Nominated by the twins in their care, the duo tied for the Positive Impact Award, which recognises individuals who have gone above and beyond in caring for or supporting a child, particularly assisting them to have a voice.
Julia and Jeannie (pictured with Centacare Foster Care Placement Manager, Jennifer Boyle) welcomed the siblings into their home five years ago.
‘’They came to us, they were scared, worried; when we look at them today, five years later, they are the most funny, happy, empathic, loving kids you could ever wish for,’’ said Jeannie in a video to mark their finalist nomination.
‘’The kids learn from us, and we learn from the kids. They have really turned our lives around as well as us turning their lives around.
“They have made us into better people, wanting to have better relations ourselves so we can help them become the best versions of themselves they can be. They are amazing kids.’’
“Jeannie and Julia have provided consistent therapeutic care and support to the twins and are not only inspirational but very deserving of this recognition,” she said.
Centacare faces were among 41 Awards finalists. Specialist Therapist Dr Jackie Amos and long-serving foster carer Lyn Matthews and her late husband Roy were nominated for the Lifetime Achievement category.
Fellow foster carers Rhona and Brad Jacob were recognised as finalists for their commitment to connecting children to Country and culture by implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.
Centacare was a bronze sponsor of this year’s event.
Delivered by the Department for Child Protection in partnership with the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), the Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of children, young people, carers, volunteers, staff and organisations across the child protection sector.
It has been more than a decade since Alex Vlahos last spoke to his dad.
Amidst the pieces, Alex found purpose, and he now starts conversations with dads in the north to empower them in fatherhood.
“I am grateful that they are fighting for their kids and that they are trying to better themselves for their children,’’ said Alex, a Dads and Fatherhood Worker at Centacare.
Through a strengths-based and child-focused approach, Alex uses fatherhood as a motivator to address challenges such as financial distress, and alcohol and drug use.
Many of the fathers he meets have been impacted by intergenerational trauma.
Alex supports them to build on their coping mechanisms and develop parenting approaches that strengthen the parent-child relationship.
‘’The most satisfying part of my role is supporting fathers to be reflective around their parenting and the type of father they want to be for their children,’’ he said.
Alex points to the success of a baby massage pilot program, run in the Playford area by Centacare for the first time earlier this year.
The program aimed to facilitate couples’ conversations while providing them time to bond with their baby.
“I was able to speak to the families about the changes in relationships after having a baby and encourage the fathers to be more active members of the household,’’ Alex said.
“This led to couples coming up with ideas on sharing roles and responsibilities in ways that worked for them. It also prompted idea sharing amongst the couples, especially between those who already had set routines, which they felt worked.
“This sharing led another couple to implement this routine, which they stated had greatly improved the father’s relationship with the baby but also the mother’s mental health.’’
On Father’s Day, Alex is encouraging dads to recognise the vital role they play in children’s lives.
“My message is for dads not to give up and to keep working and striving to be the best they can for their kids in the hope they don’t end up like me, who, at 27, hasn’t spoken to their dad in years,’’ he said.
*Through Dad’s Business, Centacare delivers a range of inclusive activities for fathers in the Playford area. The program provides relaxed and non-judgmental group environments where dads can be themselves and share their parenting experiences.
For more information, phone 8412 9500 or visit Alex and the team at shop 7a Elizabeth Rise Shopping Centre, Hamblynn Rd, Elizabeth Downs.
Dad’s Business is a Communities for Children initiative and is funded by the Department of Social Services via our facilitating partner AnglicareSA.
PICTURED: Megan Jones, Manager, Dad’s Business; Alex Vlahos, Dads and Fatherhood Worker; and Chantal Dodd, Team Leader – Northern Programs – Kids in Focus and Dad’s Business.
The First 5-year Action Plan, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan and the Outcomes Framework to implement the National Plan, are now available.
The Action Plans outline government initiatives aimed at preventing, addressing, and responding to violence against women and children.
These Action Plans underpin the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032. The National Plan describes how all areas of society need to work together over the next 10 years to end violence against women and children.
