Little animals flocked to Charmian Clift House near Blacktown to join the little humans like Charleigh and mothers like Stacee for the celebrations. PHOTO BY NEIL FENELON
By Grant J Everett
On the 8th of November, Flourish Australia’s Women & Children’s Program at Blacktown held a party to commemorate a decade of changing the lives of vulnerable and at-risk mothers for the better. And while Flourish Australia runs many services focused on mental health recovery, the Women’s & Children’s Program we provide at Blacktown is one of a kind.
The Women & Children’s Program is for mothers with one or more children who don’t have anywhere safe or stable to live. These mums have often gone through hardships such as homelessness, poverty, mental health issues or domestic violence. No matter why they link up with us, we offer all of them the same thing: a safe, supported place of respite where they can plan how to get their lives back on track. During their time with this service, our friendly staff will help these mums to figure out what resources and assistance they need to start again, and will work with them every step of the way until they’ve achieved their goals. This can require many different kinds of assistance, which is why we employ people from a range of disciplines, such as Mental Health Workers, Peer Workers, and Parenting Support Workers.
While all paths through this program are unique, all of the families who are provided with assistance will be working at eventually returning to the community full-time. So while some of the mums who access this service may start off living with their children on-site in a two-bedroom home, the longer-term goal is always to transition back to the community.
The mums and the staff members also put a high priority on keeping the young ones happy and settled which is why there’s lots of cool play equipment in the toy room, as well as other children they can play with.
Starting at midday and wrapping up around 2:30pm, the 10th anniversary celebrations included all kinds of family-friendly entertainment such as arts and crafts, face painting and a petting zoo complete with baby goats, rabbits, baby chickens, guinea pigs, ducks and a “sizzle” hen (so named because it was a hybrid of a silky chicken and a frizzle chicken, not because of the noise it would make in a deep fryer).
The kids (and kids at heart) were all sure to give the baby goats a scratch behind the ear at least once. An unexpected highlight was an impressive drum concert performed by a large group of high school students from Blacktown Girls flawlessly hammering out songs in perfect synchronisation, guided by their music teacher.
The food and drinks were absolutely exceptional, with an incredible spread of cakes, muffins, fruit platters, sandwiches and BBQ goodies pulling out all the stops. The big “10” cake was even decorated with edible Lego! There was also a whole room of old posters, newspaper articles and photographs charting the history of the Women’s & Children’s Program.
Following the Welcome to Country by Aunty Margaret, Taylah eloquently shared her tale of the hard road she’s walked over the last couple of years, and how the Women & Children’s Program has helped her overcome her struggles and turned her life around (be sure to read Taylah’s story on page 17 in this issue of Panorama – Ed).
A good crowd from all walks of life attended the festivities. There were families we are currently supporting as well as those we have successfully helped in the past, local staff members, a few representatives from Head Office, photographers and reporters, our Chair, Professor Elizabeth More AM, a couple of our former and current CEOs (Pamela Rutledge and Mark Orr, respectively), and several members of the general public who wanted to celebrate the milestone of this important service.
Councillor Kathie Collins OAM attended on behalf of Blacktown City Council, and as she has always had a focus on improving the health and wellbeing of the Blacktown City community and eliminating domestic violence and homelessness, it goes without saying that services like this one are very close to her heart.
Our former CEO Pam Rutledge (Pictured right spoke to Panorama about her memories of the earliest days of the Women & Children’s Program. Pam had only been CEO for a short time when the then Richmond Fellowship took control of Charmian Clift Cottages and reshaped it into our Women’s & Children’s Program. So she was able to see it grow in leaps and bounds during most of her time as CEO. Ten years on, Pam is pleased as punch to see how far this service has come!
Unlike most of Flourish Australia’s services, the Women & Children’s Program is not funded by the NDIS. The program is funded by NSW Health and the Department of Family and Community Services through the Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) program. Even though we are not reliant on NDIS we have started working with a family who have NDIS funding.
Thanks to Suzanne Hudson for assistance with this story.
(Above, clockwise from top left) Former CEO Pam Rutledge (PHOTO BY GRANT J EVERETT) the drummers from Blacktown GHS, Chair of Flourish Australia Prof Elizabeth Moore with former WCC manager now Nepean Senior Cluster Director Belinda Jenkins, special goodies, CEO Mark Orr with a baa lamb (PHOTOS BY NEIL FENELON)