18 October 2010
A grass roots community endeavour is offering support to primary school-aged children during after-school hours; a time when the children were often unsupervised and at risk of getting into trouble. Moses Abbatangelo, Executive Director of Concern Australia and Ann Van Leerdam, Program Manager, tell us about their latest program and the difference it's made in the lives of the children involved.
Concern Australia (CA) is a cutting edge, vibrant welfare and mission organisation with an exciting vision for service, action and advocacy rooted in Christian faith. For over 35 years, CA has provided support and advocacy for some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups within the community.
All CA programs and services aim to address those issues that manifest themselves as barriers to individuals' participation in mainstream education, training, employment and personal development, such as safe and supportive housing access, drug and alcohol abuse issues, offending behaviours and the impact of trauma/attachment issues.
The LiveWires After Hours Care (AHC) Program is a free, grass roots community focused initiative incorporating programs for primary school aged children who reside in and around the Collingwood Public Housing Estate. Founded in 2005, the program is specifically for children who were left unsupervised during after school hours. "Prior to the creation of LiveWires, there were no supervised facilities targeting this age group, leaving children as young as four involved in petty crime," said Moses.
"Today, the AHC Program offers these children healthy after school snacks, art, craft, sport activities and a hot cooked evening meal - it sounds simple but there was such a great need in this community," explains Ann Van Leerdam, who established the program with much community support. The program also provides the children with an opportunity to build relationships with adults who are committed to the children and providing safe boundaries. Not surprisingly, this program heavily relies on volunteer support.
The LiveWires program now has over 60 participating children, with around 40 children attending each night. The Bennelong Foundation is a key supporter of this program.
CA has been very pleased with the children's response to their innovative program. "The children generally love to come to LiveWires AHC. There are some children who've participated in the program since it started and they really enjoy the activities and the attention they receive from adults involved in the program," said Ann. "Some children love the arts and crafts part of the program; others just enjoy being able to play soccer in a supervised and supportive environment. Ultimately, I think the children just like being able to choose what they want to do."
LiveWires has grown to offer eight services including a Homework Assistance Program, Holiday Program, Art Therapy Program and numeracy and literacy support program (Wired UP).
When asked about the challenges of implementing such a program, Moses said it's always funding that presents one of the biggest hurdles. "We began the program with a grass roots community development model, so the community and organisations working on the Collingwood Public Housing Estate were very much behind the program. There was such an obvious need for it and the parents were fantastic advocates, but attracting the funding has always been one of our biggest challenges."
Concern Australia receives Government funding for several of their programs, but LiveWires is unfortunately not one of those programs.
"The second biggest challenge has been our volunteer base. The AHC program runs from 3pm until 6pm, so people who work full-time are generally unable to participate," he said.
Junior Leadership Program
Since the inception of the program, CA noticed that some children found it very hard to move away from the LiveWires AHC program once they'd left primary school. A number of the children wanted to come back to the program, so CA's idea was to create a new way for these children to be able to engage.
"The Junior Leadership Program does just that; creates a framework for children who've been through the program to continue that involvement and offer additional support to children currently in the program," said Ann.
Whilst the success of the LiveWires program has been very pleasing for CA, Moses says it's difficult to be overwhelmed by its success when there is still so much need in the local community.
"All of our programs have been developed from community requests. Over the past years I've witnessed great changes in some children. We've developed a wonderful discipline which aims to respect the children and ourselves, and provide clear boundaries for everyone participating in the programs. We very much acknowledge the fantastic work we do, and also acknowledge the great results we see aren't just about the LiveWires Programs, but rather because our partnerships with local schools and other organisations allow us to offer an almost holistic response to the issues the children face," he explains.
For more information about the LiveWires program or Concern Australia in general, please visit http://www.concernaustralia.org.au/
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