We speak with a Defence School Transition Aide

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For Defence Families with children, one of the decisions to be made on arriving in a new location is where to send children to school. Around Australia eligible schools  with Defence students have the Defence School Transition Aide (DSTA) (Primary School) and the Defence Transition Mentor (DTM) (High School) programs available.

The Defence School Transition Aide (DSTA) Program provides funding to support schools to engage a DSTA or DTM to support Defence students at the school. This support is particularly important when children transition in and out of a school and at times when parents are absent from home.

We wanted to find out some of the things a DSTA or DTM do to support Defence children and we were lucky enough to have Vicki Walsh, who works across two schools in Canberra talk to us.

Vicki, what type of activities do you coordinate to assist students from Defence families at your school?

At John Paul II College (JPC), we have weekly meetings where the students can come along, share some morning tea and have a chat with other Defence students. These are informal gatherings and the amount of students changes each week. The idea is that they are welcome to drop in and catch up with each other and discuss everything from ‘Dad or Mum being deployed for nine months to the ‘latest movie release’. We also hold ‘Coffee Club’ every week, which is exclusively for our Senior students (Years 11 & 12) and offers a smaller and more sophisticated setting.

At Holy Spirit Primary School, we run ‘DKC (Defence Kids Club) every week, which involves different activities such as obstacle courses, board games, puzzle solving, colouring in and cup cake decorating. Again, this is a voluntary activity and occasionally they can bring a friend along to join in on the fun.

Leading up to important occasions such as ANZAC Day or Remembrance Day, both schools participate in a variety of projects which enhance our Ceremonies and pay tribute to our current and past serving ADF members. These Ceremonies provide excellent opportunities for our Defence students to be involved with and to be recognized as important parts of our community.

Welcome activities, such as Defence breakfasts are held early in the year to provide opportunities for families to make new connections with their school and community and perhaps catch up with former workmates or family friends. Departing students are farewelled when they leave and are given tips and strategies for their new beginnings in another state or country.

A major part of my role is to raise awareness in our community of the unique lifestyle of Defence families and the significance of respecting, honouring and remembering our past and present serving members. A lovely example of this is our ‘human poppy’ for Remembrance Day in 2017, which our whole school participated in and received very positive feedback from the community.

We have a variety of excursions both within our 4 Parish Schools and with other schools around Canberra to the Australian War Memorial, other day excursions and outdoor adventures which involve team building, resilience activities and sometimes they even get to learn something!

What brought you to the DSTA/DTM role?

I had been a full time Mum to my four children for 11 years and I was ready to get back into the workforce. My background was hospitality and when I read the job description for the position, I knew it was me. Having a husband who had served for 15 years in the Australian Army and a Dad who was Royal New Zealand Navy in WWII, I felt a huge amount of empathy and passion towards the role. I informally describe my role as ‘part concierge, part mother hen and part confidant’.

I feel extremely privileged to be working with not only the children of ADF families but also their parents, some of who have become friends. I feel very humbled when parents speak with me about the latest ceremony they have attended or the bond I have with their child. But in reality, it is me who feels very honoured to be part of the support network for their family and for the very important and sometimes dangerous job that they do.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Every day is different and during the past five years, it has never felt like ‘a job’. My own children often joke about me loving my ‘Defence Kids’ more than them, as I am always bringing work home and they observe a lot of care which goes into my role.   I am constantly looking for activities and products to bring new adventures and experiences for my students. Each year brings something new to learn and improve on and I am as passionate now as when I started.

The toughest part of my position is saying goodbye to families as they move on to a new chapter of their lives when they are posted somewhere new. These times are even harder than all the devotion, time and concern, which go into our ceremonies.

I love that my Defence students feel comfortable and secure enough to approach me with any concern or situation bothering them or that they want to share in some good news with me.   Building relationships with my students and their families takes time and trust and for me, it is a privilege to be considered their safe haven, for whatever they are experiencing at that time.

I am very fortunate to work with an amazing kaleidoscope of DTMs and DSTAs in Canberra and we are very supportive of each other.  Being a DTM/DSTA often means you are working on your own as it is such a unique school position, however having a group of excellent colleagues who are happy to share ideas and advice is very positive.

Some periods of Defence life can be particularly tough (like deployments and extended absence). How are you able to assist Defence children to transition through this period?

At Holy Spirit, we run a ‘Friendship Group’ where the children of deployed parents meet weekly throughout their parent’s absence.  During these meetings we do activities, talk about our feelings; like anger, loneliness and or pride in their serving parent and we find out how we can help the parent remaining at home.  These groups are particularly important as they normalise what our students are feeling and allows them an opportunity to vocalise their emotions in a safe and mutual environment.

JPC presents a more challenging situation as high school and college life is extremely busy and students cannot always allow for time away from their studies. Again, this is where those fostered relationships come into play, allowing the students the security of knowing that someone is there for them and has their back when they need it. I make a point of regularly checking in with all of my Defence students, even if it is just a reminder that support is available to them.