For the first time, the Australian and state and territory governments will have a dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan2023-2025 was developed in genuine partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council on family, domestic and sexual violence. It lays the foundations for longer-term structural change. It aims to address immediate safety needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, children and families.
The First Action Plan, together with the dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan, forms an integral part of commitments made in the National Plan. It provides a roadmap to drive the first 5-year effort towards achieving the vision of the National Plan. Development of the First Action Plan included specific consultation with victim-survivors, beyond the inclusion of victim-survivor expertise on the National Plan Advisory Group and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council.
The Outcomes Framework 2023-2032 shows us where we want to be in 10 years – working towards a generational change where all Australians live free from gender-based violence and are safe at home, work, school, in the community and online. It will help track, measure, monitor, and report change over the life of the National Plan.
We all have a role to play in ending gender-based violence. By working together, we will create a safer and equal Australia for women and children.
If you or someone you know needs support regarding domestic, family or sexual violence, you can also visit 1800respect.org.au/ or call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). This service is free, confidential and operates 24 hours a day.
If you are concerned about your behaviour, call Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or visit ntv.org.au/get-help/ for judgement free support.
Wandana Community Centre is digging deep to preserve local biodiversity through indigenous plants.
Backed by an environmental grant from the City of Port Adelaide Enfield, the Centre’s Monday gardening group has in the past month planted 250 indigenous plants native to the Gilles Plains area at the Blacks Rd site.
“The plants add to the already established indigenous species at the site and will attract native birds, butterflies and insects, including native bees,” said Alan Shepard, the longtime caretaker of Wandana’s much-loved community garden.
“Once established these plants will survive on natural rainfall.
‘’We have put bird boxes in as well, in the gum trees, which are working well in terms of providing nesting sites for birds such as the rainbow lorikeet and eastern rosella.”
More than 40 indigenous species are now represented on the Wandana site, including kangaroo grass, planted to attract the Southern Dart butterfly. Other species planted include Native lilacs (Hardenbergia), Running Postman (Kennedia) and Old Man’s Beard (clematis).
“Only three per cent of the Adelaide Plains flora remains, and many revegetation projects are happening on public land, school grounds and in residential gardens,” Alan said.
“Even planting a small number of indigenous plants and grasses in your garden and verge will help to bring back the species under threat due to urbanisation.”
Every week, Alan guides a team of volunteers and participants in Wandana’s sprawling garden, tending its orchard, vegetable and garden beds, propagating seedlings and picking produce.
For more information about Wandana Community Centre, phone the team on 8215 6330.
Specialist Therapist Dr Jackie Amos, and long-serving Centacare foster carer Lyn Matthews and her late husband Roy, have been named finalists in the Lifetime Achievement category of the 2023 South Australian Child Protection Awards.
The category has been introduced this year to recognise an individual/s who, through exceptional dedication and commitment, has made a significant contribution to the sector for at least 15 years.
Dr Amos, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and gestalt psychotherapist, has for more than three decades worked with adult survivors of child abuse and neglect, and with families where abuse and neglect of children is a primary concern.
At Centacare, Dr Amos supports staff to integrate attachment and trauma-based therapies into existing case and best practice frameworks, informed by her doctoral research.
Lyn and Roy Matthews welcomed 19 children into their home across nine years with Centacare Foster Care before retiring from the program in 2021.
Meanwhile, fellow foster carers Jeannie Alderson and Julia Popkins are finalists for the Positive Impact Award, while Rhonda and Brad Catterson are in contention for top honours in the Active Efforts category.
Jeannie and Julie were nominated by the twins in their care for the award, which recognises individuals who have gone above and beyond in caring for or supporting a child, particularly through assisting them to have a voice.
Rhonda and Brad Jacob have been recognised for their commitment to connecting children to Country and culture by implementing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle.
Delivered by the Department for Child Protection in partnership with the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN), the Awards will be announced on Friday, September 8 in National Child Protection Week.
The awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of children, young people, carers, volunteers, staff and organisations across the child protection sector.
Suruchi Bhatia is one of the first voices clients hear when they reach out to the Adelaide North West Homelessness Alliance for support.
