Eileen MacMahon, Family violence trainer and educator
Box Hill Institute
Box Hill Institute
Eileen has been in her new role as a community services teacher at Box Hill Institute for almost a year. She holds a Bachelor of Social Work from RMIT and completed a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.
While teaching is a major change of pace from her 28 years as a practitioner, she sees it as a great opportunity to share her wealth of skills and experience with others and help shape the future family violence workforce.
“Delivering training to students of community services is a big career change for me. As an educator, I try to link theory and practice, and I’ve got plenty of life stories I can use as examples with my students.”
Eileen’s interest in teaching developed gradually over many years working across different areas of family violence and mental health.
As an experienced practitioner, I spent more and more time supporting newer workers and enjoyed the mentor role. I also enjoyed engaging in research, keeping up to date with changes in the profession and developing my skills through further training. After a while, I realised I had a lot to offer and that as a teacher I could help future workers develop the skills needed to work in the family violence field.
This mix of passion, theoretical knowledge and practical experience enables her to provide students with real-world examples of how theory can be used to help create positive outcomes for clients.
“Having spent so long in acute crisis management situations I can give students the opportunity to reflect on their practice using case examples and we can explore a variety of intervention options.”
Whether teaching in the classroom or using remote learning, Eileen uses a variety of methods to help students develop the skills to identify and respond to family violence risk and integrate these skills with the latest theory and practice.
“In the classroom, I encourage role plays and active discussions about the impact of gender, power, intersectionality theory and the legal and ethical frameworks. Also, because I am MARAM trained we can unpack this and the differences it has made to the sector.”
Eileen has seen many changes in the family violence sector, particularly in the last 10 years: more support for worker’s physical and mental health, a greater variety of roles, more training and mentoring opportunities, and more men joining the workforce. Her belief in the power of collaborating to help people with the right interventions at the right time has stayed with her throughout her long career and is something that underlies much of the advice she gives to her students.
“Partnering with several organisations to offer holistic help to families experiencing family violence is a strong feature of my teaching. Often families face several issues; there could be legal, housing, counselling and financial concerns.
One of my strengths is bringing examples into the classroom and unpacking the information to consider what are the most effective responses. Reflective practice is critical to working in community services and it’s important that I showcase where things have worked but also identify deficits in practice and how else issues could have been managed.
While the family violence sector may have changed, Eileen feels that the qualities needed to work and succeed in the sector remain the same.
“You need to be patient and resilient; to have a calm nature and a calming influence. You have to be able to cope and adapt in uncertain situations, stay open to learning new things, and you have to stay on top of changes to legislation, policy and practice.
“There are so many opportunities to grow and learn as the family violence sector continues to change. For me, it’s about the attitude you go in with and your confidence in your own ability. You don’t need to have all the answers or know what to do in every situation, but you do need to be confident in your professional abilities and in the help and support that’s around you.”
After hours, Eileen maintains occasional shifts as an urgent response worker, which she does because she still enjoys the work and feels it’s important to stay connected to what is happening in professional practice.
When Eileen talks about family violence work with her community services students, she reminds them of the importance of being able to understand and help people who have experienced family violence as part of the bigger picture.
“Some of my students might be unsure about working in specific areas like family violence or drugs and alcohol. I always say to them ‘if you’re going to be working in community services, you’re going to have to deal with situations where there is family violence."
“It’s about learning how to intervene in the right way at the right moment. This is real social work – helping people at the most critical points in their lives so they are empowered to change their circumstances and move forward.”
Reviewed 18 February 2021