Introduction to new Executive Director - Belinda Caldwell

Belinda Caldwell
It is with a great sense of excitement and some trepidation that I am stepping into the role of Executive Director of F.E.A.S.T., following the footsteps of two amazing people, Laura (Collins) Lyster-Mensh and Leah Dean.

The trepidation arises out of the strong desire to ensure that the amazing of work of not only these two previous Executive Directors, but the F.E.A.S.T. Board, past and current volunteers and supporters have done to position F.E.A.S.T. where it is now.

The previous announcement (on our email list, blog and other social media) outlines the achievements of F.E.A.S.T. since its inception. The most important achievement in my eyes is the shift in the conversation  around families and eating disorders. Historically, families have been viewed as, at worst, contributors to their child's eating disorder and at best, somewhat benign but not critical members of the care team. The shift to seeing empowered and informed active families as central to a good outcome in eating disorder recovery is still in progress but so far from where we were.

Our family was blessed in a number of ways on this most challenging of journeys. We stumbled upon access to Family Based Treatment for our daughter Lucy through the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne Australia in 2011. While not zoned for that hospital, a mistake from the GP about where we should go and some openings as part of a research trial they were undertaking, found us inpatient in RCH and then embarking on FBT with their team. Whilst Lucy was inpatient, I was again blessed to happen upon F.E.A.S.T. and the Around the Dinner Table (ATDT) forum in my endless google searching. I posted and a number of local families reached out to me with two mums becoming my mentors, available on the end of the phone. That early access to peer support I believe transformed our journey. Many a meal was spent with my iPad on my lap under the table as I sought advice from ATDT members on what to do next. If anybody wants to see what a deer in the headlights I was and where we got to - search posts under Goingtobeatthis_AUS.

We did not complete FBT within the six month research timetable and had to more or less go it alone after that. We sought some additional private assistance but really, with F.E.A.S.T. and ATDT, we felt we knew what we had to do and we just went ahead and did it. It took two years for us to feel comfortable that Lucy could eat whatever, wherever, whenever, with minimal anxiety and no compensation. She is now at Uni doing well, playing sport, working part time, socialising, doing everything we thought would be lost to her when she first became unwell.

My life and work has since become a passion for improving best practice in eating disorders, especially through empowering families and carers with knowledge and skills, inclusion as core members of the care team, access to peer support and self care for the families as a priority in both acute and long term treatment plans. I have the privilege of being able to work in the field, as a Carer Consultant for the Victorian Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders, have been on the Board of F.E.A.S.T. for almost four years, as the Australian F.E.A.S.T. Board member collaborated with the Butterfly Foundation on the At Home with Eating Disorders Conference for Families and Carers - and have participated in a number of committees in Australia for ANZAED and currently the National Agenda for Eating Disorders Advisory group.

I have a background as a health professional, predominantly involved in change management, population health and primary health care. And have found the differences in approaches to eating disorder treatment across the globe both fascinating and at times horrifying. At the same time, the sense of similarity in how we as families and carers experience the illness, our caring responsibilities and the impact on our lives creates such strong bonds across international boundaries.

For F.E.A.S.T., my hope is that we can continue the fantastic work done by those before us and grow F.E.A.S.T. to the next stage of robust sustainability as an organisation. So that we can be a provider of a range of indispensable resources and networks for families and carers and be a strong loud voice for families and carers in the eating disorder sector.

I look forward to working with each and every one of you into the future. I am keen to hear from members what your issues and ideas are and how F.E.A.S.T. can better support you so drop me a line at any time on belindac@feast-ed.org.

Finally, if you have ever considered volunteering for F.E.A.S.T., now is a great time to offer your services. We have a particular need for some skilled graphic design input immediately, but there are many other professional and other skill sets that we would love to hear from e.g. legal, financial, social media related - and there are many other opportunities that require not much more than some experience caring for someone with an eating disorder and a desire to get involved in some advocacy. Please don't be shy! My direct email connection is belindac@feast-ed.org or you can mailto: info@feast-ed.org and someone from the team will pass on the message.



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