With compassion and understanding, Suruchi, an Intake Worker and Case Manager, provides people of all ages with on-the-spot referrals, advice, and most importantly, hope.
On a busy day, Suruchi Bhatia can answer up to 20 calls for help from people in crisis.
Their desperation is palpable as they recount the circumstances that have led them here.
In Suruchi, an Intake Worker and Case Manager at Centacare, they are seeking solutions for homelessness – and a reason to hope.
“We are the first point of contact for the clients when they initially phone the service to discuss their situation,’’ Suruchi said.
“We listen to their story so that we can explore options and provide them with the right support or refer them to the services that can best meet their needs.
“It’s important to put yourself in their shoes and show some empathy. I always try and make them feel safe, so they are comfortable discussing their situation and know we are here to support them.’’
While every story is different, resilience and courage are common threads across age groups.
“When I listen to young people, I think of what I was doing at 18 or 19, but here they are, facing incredible challenges in life, yet they are still taking responsibility for the tasks we give them to try and get out of the sector,’’ Suruchi said.
“Some of them are young mums and I feel so proud of them.
“At the other end are the older generations, the clients who are 80-plus. When they call and say they are homeless, it touches my heart.
“Often they are just coming to us for advice, with the hope we can provide them with some guidance and support.”
In 2021-22, 272,700 people were supported by homelessness services across Australia (AIHW, Specialist Homelessness Services Annual Report 2021-22).
A further 105,000 people sought help but were unable to be assisted because of shortages of staff, accommodation, or other services (AIHW 2022).
Suruchi, who is based at The Centa, in Elizabeth Park, said nearly 40 per cent of people currently seeking homelessness services through the Alliance cite issues with housing or finances, such as the affordability of rent, as the main reasons they need help.
“Some clients might have a few weeks before their lease is up. For others, it’s today or tonight; tomorrow they’ll have nowhere to go,’’ she said.
Suruchi adds that finding exit options is becoming increasingly difficult with the rental crisis compounded by a lack of affordable housing, the rising cost of living, and over-stretched support services.
“Over the past 10 months, I have cried two or three times after sitting with a client and listening to their story,” she said.
“Sometimes I feel helpless. As workers, we question ourselves: are we doing our jobs properly? But we can only do our best with the resources we have.
“Often it’s the little things that make me feel proud. I get nice emails from the clients saying thank you so much, or bless, with smiley faces and all.
“It makes my day knowing that somewhere along the way, I helped them.’’
Suruchi said working in the sector has taught her the true meaning of resilience.
“I can only imagine what clients are going through, but they are still working towards their goals. That is something I acknowledge every day,” she said.
“They teach us that whatever happens, you need to keep trying, to keep moving on.”
*Homelessness Week (August 7-13) aims to raise awareness of the causes and impacts of homelessness via national and local events and campaigns. This includes providing information on the importance of housing as a solution and educating communities on how they can make a difference.
Brigitte Goepfert’s most vivid childhood memory is of watching her adoptive parent, Nicole, craft a NAIDOC Week kit for primary school students in the late 1970s.
Aged seven at the time, Brigitte did not know then that she was Aboriginal, but the sight of Nicole and a friend debating the imagery of light and dark-skinned hands stuck.
‘’We had a lot of artefacts in the home, and she did a lot of work with Aboriginal communities. Looking back, I think that was her way of exposing me to my culture and instilling in me an understanding of that,’’ says Brigitte, Aboriginal Cultural Consultant for RESTORE Intensive Family Services and Centacare Foster Care.
It was not until she turned 19 that Brigitte learned of her Aboriginal identity and, on reflection, the significance of small moments growing up that had unknowingly connected her to Country.
Today, with daughter Jadzia, Brigitte will join Centacare Foster Care at a community celebration, hosted by Aboriginal Family Support Services, at the Gardens Recreation Centre in Parafield Gardens.
‘’I always knew I was born on October 12 but I didn’t know that Brigitte wasn’t my birth name, nor that I was a First Nations person, until I was old enough to apply for my adoption papers,’’ she said.
“Marking these days is an opportunity to celebrate culture. That’s why it’s important to me that I bring Jadzia along to these events, so she can see and feel and participate in that feeling of acknowledgment.
