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Sessional speakers


Kelita Choikee is a Yarrabah local. Growing up in this Far North Queensland Indigenous community, Kelita has seen firsthand how playgroups help prepare both children and families for school. The mother of two brings a positive energy to each playgroup and loves watching mothers and fathers connect with their children.


Sarah Callinan is a Wangkangurru woman whose people come from the Simpson desert area of Queensland and Principal Program Officer for the Department of Education. Sarah is passionate about bringing together neuroscience research with the knowledge and lived experience of community to help children thrive.


Sandi Phoenix; founding company director and Principal Facilitator at Phoenix Support for Educators. Her framework, The Phoenix Cups, have revolutionised how education and care professionals proactively plan for the wellbeing of children and young people, and understand children’s behaviour.


Kari Sutton is an educator, speaker, and author who has helped over 25,000 children, parents, and educators with evidence-based strategies, tools, and approaches to foster children’s positive mental health and plant the seeds of resilience, and emotional wellbeing in our children.


Michael Hogan is an Adjunct Professor at QUT and until recently was a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellow. He is the Convenor of the Thriving Qld Kids Partnership, a fledgling systems coalition and intermediary. Michael has been a senior executive in the Qld and NSW Governments including as a Director-General, and was head of a not-for-profit public interest advocacy organisation. Michael is a member of the Centre for Policy Development’s Early Childhood Development Council, is a director on the board of the Torres Health Corporation, and is also involved in the Every Child coalition.


Trish is a Be You consultant with vast experience in education and has been an early childhood teacher for over 24 years. Wiith on the ground experience in philosophies such as Reggio Emilia and Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program, she has had experience directly working with children and families as a teacher and in various leadership roles, as well as in more policy and project roles with the government.
Trish has also worked on a variety of projects and roles with museums on public education programs and has co-authored a number of resources such as wellbeing tools, news items and guides.


Kimberley Harper has been working with Queensland families for over 15 years, primarily with parents and foster carers. With a background in psychology, Kimberley has worked in family counselling settings, schools, youth services, and training facilitation roles. She has done this in both the government and non-government sectors. Kimberley developed a passion for specifically working with parents over the years as she found that when parents feel supported, the entire family tends to do better.

Kimberley is also the mother to two vastly different boys, who amaze her, frustrate her, and fill her heart on the daily.


With a background in early childhood and the police force, PGQ’s Supported Programs Manager, Andrew McMahon, travels to many Queensland communities supporting playgroup delivery based on community needs. As a father of two energetic kids, Andrew understands how playgroup helps build capacity in parents. He also believes good coffee is a parental staple.


Lynda Melville is the Team Leader, Professional Learning Development Services with Autism Queensland and National Coordinator Early Days. With over 30 years’ experience working in special education, autism education, and support services, she commenced her teaching career in North Queensland, worked in special education roles in Brisbane and the UK, as well as a teacher in Autism Queensland’s school and early intervention programs.


Tessa is a paediatric speech pathologist in Melbourne; works clinically with preschool and school-aged students supporting their language and literacy skills. She also works as a research assist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and is a part-time PhD candidate at La Trobe University. Her PhD research examines the role that early childhood teachers have in supporting preschoolers with their oral language and emergent literacy skills.


Vicki Christopher is a Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland.  Vicki works with Pre-Service Educators within the areas of play pedagogies, foundations of early childhood education, and early years creativity and the arts.  Her research is located within the Early Childhood Education field, with specific interests in early childhood learning environments, play and social justice.


Annie Park is a Program Coordinator at True Relationships and Reproductive Health, has facilitated the Qld Child Protection Week award-winning Do you know the signs? child protection mentoring programme, which supports early childhood education and care professionals in the area of child sexual abuse prevention.


Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents Henry Leafa moved to Australia as a teenager and has lived in Cairns for the past 35 years. Married to Helen, they have 7 wonderful children and 2 amazing grandsons. Henry has extensive experience working with young people as a mentor and motivational speaker and has been an active community capacity builder for many years. He is the founder and lead facilitator of the Strengths Fathers Program; where hundreds of men have participated in the Strengths Program and the Strengths Intensives over the last 7 years and the program has been delivered locally and internationally. Henry is passionate about supporting and equipping men to become fully engaged in their roles in family and the community. His vision to build an online Strengths Academy that would enable men from all over the world to engage in the program.


PGQ’s Paula Castle is passionate about supporting communities by focusing on family. With a background in both early years’ learning and emergency services, she understands how early intervention and parental engagement can impact a child’s life. As the Coordinator of Accessible Playgroups and Special Projects, she oversees the program’s delivery from Mackay through to Far North Qld.


Kylie Ellison is a registered counsellor and play therapist with over 17 years experience in the human services field, working with children and families across both Government and non- Government sectors before establishing Centre for Play Therapy in 2016 alongside business partner Doug Ivins.


Jamie Finger is a Head of Department at Bentley Park College in Cairns, Far North Queensland. He has led early childhood projects for over six years, including transition to school, underpinned by strong community partnerships. Recently, he was a member of FNQ’s K-2 regional team to lead the K-2 agenda in accordance with the statewide priority to give all children a great start.


Jo is a social work academic with practice and research interests in embodied understandings of professional and supervision practices, well-being, and mentoring. She has previously worked as a social worker in Child Safety and Relationships Australia and has more recently co-edited a special edition on Social Work and Embodiment in the Australian Social Work journal. She is also a qualified yoga teacher and is interested how yoga can contribute as an embodiment practice in improving professional engagement with clients.


Rod Soper has over twenty years experience in the field of education as a teacher and head of school. Currently, Rod heads up Thinkers.inq and is the principal adviser with Thinkers.inq consulting. He is also the chief investigator of The Playing with Gratitude research Project, a wellness endeavour supporting change in about 3500 Australian children, families, and teachers. Thinkers.inq is an early years school dedicated to offering 21st century teaching and learning through transformational play and wellbeing. Rod is also an author, speaker, and leadership coach.


Sonia Adolphs is a qualified Social worker with over 17 years working experience with a diverse group of clients including people with disability, young people, parents/carers and families. Her initial introduction in the social sector was supporting prisoners and their families, Sonia discovered her passion to work closely with the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the community. In recent years Sonia has been employed in both profit and not-for-profit organisations in disability and family services where she has developed a strong desire to work with parents and carers to improve family wellbeing. Working with Parentline has enabled her to share her knowledge and skills to support families, parents/carers, children and young people by focusing on approaches based on connection, regulation, attachment and trauma informed practice. Sonia and her husband Troy are parents to their 12 yr old son and are living the roller coaster of parenthood.