the course, new Communication Coordinators receive badges and certificates listing their new knowledge and skills.
Alice works in a respite accommodation facility. Three months after finishing her training, she reflected on her role as a Communication Coordinator and the difference it makes:
- Staff support participation regardless of speech ability
“Now everyone is involved in activities, even when they’re not verbal – e.g. playing Uno, staff play with them and explain how the game works and what’s going on – they also give them choices in what card they want to put down.”
- She has confidence and skills to try out communication supports
“I went through one communication app in our iPod, I created a YES and NO option and I tried it with one of our people who is not verbal. I asked her “do you want more dinner?” and she touched NO. I gave her a follow up question; “Are you full?” and she touched YES. It’s still a grey area for me until I see her communication plan and we need to spend more time with her using that app, so we know if that app really works with her.”
- She supports staff to implement communication strategies
“The last couple of weeks we have a new person staying at the house. I spent more time with her to get to know her and I think it went really well. And she has a personal communication dictionary in her support plan, so I printed it out with bright colour paper and laminated and showed it to the staff in the meeting.”
- She takes the initiative to seek person-centred collaboration with other services
“Now I’m contacting communication coordinators in day programs, so they can share with us our peoples’ communication plans.”
After training, what else?
The Regional Communication Service supports all Communication Coordinators (new or experienced), including:
- Quarterly full day training and collaboration meetings
- Phone and email support
- Site visits
- Whole service or other training or consultations
Christine Lambie has worked in a Castlemaine day service for many years. She trained in the early years of the Network and is still a Communication Coordinator.
“The Communication Coordinator Network has made a significant difference to the way we support participants at Windarring.”
- All the staff at the Service get to learn about communication support
“With Regional Communication Service-trained Communication Coordinators at three of our sites, all support staff have been made aware of the benefits of communication (including sensory) support for people with complex needs. “
- Many communication aids and strategies are provided
“Communication support we provide includes documents presented in Easy English format, Key Word Sign training, development of Choice & Request cards, sensory support plans, personal communication dictionaries, behaviour support strategies, communication evaluation using the Checklist of Communication Competencies, ‘Book About Me’, ‘Talking Mat’ and ‘Chat Book’ tools, introduction and instruction on electronic aids, and specialized training sessions.” *
- People with disabilities benefit
“Countless participants have grown in confidence, independence and social and emotional wellbeing as a result of this support.”
- Communication Coordinators learn and get support through the Communication Coordinator Network
“Networking with Communication Coordinators from other services provides unexpected ideas, solutions and support.”
Deep roots: New growth
Over the years, Southern Loddon Mallee Regional Communication Service has trained and supported approximately 250 communication coordinators.
At any one time, there are about 60 Communication Coordinators in the Network.
Not everyone who trained is still in the role. Many have moved into management, NDIS-related roles, or other positions in the disability field. Some have left the area. About 100 people trained as communication coordinators are active in the region in various roles.
This means trained Communication Coordinators (past and present) influence and build capacity in thousands of people in the region every year – people with disabilities and workers.
The Regional Communication Service has provided the necessary long term commitment to the Communication Coordinator Network. It has also provided expertise in communication and capacity building partnerships.
The Communication Coordinator Network provides an integrated and powerful collaboration so that everyone in Loddon region can communicate.
NDIS is bringing many new services into the region and is changing the context and nature of disability support work. There is lots more to do!
*Want to know more about some of the communication strategies Chris mentions? Enter them into the “search” box here: www.scopeaust.org.au