‘’For little kids to be around other First Nations kids and feel special, and be celebrated, it demonstrates to them that we are supportive of them and their culture.’’
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day began in 1988.
The date, August 4, was chosen because it was historically used to communally celebrate the birthdays of children from the Stolen Generations who did not know their birth date.
‘’They had no family, no connections to community, so at least that day was something, ‘’ Brigitte said.
“Not knowing their birthday though adds to the trauma of the Stolen Generations and shines a light on the lack of individuality.
‘’That’s why today is so important because it is an opportunity to celebrate.’’
To mark the day, First Nations children engaged with Centacare Foster Care have been gifted bags packed by SNAICC which include a small bag of yarn, a storybook, and a flag.
‘’We always talk about the voice of the child, that their safety is our primary concern, so this is about making sure we hear the children’s voices and that we provide experiences to support cultural connections. We want our children to be strong and be proud of who they are,’’ Brigitte said.
After three decades at Centacare, inspiring courage and belief in others, Executive Deputy Director Pauline Connelly will retire on Friday and farewell the profession that has shaped her life.
It was in the family chook shed, in the late 1960s, that Pauline Connelly found her purpose.
Australia was waging a war on hunger and Pauline, then in primary school, felt compelled to help.
So, she started a club named after Robinson Crusoe, a fictional Englishman marooned alone on a tropical island for 28 years who finds peace against all odds.
‘’There was an old chook shed in our backyard which Dad said I could use; he gave me some paint, and I wrote on the front in big black letters, ‘The Crusoe Club’,’’ Pauline says.
‘’That little club was going to be the beginning. My sister, Beth, and I were going to go out onto the streets and help all the people who were suffering and alone like Robinson Crusoe.’’
From the club’s humble headquarters, long vacated by the hens, Pauline and Beth set about staging a backyard concert to float their dream of ending poverty.
‘’One of my friends did ballet lessons, so I got her to dance, and I sang. Some of the neighbours came and the Crusoe Club raised about two dollars for the Australian Freedom from Hunger Campaign,’’ Pauline recalls.
‘’That is my first real memory of social work. It just made sense to me because we grew up in an environment where you always put others first, and if you had something and they didn’t, you shared it.’’
Five decades later, Pauline this week will retire, having devoted her entire professional life to community services in support of ‘’the other’’ and 30 years to leadership roles at Centacare.
Her faith, fortitude, grace, and resolute belief in clients, regardless of the challenges they face, have defined her influence over time – at state, national and papal levels.
‘‘It is truly inspiring to see how people have the ability to withstand so much disadvantage and injustice when they are feeling so diminished, yet they are still trying, somehow, to be a good parent or a person when everything is going against them,’’ Pauline says.
‘’That’s why we want to help so much, to lift that burden a bit, because every day for so many people that burden just increases, and along with that, their sense of hopelessness.’’
It was through her own grit and determination that Pauline achieved her wish to become a social worker. After failing Year 12, when she chose singing in the school musical over study, Pauline turned to nursing.
‘’I thought it would be a bit like social work, but after the first few days of lectures, I was asking about who counsels the patients, so I left the degree and caught the bus home to Port Pirie,’’ she says.
To ease the burden on her parents, Pauline, one of six children, moved in with her grandmother and worked several jobs until she had saved enough money to repeat her final year.
‘’I got through with flying colours and started my social work degree and absolutely loved it; I drank it in,’’ she says.
Pauline recalls a group work camp where she not only learned that Elvis Presley had died (‘’we were all suitably shocked’’) but also the value of reflective practice and the use of self in supporting others.
‘’In this field, you really are a part of something so much bigger than yourself, but we must never underestimate our influence in the small moments,’’ she says.
‘’It is really that human level of one person’s response which can make a huge difference to the other person’s wellbeing.
‘’No matter how stressed or worried you are, when someone is at your door and wants to tell you something, your first response makes a huge difference to how the person feels in terms of being listened to and accepted, even if you don’t have a solution.’’
