Friday, September 25, 2020

The evolution of the ATSA 2020 Conference: ATSA from home

By Kieran McCartan, Ph.D.

This year has been difficult and challenging in many ways, with all of us having to change our lifestyle and working practices. Currently, large amounts of us are working from home and only thinking of our next trip to the food shop, never mind moving further afield. This means that trips and experiences that would be a normal, regular part of our professional and personal calendar either are not happening or have significantly changed. One example of this is conference attendance. We are often told, especially in academia, that conferences are a luxury and that we should take the hit this year with everything else that is going on. I would counter that argument as the core root of evidence-based practice is research and the function of a conference is to create an environment that enables free, frank, and critical engagement with colleagues on research and practice. Conferences, therefore, are an important part of the lifeblood of our field, they are where we hear cutting edge research, network with colleagues, and generate new ideas. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the viability of the conference circuit with some organizations suspending their conference to 2021 (IATSO, NOTA), putting on a reduced conference program in the form of webinars (NOTA), however, ATSA has decided to continue with their conference albeit in a different way. 

ATSA has had an annual conference each year for 38 years and 2020 will have an ATSA conference as well, but this year rather than it being in person (it was supposed to be in San Antonio) it will be online and “from home”. ATSA has embraced the recently necessitated technological and online move predicated by Covid-19 and moved the conference to be completely online. The conference will run from October 21-23, 2020, with the first day being a series of pre-conference training and the next two days being traditional conference presentations and workshops. 

The 2020 conference theme – Blending Voices. Strengthening Lives. – is particularly meaningful at a time when so many people feel isolated and vulnerable due to the ongoing pandemic. As I have noted in this blog and we have seen in many media reports, there is an increased risk of sexual abuse when individuals are isolated without the normal access to support structures that can help prevent and address that abuse.

The 2020 ATSA from home the conference has a strong line up with plenaries from Shannon Moroney and Michael Seto, with more than 40 educational sessions (all with CEUs at no additional cost), 30 poster sessions, several chat rooms, and many other opportunities to hear from and interact with experts in the field of sexual abuse prevention. Speakers and attendees, at this year’s event, will be international in nature and the research and practice discussed will be of the same standard as previous conferences.

While ATSA from home will be different format, layout, and approach to the traditional in-person conference it does allow us to meet, talking, and learn from each other. In person, conferences seem like a long way off and quite alien at the minute. Has Covid-19 changed the nature of conference attendance, especially international conference attendance, permanently, or is this only a bump on the road? Who knows! To me, it shows that ATSA is moving with the times to support researchers and practitioners to prevent sexual abuse.

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