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Tour hoping to connect Ballarat families

(As published in the Ballarat Courier.)

OFTEN the needs of regional families are sidelined when compared with their metro neighbours, however Ballarat community leaders are looking to change this narrative as Victoria’s peak body for child and family services heads to the city.

For the first time, Melbourne-based Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare has embarked on a Connecting Communities Tour of five regions across Victoria.

Ballarat’s leg of the tour will feature three panellists from an array of professional backgrounds including Cafs chief executive Wendy Sturgess and Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative Chief Executive and Yorta-Yorta woman, Karen Heap. Ms Sturgess said the tour presented a unique opportunity to highlight the pressing issues facing Ballarat such as the region’s high domestic violence and suicide rates.

“Ballarat is often overlooked and we have high rates of domestic violence mental health and suicide, and the government needs to know that,” she said.

“This is an opportunity for our region to be heard and for the government to understand what our needs are and how they can address that in terms of advocacy and to do that authentically.”

Ms Sturgess said specifically, more work was needed in the statutory care system. “We want more emphasis on keeping kids connected with their families and out of out-of-home care,” she said.

“We want these kids to receive therapeutic funding but that’s something we’re not currently funded for.

“We also want foster carers and kinship carers to be better financially supported, because living in the regions and providing care costs more money than it does in metro areas.”

Ms Heap said it was important for the panel to have an Aboriginal perspective to better understand the vision of Aboriginal families and children. “I hope that through this panel I can convey (to the body and to Ballarat) what out families need, and how our families are traveling as far as children in care and how we can support our families,” she said.

Ms Heap and Ms Sturgess both agreed more was required of the government in the field of ‘preventative care’. Ms Heap said for Aboriginal families, who were from the Stolen Generation, it was crucial practices such as parenting classes were in place to ensure inter-generational trauma was stopped.

“We’ve got to understand that our families, some of our families come from Stolen Generation time and they can be second and third generation of that and in the Stolen Generation era of time they were put into institutions and they were not cared for by a parent,” she said.

So therefore, these children grew up not learning the skills to be a parent themselves, so we need to help our families be parents and understand what it is to be a parents and we need to have support programs to actually do that.”

The Connecting Communities Tour will be at the Mercure Ballarat Hotel and Convention Centre on July 11.

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