It is this quality for which Pauline hopes she will be best remembered when she enters retirement late Friday after giving three decades to Centacare – first in the Diocese of Port Pirie, where she established the agency in Whyalla with Bishop Eugene Hurley, and then in Adelaide.
‘’I look back and I just see all the different phases in my life, and the phases of Centacare, and how they are so intertwined,’’ Pauline says.
‘’Up until the last two years, I probably still felt like the new kid on the block from the Pirie Diocese. It’s a funny feeling, and a bit of a shock when you realise you’re the old girl at the organisation!’’
Pauline was managing Whyalla Counselling Service when she was recruited by Bishop Hurley in the mid-1990s to fulfill the ‘’pressing need’’ in the parish for a professional counsellor, “who would operate within the Catholic ethos”.
‘’Having operated for some time, within the parish, we applied to Centacare Australia for recognition of the work that Pauline was doing,’’ Bishop Hurley says.
‘’It was granted, and so began Centacare in the Port Pirie Diocese.
‘’We owe Pauline an incredible debt of gratitude for her generosity, faith, and her sheer dedication.’’
Pauline recalls writing the agency’s first submission – for a gambling rehabilitation program – and, in the following seven years, expanding to new sites in Ceduna, Port Lincoln, and Coober Pedy to meet emerging client needs.
Of Bishop Hurley’s influence, Pauline says: “He was and still is a very visionary man. Wherever he went in a parish, that parish was alive and dynamic, and if he set his mind to anything, it was done incredibly well.’’
Along the journey, Pauline wrote to introduce herself to Dale West, keen to glean whatever she could from his years of experience in social services.
‘’I remember my first departmental meeting with the funders and Dale was there as Director of Centacare in Adelaide,’’ she says.
‘’I must have been on my soap box about funding and Dale kicked me under the table so that I knew to shut up. It was the most important kick of my life!’’
Years later, Pauline joined Dale in Adelaide where she worked her way up as his long-serving deputy.
When Dale retired in 2021 after 32 years at the helm, Pauline guided Centacare through a period of notable change before choosing to return to her substantive position of Executive Deputy Director late last year.
‘’I learned so much from Dale about how to lead with compassion and common sense,’’ Pauline says.
‘’He taught me about the importance of being strong and confident in your own wisdom and standing your ground, which enables staff to feel safe around you.’’
Pauline says the satisfaction of helping Centacare grow into the organisation it is today, with more than 500 staff and 32 sites in metropolitan and regional South Australia, is tempered only by the loss of services along the way due to funding and policy changes.
‘’It’s quite amazing to look back and capture glimpses of the beginnings and then the end of programs; having to tell staff they don’t have jobs anymore and clients, who are getting amazing results, that they won’t have their workers anymore.
‘’To me, that’s one of the toughest challenges: being reliant on government policy of the day to influence the care you can give, and the restrictions that are placed on that care.’’
Pauline notes the media scrutiny placed on the child protection sector in recent years and laments the disconnect in society.
‘’We are definitely no better off,’’ she says. ‘’There is greater complexity in the noise of the world. At the same time, we have lost the ability to connect at the most basic levels as human beings, and that is even just to say hello when we cross each other in the street.
‘’There is a lack of obligation to the other. That’s what we witness generally, whether it’s in road rage, people rushing to clear supermarket shelves of toilet paper during Covid, and on social media where people’s mistakes are plastered all over for them to see again and again.
‘’We know, the commitment and the pressure and stress social workers experience. They choose this profession because of the other. They are salt of the earth people. They take huge risks with their own personal safety. They witness the most horrific things, knowing they can’t always make significant changes, but they stay there. And yet, when there is a mistake, when they are not listened to and something goes wrong, they become the ones to blame.
‘’I have immense admiration for those that keep going, because there are plenty that are leaving, and I don’t blame them, because it’s impossible to work like that under this spotlight of fear.
‘’We are doing a lot of research and specialist work around therapeutic approaches, but kids are still hungry, abused and cold, so we need both ends and the middle, but it can’t all be on the government.’’
A mother-of-four, Pauline is not sure what the immediate future holds beyond more time with family.
‘’I am praying for wisdom because I would like to find a place to continue to be a voice for change,’’ she says.
