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WomenCAN Australia & Peer Support Evidence + Research + Care = Success

WomenCAN Australia’s peer-support program, The Placement Circle (TPC), is based on more than 40 years of research.

This research has emerged from the deinstitutionalisation of the mental-health sector, driven by the global human rights movement.

It shows that women need three things to get back into the workforce:

To reskill for free through registered training organisations close to home and aligned to the local employment market.

Safe and properly paid jobs.

To be supported by women in their community with shared lived experience.

Advocates and academics including Shery Mead have taken a leading role in the development of peer support as a successful training and employment intervention, producing a hefty work exploring the evidence-based benefits: Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach (2014).  This was developed in the UK by McEnhill et al: The Work Foundation: Part of Lancaster University Disability Rights, (May 2016).

TPC draws on these and the many other thinkers who have established peer support as an effective part of returning to the workforce.

Peer support has key elements:

  • Our staff serve as non-peer mentors and facilitators, while women support each other in acquiring skills and education.
  • The participating women take responsibility for their own practices, support their peers, and take on leadership roles.
Rotary Show in Action

Part of the academic research informing peer-support programs was Learning by Doing, a guide to Teaching and Learning Methods (Gibbs G, 2013, Further Educational Unit, Oxford Polytechnic, Oxford.)

The international body of work gives us epistemological frameworks and, crucially, practical ways to provide the right conditions for success.

Such knowledge has extended into an increasing range of workplaces and led exploration into good work practices for general populations.

TPC is buttressed by evidence of what works, and by an understanding of why it works.

We understand that individuals learn in a variety of ways and have different work and study experiences, hence the mixed offering in peer support.

Many of our trainees have been carers for their children and other family members for many years and have not participated in formal education beyond school or employment.

Others are not long out of school. Still others are making mid-career changes.

Our mixed peer-support strategy has been developed to assist the trainees successfully complete the course and get a job.

The first element is completion of an Initial Needs Assessment (Identification). From that point, trainees with assistance of staff chart their journey, and gain knowledge about the various available supports.

WomenCAN Australia always seeks to evaluate how well the Placement Circle is working and iteratively improve it. We learn from what works best and then do more of it, using our experience to leverage the research.

Childcare trainees.

Program elements and operation

TPC staff are trained by WomenCAN Australia and receive their own ongoing support.

Such training helps maximise the program’s benefit, underpin confidence in staff and participants, and maintain consistency and quality. Our staff have been selected for their strong, sophisticated communication skills.


1/ Initial Needs Assessment:

  • Creates a conversation in which the women talk about their aims and potential barriers, and consider the overall supports and resources they might have available as they undertake their training and employment program.

  • Provides them with contacts they may need to manage barriers.

  • Builds trusts and establishes a relationship.

  • Sets the scene for the upcoming program, creating comfort to build relationships and gain confidence.

  • Initiates collaboration and demonstrates others are there to walk alongside on the journey to independence.

  • Sets up mutual and group benefits.

  • Helps shape a vision of a fulfilling, financially independent future.

  • Offers individual mentoring as part of building trust and confidence to take on leadership roles if desired.


2/ Online meetings:

  • Held online; two hours. All trainees on work duty are expected to be released to attend.

  • Will engage trainees who have been accepted into the program but have yet to be either employed or start the course with the relevant Registered Training Organisation. This sets up mixed skill sets and opportunities for wider experience and knowledge.

  • The agenda is constructed from discussions with trainees and staff from local settings.

  • Contain a learning element, with formal presentations on relevant or requested topics.

  • Support students to present an event that occurred in a workplace using the reflective cycle set out a decade ago by Gibbs in Learning by Doing, a guide to Teaching and Learning Methods.

  • Review learning challenges and successes and encourage structured thinking about solutions.


3/ Workplace meetings:

  • Conducted by WCA staff for trainees at local sites, using enquiry as a strategy.

  • Identify successes, as well as trainees’ learning and practical support needs.

  • Diagnose issues – using an action learning method – and intervene where a placement is not successful.

  • Develop and cultivate solid relationships with RTOs and group trainers.

4/ Diaries:

  • The Initial Needs Assessment establishes the value – as part of the process and for future reference – to trainees of them using a diary to record their goals, progress, and reflections during the program.

  • This is an effective way to record issues and nourish discussions and progress.

  • This is also of great benefit to the use in our peer support of Gibbs’ reflective practice, which involves individual trainees leading discussions or events in a monthly meeting.


5/ Study groups:

  • Support the development of group problem-solving and of knowledge on specific topics.

  • Online or site specific.

  • Build group connection.

  • Focus on the future.


6/ Leadership skills:

  • Model inclusive behaviour, facilitating pathways out of difficult situations, providing a navigator function.

  • Use the Mead tasks, set out in Intentional Peer Support: An Alternative Approach:

    • Connection with other peers providing introductions.

    • Exploring Worldview to assist the individual understand how we come to know what we know.

    • Mutuality – building trust in the peer group, redefining help as a co-learning and growing process.

    • Moving Toward – facilitating the individual to focus on what she wants, and looking at strategies to get there rather than moving away from what she doesn’t want.

  • Facilitated conversations focussing on ability rather inability, and on future-focussed, evidence-based approaches for the trainees in their work roles.


7/ Preparation for employment:

  • Mock interviews for applying for positions.

  • Supporting Trainees for employment interviews, including personal grooming.

  • Advice on creating a CV.


8/ WhatsApp:

  • WhatsApp is included in the package of peer support options for trainees and ancillary staff participating In Women Can Australia Programs (WCA).

  • We use WhatsApp to build connections between the trainees, encourage mutual support, and to establish and build trust.

  • The aim is to provide a personalised, informal setting to assist participants in their studies share how they have managed barriers. The group is designed to be peer-led, with general oversight by staff peer workers.

  • Sets the scene for independent learning.  

  • Initially the WhatsApp contacts may be as simple as lift-sharing or shift changes, however the target is to ask the trainees to use their diaries to identify issues that they may need assistance with and start conversations on WhatsApp. Peer-support staff monitor online chats to ensure the safety of trainees.

  • Trainees are encouraged to connect online with other trainees not located in their local area, and to particularly consider others who may be lone workers.

  • We keep the focus on activities that advance the group, with a focus on educational experiences and practical successes and challenges.

  • WhatsApp is used for the transfer of information between staff and trainees.

  • It also supports the formal study components of the course through the sharing of tips and experiences, including on subject content and assignments.

  • The group nurtures optimism, and provides opportunity for all trainees to contribute to meetings.

  • Keep trainees and peer support workers connected and informed.

  • A useful website for the trainees is WhatsApp scams to look for.  A number of scams are listed and provides access to other sites.


9/ Four-day employment skill-development:

  • Assists the trainee in reviewing their goal setting capacity.

  • Builds an understanding of communication styles and their impact on their work experience.

  • Reviews and plan workplace and team operating styles.

  • Reviews learning styles.

Early Years Training Program has launched in Shepparton

Women from diverse communities can now benefit from WomenCAN Australia’s proven peer-led support program and be paid to train on-the-job in childcare or kindergarten.