22 August 2012
MacKillop Family Services (MacKillop) has a long history of helping children and families in need. Formed in 1997 as a re-founding of earlier works undertaken by the Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers and Sisters of St Joseph, MacKillop has evolved to become a leading provider of services for children, young people and their families in Victoria and NSW. Today, MacKillop centre its work on promoting justice and fostering hope among the children, families and communities it serves. We spoke to Jackie Gravatt, Manager, MacKillop Disability Services (Metro), to learn more about MacKillop and in particular its work with Vietnamese families who have a child with a disability.
Broadly, MacKillop's services are characterised by seven themes:
1. supporting families raising a child with a disability;
2. providing services for children and young people who can't live at home;
3. providing education and training services for children and young people;
4. supporting disadvantaged families and families in crisis;
5. providing early intervention and post-crisis case management services for young people at risk of disengaging with education, in contact with the juvenile justice system, or who are homeless or at imminent risk of being homeless;
6. providing services for asylum seekers who are unaccompanied minors; and
7. providing services for former orphanage residents and their families.
Working to help children, young people and families at risk, some of MacKillop's services include providing foster and residential care, disability services, refugee support and education and training. Underpinning its work is a belief ‘in the right for all people to be treated justly and fairly'.
Supporting families raising a child with a disability
MacKillop's Disability Services is dedicated to supporting children and young people with a disability and their families. It's here Jackie has focused her efforts at MacKillop for the past four years. Based in Melbourne's inner west, Jackie is responsible for the day-to-day operation of this department. "I implement and monitor service standards and quality initiatives and ensure our department is compliant with relevant disability service standards," she said. "What I enjoy most about my role is supporting my staff who support our clients. We work by the motto, ‘families shouldn't have to wait'. After all, if a family has approached us, they're generally already in crisis," said Jackie.
Working with Vietnamese families
An important family-based initiative in which the Bennelong Foundation is actively involved is a support group for Vietnamese parents with a child with a disability. "The Vietnamese Parent Support Program began via the Migrant Resource Centre, who, in 2001, conducted research into the Vietnamese community and their special-needs children. They found these families needed help connecting to community services and information," she said.
Supported by ParentsLink, a service established by MacKillop in 2001, the Vietnamese Parent Support Program gives parents an opportunity to talk and gain support from other parents and families experiencing similar issues. "The group's former president, who passed away in 2011, had a son with cerebral palsy. He knew of the struggles of being a parent with a child with a disability within the Vietnamese community. It was upon hearing of a Vietnamese man who killed his son because his son had a disability, that the founder envisioned the program should be about Vietnamese families meeting to share stories, having links to services and gathering socially. He wanted a group that would help reduce isolation and break down the barriers within the Vietnamese community of having a child with a disability," Jackie said.
Bringing families together
With 20 regular members, the program is now in its ninth year and has shared many an occasion together including an annual family camp - this year at Lord Somers Camp on the Mornington Peninsula. It's through these camps, in particular, that Jackie has witnessed the importance and success of the group.
"These camps provide the opportunity for approximately 30 Vietnamese families to network, share and understand other families' stories and experiences. As the weekly group is mainly attended by mothers, the camps provide fathers with the opportunity to see what the mothers do, see what other fathers do and watch how other families cope with their child who has a disability," she said. "It builds connections which reduce isolation and strengthens communities."
What's most pleasing, Jackie said, is the families' ability to witness the change and development of each other's children year after year, putting the shame and stigma aside of having a child with a disability and embracing that child's unique qualities.
Helping parents now and in the future
Evidenced by its regular membership and years of service to the community, the Vietnamese Parent Support Program remains an important part of the Vietnamese network. "Through the generous support of foundations like the Bennelong Foundation, we aim to continue to support the group, primarily to fund the group facilitator's annual salary and to help cover the cost of the group's activities, such as transport to the annual camp," Jackie said.
To further illustrate the vital role the program plays, one group member appealed to MacKillop saying, "We would like MacKillop to continue seeking or to give us funding for our group. As parents of children with a disability, we share a common bond. We also face many challenges. By sharing information and supporting each other, we not only help our own families, but others as well. I have been surprised to discover how many families of children with a disability there are in my local community. As parents, we all need support."
For more information about MacKillop Family Services, visit mackillop.org.au
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