Executive Deputy Director Pauline Connelly will retire next month after 30 years at Centacare.
Pauline’s last day will be August 4, one month after celebrating three decades of leadership in the Archdiocese of Adelaide and the Diocese of Port Pirie.
Driven to help others, Pauline began her social work career in marriage and family counselling.
In the mid-1990s, with Bishop Eugene Hurley, Pauline established Centacare in Port Pirie. This led to her leadership role in Adelaide, alongside Centacare’s longest-serving Director, Dale West.
Following Dale’s retirement in early 2021, Pauline guided the organisation through a period of significant change.
Unafraid of the challenges inherent in community services, Pauline led with grace, humility and distinction before choosing to return to her substantive position of Deputy Executive Director late last year.
In partnership with Executive Director Leanne Haddad, Pauline has continued to lead and shape service growth, in line with community need and informed by the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
Her Christian values and deep commitment to helping those who suffer have defined her influence over time, at state and national level.
“As difficult as this decision has been, I feel very peaceful that after almost 30 years with Centacare in both the Port Pirie and Adelaide dioceses, I know it is the right time for me,’’ Pauline wrote in a letter to staff this week.
“I’ve learned in life that the right decision is not always the easy one, and given Centacare runs in my veins, it is going to be very hard to say goodbye.
“I love the work we do because it is wrapped around a calling we have – a call to respond when we see a need, knowing we can make a difference to another human being, even if we can’t immediately change their situation.
“As I said at our 80 Years celebration in October last year, if we can’t solve a situation, if we can’t take away the pain, we don’t walk away – we stay with people in their pain. That takes courage and resilience and I thank you for that.’’
Pauline, a Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Adelaide, will remain on the Centacare Advisory Council which met for the first time in March this year.
“I am continually inspired and grateful for the work that is done by each one of you, and whether that it is in the smallest of moments, or the loud and large ones, what you do changes lives,’’ she said.
Pauline will spend the coming weeks by visiting Centacare sites in regional and metropolitan South Australia.
“A huge thank you to you all. I have deeply valued every experience I have had, the most important being the relationships I have enjoyed with so many of you,’’ Pauline said.
Leanne applauded Pauline’s years of dedicated service and highlighted the profound impact she has had on clients and staff.
Leanne said Pauline’s innate ability to inspire courage and belief in others was reflected in the organisation’s ‘’collective group of leaders dedicated to the common cause of servant leadership.’’
Growing up in an environment of fear and domestic violence takes a toll on children.
They see and hear the abuse of a parent, and sometimes their pets, and are exposed to threats of harm in the one place they are meant to feel safe – their home.
They may feel guilty for being unable to protect their parent, blame themselves for the abuse, or even step in to try and stop the violence.
When children experience this sort of trauma, their bodies, brains and behaviour adapt in an effort to protect them.
This can cause changes in their behaviour that may be confusing and distressing for parents and caregivers.
Clare Bowyer is a family relationship educator and counsellor at Centacare and delivers the Keeping Families Safe workshop.
The workshop is free and aims to empower separated parents and carers to understand their child’s behaviour, strengthen their relationship, and support the child’s healing in the wake of domestic violence.
“When parents understand how trauma affects a child’s behaviour, they can be more empathetic and know how to respond effectively,” Clare said.
At the workshop, parents learn how trauma impacts brain development and the way a child responds to the world.
“After trauma, part of the child’s brain (the amygdala) will be on high alert looking for signs of further danger,” Clare said.
”This is exhausting for a child. We need to learn ways to help them soothe the amygdala so that they regain a sense of safety in their world. When they feel safe, they can be curious about the world and learning can occur.
”Feelings can be overwhelming – children can ‘act out’ or turn their frustrations inwards.
”Again, understanding is the key to being able to support them. We also need to be gentle with ourselves so that we can recognise if self-blame creeps in.’
Keeping Families Safe will run on Tuesday, July 4. The workshop will explore:
How children experience domestic violence
What children might learn from this experience
How parents can help children heal
Strategies to support children’s ongoing wellbeing
For more information about Keeping Families Safe, phone Centacare on 8215 6700 or email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.