The National Breastfeeding Helpline Evaluation report

3.2 Quality of Breastfeeding Helpline information and support

Page last updated: 13 February 2013

Is the training provided for Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline is sufficient to ensure the supply of a skilled workforce and the sustainability of a quality, responsive Helpline service?

A series of formal and informal education and training programs are available to ensure the quality of support provided by the Breastfeeding Helpline. An annual quality survey is also conducted to contribute to monitoring of counsellor performance and identify knowledge and practice gaps.

Standards for volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline

ABA has completed replacement of the Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education (Counselling), complying with the requirements of the national regulator.

All volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellors who work on the Breastfeeding Helpline are required to meet these standards. While training is provided free of charge, Breastfeeding Counsellors are required to commit to the Helpline for two years and to undertake continuous improvement activities.

The quality of the information and support provided by Breastfeeding Counsellors is monitored through annual quality surveys of counsellors and callers. Additional independent research was commissioned in 2011 to undertake a telephone survey of callers to broaden the sample size and capture users of the Breastfeeding Helpline who do not visit the ABA website (StrategyCo 2011).

Supply of trained counsellors


As demonstrated in Table 3.11, a key point of differentiation for the Breastfeeding Helpline is the volunteer profile of the workforce. Volunteers can be defined as individuals who willingly give unpaid help, in the form of time, services or skills, through an organisation or group, and which otherwise would have to be paid for, or be left undone (ABS 2011b).

Recruitment and retention of volunteers is an issue for many not for profit organisations. Motivation and recruitment is commonly underpinned by values and a belief in the importance of helping others. Recognition of the contribution of volunteers and an association with the purpose or mission of the organisation they are volunteering with, are key drivers to volunteer retention (PC 2009).

Across Australia, the key social and demographic characteristics of the volunteer workforce, finds that most are adults who:
  • have a family and live with a co-resident dependent child;
  • have a higher level of educational attainment; and
  • possess a high proficiency in English (ABS 2012).
Key challenges associated with the attraction and retention of volunteers include:
  • a changing profile of volunteers — there is a gradual decline in the numbers of volunteers associated with health and community services that has been linked to greater workforce participation and increased mobility; and
  • increasing costs associated with engaging and training of volunteers — associated with a lack of organisational capacity and resources to engage, support and train volunteers (PC 2010).

ABA volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline

There are approximately 700 enrolments in the Certificate courses (counselling and community) compared to the usual number of trainees of about 450. There are multiple entry and exit points in the online education course and most complete the Certificate in 14 months.

A recent development has been to offer a practicum period at the end of the counsellor course. This innovation is supported by a new position of Breastfeeding Helpline mentor. The newly qualified counsellor is provisionally appointed as a breastfeeding counsellor and required to complete five shifts of two hours in less than three months with graduated support. This support can also be offered to counsellors who have been away from the Breastfeeding Helpline for a period of time. The practicum has resulted in improved take up by new counsellors.

The development of the Diploma of Breastfeeding Management meets a demand from health professionals who volunteer and from volunteers who are keen to convert their Certificate qualification to a Diploma. The Diploma may assist in attracting more volunteers from among health professionals.

Supporting and maintaining counsellor workforce

Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline were able to access a diverse range of ABA training initiatives. As shown in 0, the most common forms of training, information and support accessed in the last six months were newsletters, website updates and meetings. These activities were common to all counsellors regardless of location. Of the other activities available, counsellors residing in metropolitan areas favoured conferences, those in regional areas conferences and counsellor forums, and those in rural areas Breastfeeding Helpline mentoring and debriefing.

Rates of Access to ABA training, information and support in the last six months by location of counsellor (N = 174)

Rates of Access to ABA training, information and support in the last six months by location of counsellor (N = 174)
Source: The Allen Consulting Group National Breastfeeding Helpline Counsellor Survey, 2012.

Areas of training for continuing attention included the provision of support to priority population groups. Although approximately 60 per cent or more of counsellors were satisfied that the ABA training gave them the skills necessary to support callers from different priority groups, this varied across groups as shown in 0. A greater lack of confidence was reported in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers and mothers with a disability.

Counsellor Perceptions of ABA Training to support Mothers from Priority Population Groups (N = 171)
Counsellor Perceptions of ABA Training to support Mothers from Priority Population Groups (N = 171)
Source: The Allen Consulting Group National Breastfeeding Helpline Counsellor Survey, 2012.


The quality of Breastfeeding Counsellors working on the Helpline is ensured through the establishment of minimum core competencies, a counsellor practicum period of graduated support and a diverse program of continuing education.

The level of support provided for counsellors is designed to sustain the volunteer workforce and there is evidence of increased interest in recruitment to counselling courses.

Current gaps in skills, and possibly experience, are suggested by the lack of certainty about competence in supporting priority population groups, especially mothers with a disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers.