FAST in Australia

“FAST is such a part of who I am now. FAST opened so many doors for me. I was at home with my children when I was attending the program. After the program – and then becoming a Coordinator – I was given a job at the school to support families and run playgroups. FAST has helped me to become more confident in myself, and I am doing things I never thought I would do.” – Sharon, FAST Australia Parent Graduate and Coordinator

The FAST program was implemented in Australia in 1994. In its initial stages, FAST served urban areas of Melbourne on the Eastern side of Australia. Cherie Coote, who led the program in Melbourne, developed a close-working relationship with Dr. Lynn McDonald, the founder of FAST, who visited Australia on many occasions to assist with FAST trainings. After many years of leadership, Ms. Coote handed the reigns over to Mark Boonstra. Mr. Boonstra’s work at FAST was both exciting and challenging as he delivered programs to remote areas and Aboriginal Communities throughout the Northern Territory (NT).

When Mr. Boonstra moved to Tasmania years later, he continued to lead the work of FAST in Australia through Impact Communities and handed over the NT program to Mal Galbraith. In his ten years with FAST, Mr. Galbraith has developed an amazing team which has been integral to FAST’s expansion into Darwin, Katherine, Arnhem Land, and Alice Springs.

In 2000, FAST came to Perth, Western Australia. This was accomplished under the direction of David Roberts and Heather Jefferies, two very passionate people working to support change in the community and the sector. After Mr. Roberts left his position as CEO of the organization which held the training rights for FAST, Justine Roberts and Fiona Lee maintained the program for several years until another lead agency, CLAN Midland, was sourced. CLAN Midland has now been supporting FAST in Western Australia for eight years and has been critical to developing and training FAST programs in other parts of the country.

Currently managed by Mr. Boonstra, Mr. Galbraith, and Mrs. Lee, who collectively have over 40 years of FAST experience, FAST programs and trainings continue to be successfully rolled out across the country (with a particularly strong focus on Baby FAST). Funders are always looking for new and innovative programs, and while obtaining funding is not without its challenges, FAST’s 30th anniversary milestone and international impact are testament to the strong foundations and underpinnings of the program created by Dr. McDonald.

This impact is highlighted by FAST at Middle Swan Primary in Western Australia, where the program has been running for 18 years – and counting.

FAST at Middle Swan Primary, the second school site in Western Australia, started in 2001 with support from Parkerville Children’s Home contributing to its success. Their model of training and delivery was also very supportive; having their staff regularly on the team added to the stability, and it is a model that continues to be used.

The first impressions of the program were of awe and wonder, especially at having parents and children come together after school to share a meal and activities. The often-large number of children in attendance added to both the fun and the challenges of the program.

Overcoming two (non-consecutive) years where there was no funding for the program (with FASTWORKS continuing during these times), FAST at Middle Swan Primary has served around 180 families and is now a part of the fabric of the school. One of the keys to its success is the number of parents who have gone on to further their education and employment after participating in FAST. Danielle and Sharon are two such parents.

After graduating from the FAST program, Danielle went on to become a FAST Parent Partner and is now a fantastic Coordinator of FAST and FASTWORKS at Middle Swan Primary, in addition to duties traveling to other schools to serve as a mentor to new Parent Partners.

Sharon, who participated as a parent in the program twice, became a FAST Coordinator and is now in-training to become a FAST Trainer. She attended the 2017 FAST Australia National Conference and presented her story at Parliament House. Sharon reflects on her FAST experience, recalling, “Attending the FAST Australia Conference in the Northern Territory and speaking at Parliament House was a huge highlight. [Another highlight is] to be able to be a role model to my daughter [and show her] that when you put your mind to anything it can be done. I enjoy empowering other parents and parent partners to explore their own journey. I love meeting new families and watching them grow from week to week and also seeing the connections they make. There is no doubt that running FAST can be really challenging, but each program is so exciting and different that it all makes it worth it.”