Welcome to Plumtree Professional

Plumtree is a trusted community-based organisation that provides online training delivered by our highly experienced and qualified team to professionals and teachers in:

– early childhood intervention
– family led organisations
– early childhood education and care centres
– schools. 

In 2018-19, through our Plumtree Learning division, we delivered professional development to over 550 people in 18 organisations in Australia and internationally. Based on our family-centred practice model and our Theory of Change, our training is evidence-based and our Now and Next program has been externally evaluated by the Centre of Community Child Health at Murdoch Children’s Institute.

Our aim is to work with other professionals so that together, we can build a society where children with disability are supported to have a full life in their community.

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How did Plumtree Learning come about?

Plumtree Learning is a joint venture between Plumtree and EGL.

Dr. Annick Janson, a Clinical Psychologist and Research Director Plumtree Learning and Sylvana Mahmic, CEO Plumtree both had children with disabilities. Each family had been through the ‘system’ with both positive and negative consequences. Their personal and professional experience with family centred practice led them to explore this arena and develop new approaches, programs and resources that would build family capacity.

For many years, practitioners have been grappling with the challenge of how to build leadership in families with young children with disabilities and developmental delays, even though we know that starting this leadership journey early offers significant promise of fundamental and long-lasting change for families.

In 2015 Annick and Sylvana integrated their professional and lived experience to craft a program to radically transform families’ experience of the disability sector. For the first time in our sector they sought to embed evidence-based positive psychology principles to build empowerment and wellbeing for children and families through a more effective relationship with professionals.

The result is a range of programs for families and professionals, all emanating from the award winning Now & Next program which incorporates the Pictability™ program.


About the creators

Sylvana Mahmic is CEO of Plumtree Australia with over 28 years’ experience in the early childhood intervention field.

She has served on over 15 advisory groups, five Ministerial appointments, and been a member of the Disability Council NSW.  She has held executive positions on the Board of Early Childhood Intervention Australia NSW/ACT and was a foundation board member of Diversity Disability Alliance. Currently, she is a member of the Access Advisory Group NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, the NSW Family and Community Services Multicultural Advisory Group, Australian Museum Access and Inclusion Advisory Panel and the NDIA Independent Advisory Committee.

She is co-creator of the peer led Now and Next program, promotes peer work and has incubated two new peer led organisations. She is completing her PhD with a focus on individualised funding, an area of interest since 2009 when her son commenced with self-managed funding.

Dr. Annick Janson is an Associate at the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research, Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. Trained as a clinical psychologist and researcher in positive psychology, Annick focusses on changing the disability sector through family collective leadership.

She co-developed the evidence-based Now and Next award-winning family program and Pictability, a visioning system and training, both rooted in strength-based approaches. Designed to grow collective capacity, these programs are now implemented in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Finland for families to lean in and guide the current changes in the disability sector.

She is the recipient of the Gallup International Positive Psychology Fellowship and has authored over 50 peer-reviewed research publications.

Annick and her partner Rob have three talented children – one of them a successful artist with special gifts.

Living the family-centred practice model

As all professionals know, family-centred practice is central to the best practice approach in early childhood intervention (National Guidelines on Best Practice in Early Childhood Intervention, 2016).

Research on family-centred practice has led to an update of the model to highlight the element of intentional capacity building as a mediator of the benefits for intervention with families (Dunst, Hamby, Raab 2019, Dunst, Espe-Sherwindt, Hamby, 2019, Dunst & Trivette, 2009). The capacity-building paradigm uses a strengths-based approach to focus on building the supports, resources, experiences and opportunities for parents, children and families.

However, despite over 20 years of evidence reinforcing this approach, it is still common for families to experience traditional deficit-based models where professionals are situated as experts to the detriment of parental expertise.

We have addressed this by developing new programs and resources designed to promote greater family participation. Our training for professionals also uses the same capacity-building approaches we use with families. Capacity-building professional development is related to practitioners’ use of capacity-building family-centered practices (Dunst, Espe-Sherwindt, Hamby 2019). It is in the long-term interest of families that they have multiple opportunities for capacity building from the earliest possible time as this will lead to better outcomes for the child and family as a whole.

Training to enrich professionals’ skills at building partnerships with families can only carry us half of the way. Families need to build the bridge from the other side and prepare themselves for this partnership, stepping into a new space and positioning themselves as active partners. Now & Next shows how families learning together can create new discussions with professionals to bring about new outcomes for their child and families.

Working with the whole family

‘I believe early intervention organisations have always valued building the capacity of families, but we should be prepared to develop new ways to do it in partnership with them. The outcome we all want is independent, happy young adults who have strong foundations to lead meaningful lives contributing to their communities. But they can’t get there themselves. The skills, knowledge and vision of their family is critical.’

Sylvana Mahmic CEO Plumtree

Our Theory of Change

The Theory of Change visual explains the practical work we have undertaken towards achieving our family-centred practice goal.

We started our work at the bottom left of the visual by reviewing our evidence base which we list here.

Then each theme builds as we reach the top where we demonstrate the outcomes for our Theory of Change.

This family capacity building initiative works on 3 groups of people as shown in the illustration – each has a part to play in our ultimate outcome, which is building family capability through participation.

1. With participants who do the Now and Next program to achieve goals for their child, family or self [Right column]

2. With families who graduate and continue their leadership training as Peer Workers [Mid column]

3. With professionals who support families’ will to lead the teams which will support achieving their goals for their child and family [Left column]


Research data collection

Our research follows each of these three groups of people as they engage, train and expand their knowledge and become part of collective communities. Data is collated in real time throughout the sessions for quality control and to ensure that participants’ experience is optimal. Our evaluation framework includes standardised tools that measure the impact of our work. We are gradually building data for each level and you can follow our progress by exploring this pdf research link.

We continue to build on our research and welcome research partners to join us to promote connections, ideas and collaboration that informs future developments of Now & Next. Read about our Research Symposium here. Click here for more details about our Theory of Change and review a list of our publications and presentations organised within our Theory of Change categories.


External evaluation by Murdoch Children’s Institute

We needed the big picture, so we contacted the Centre of Community Child Health at Murdoch Children’s Institute to do a process and outcomes evaluation of Now and Next. The institute is the largest dedicated to child health research in Australia and one of the top five in the world.

Now and Next Program Global Benchmark Analysis

The evaluation covered 15 Now and Next groups run between January 2017 to March 2018 that included 154 families. It looked at whether the program was delivered as intended if it was reaching the target groups and the participants’ experience. It also assessed participant outcomes: if they achieved their short-term goals, became empowered and had an increased sense of wellbeing and positivity. Data was collected via online surveys at the beginning and end of the program and during the program by the peer facilitators.

A Reference Group and Internal working group helped provide guidance and feedback to the evaluation. Among the former were representatives from the Department of Premier and Cabinet; Aging Disability and Home Care; Early Childhood Intervention Australia NSW/ACT; the National Disability Insurance Agency; and Family Advocacy NSW.

Click here for the Executive Summary of the results and here for a blogpost on the topic.

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