Being a DTM/DSTA and hopefully being a part of a positive and successful journey through a Defence student’s school life, is a very privileged and rewarding job.

Find out where DSTAs and DTMs are located

Recent research on the effectiveness of the DSTA program




We want to hear from you

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DFA is reviewing what has been happening over the past 12 months in our local Defence communities.

In August each year, we meet with Defence policymakers in Canberra including CDF, Service Chiefs and the Minister for Defence Personnel.

In the coming months, our National Delegates will be meeting with Defence families across local regions to find out about your experiences with Defence life.

Last year we listened to the families in Puckapunyal talk to us about partner employment and location of housing. We spoke with Defence and the Minister and we now have a Puckapunyal Housing Trial in operation.

Read more here about the trial 🏠

We can’t always promise an outcome but we can promise that we will listen.

We’re looking for what’s working and what’s not working. We want to talk to you. We want to advocate for the programs that most benefit our families and the issues that most affect our families.

Keep an eye on your local DFA Delegate’s FB page for when they will be out in your regional communities.

If you can’t get to an event contact us via our social media pages on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or send an email to

Make sure you like your regional DFA page for local updates.

DFA Southern Queensland
DFA South Australia
DFA Northern Territory
DFA Northern Queensland
DFA Western Australia
DFA Victoria & Tasmania
DFA Central & Northern NSW
DFA ACT & Southern NSW

Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards

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Maree, our National Convenor and Michelle, our Communications Officer attended the inaugural Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Awards last night at Parliament House on behalf of Defence Families of Australia.


Maree and Michelle with Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans’ Affairs, The Hon Darren Chester MP.

The awards are a part of the Prime Minister’s Veterans’ Employment Program, which focuses on raising awareness with employers of the value and unique experience of Australia’s veteran community.

Additionally, there was an award for Excellence in Supporting Spouse Employment, which was won by the Westpac Group.

Partner Employment remains a key advocacy issue for DFA. The ADF Families Survey in 2017 indicated that the ADF partner unemployment rate is twice the national average. Underemployment is also a big issue for Defence partners.


The night was hosted by Virginia Haussegger AM and Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG. We were grateful to speak with Virginia about our advocacy work for partner employment.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke during the evening.

From the DVA website ‘The Australian Defence Force provides unparalleled experience and training, and our veterans make remarkable employees,’ he said.

‘[The awards] showcase a wonderful partnership between the private and public sector to highlight the value of our veterans to Australian businesses.’

At DFA we know that ADF partners also make remarkable employees and would like to encourage employers to think about how they can provide flexible employment solutions to suit our unique lifestyle. We know that ADF partner employment is a complex issue and we remain committed to improving this for our families.

Keep an eye on our website for more partner employment advocacy news in the coming months.

You can find all the award winners here

Read more about the awards night here





Partner Employment Initiatives

Partner employment remains our top advocacy issue when we talk with families around Australia. 

Thank you to everyone who attended the PwC ADF Spouse Networking event in Canberra on Tuesday.

For those that were not able to attend, we want to share with you some of what happened on the night.


Staff from PwC shared with attendees information about the new Managed Professional Services arm of their business with Defence and the potential employment opportunities that will at this stage arise from July.

Canberra is the first location where roles will be available, with Adelaide likely the next location. These positions will vary from administration, finance, supply chain work through to management level.

Staff shared that enhancing their diversity and inclusion is a critical part of PwC Australia’s vision, values and strategy.


This attitude was visible when one of the attendees expressed concerns about her patchy resume and this was not immediately seen as a detriment. Rather, knowing the life that has been led behind the resume, it was acknowledged that this can also mean a more interesting candidate with a lot to offer.

During the event PwC Director Glenn Brown spoke about his own childhood in a US military family and how he understood the challenges associated with Defence life.

As these roles involve working with Defence and could include flexible work arrangements, Defence partners are seen as a good fit.

To express an interest in working with PwC, partners need to contact AJ (Talent Acquisitions Manager) at PwC on: 



Connecting our ADF partners to employers who understand both our value and some of the unique challenges we face is an important aspect of addressing Defence partner employment needs.

In connecting some of our Canberra partners with PwC this week, DFA is pleased to have been able to play a part.

Partner Employment




Providing Feedback


Peak posting season is coming to an end.

We know that relocations can be busy and stressful times, and things don’t always go to plan. If you have encountered any road bumps in your relocation process, it is important that the right people hear your feedback so that they can continue to improve the delivery of their service.

On the other hand, if your move has been smooth sailing and you have received great service, let them know! Everyone loves to hear when they have done a good job, and positive feedback is as important as constructive criticism.

Key people to provide feedback to include:

Your allocated Toll Case Manager or Customer Service Manager ( )

Defence Housing Australia

The Defence Relocations & Housing Manager (DRHM) in your region

The Defence Families of Australia (DFA) Delegate in your region

You may also be contacted personally by the DRHM to provide feedback, or invited to participate in surveys hosted by Defence, Toll and DHA.

These surveys are a great way to have your say and get your feedback to the right people.