Featured Grants

Relevant Documents

Program Area A: Vulnerable Victorians

Featured Grant: Willum Warrain

Keeping culture strong
$60,000 over two years

Creating a healing space and keeping culture strong for the Mornington Peninsula’s growing Aboriginal population, was the driving force behind employing a gathering place coordinator for the Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association.

Willum Warrain is the only Aboriginal organisation servicing Indigenous community members on the Mornington Peninsula and has just turned four years old.

The Victorian Government’s Indigenous Health Strategy, ‘Koolin Balit’, identified the Southern Metro Region of the state as having the second fastest growing Aboriginal population in Victoria.

Considering the well-documented health and wellbeing gap between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians and the evidence that community engagement through a place-based approach can improve the social determinants of health, Willum Warrain’s Aboriginal board has worked hard to put in place a ‘one stop shop’ for access to services, activities and programs in a culturally appropriate setting. The aim: Willum Warrain is a place where people can come and feel safe and comfortable, right from their first visit.

With the help of a $60,000 grant over two years from the R E Ross Trust, the board employed Gathering Place Coordinator, Karsten Poll, who has built Willum Warrain into a thriving hub for the local Indigenous population.

Responsible for the running of Willum Warrain and its programs, he now oversees an organisation where people gather as a supportive community to undertake activities such as the community kitchen for healthy and affordable eating, men’s and women’s groups, a bush playgroup, traditional tool-making workshops, the “us mob” program for disengaged youth, support and linkages for members of the Stolen Generations, not to mention running well-attended Reconciliation, NAIDOC and Christmas events.

These programs are requested by the Aboriginal community, for the Aboriginal community.

There are approximately 1200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living on the Peninsula, with over 1500 in Frankston and 2500 in the Cranbourne area, who are all potential visitors to the gathering place and its programs.

Attendance at the gathering place, membership (up by 66 per cent) and participation at events, demonstrate the value the local community is placing on this safe community gathering place.

From a wider community perspective, cultural awareness and educational activities with local schools, groups and organisations across the Mornington Peninsula are also promoting community cohesion, understanding and reconciliation within the broader population.

Visit the Willum Warrain website

Featured Grant: Barwon Community Legal Service

Supporting asylum seekers on their way to the starting line
$60,000 over two years

One of the major challenges for an asylum seeker attempting to gain access to Australia is the paperwork and proof needed to apply for a temporary protection visa. That challenge became even greater when the Australian Government set a new deadline to apply for those who had arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014.

With the help of an R E Ross Trust grant of $60,000 over two years, Barwon Community Legal Service along with Bellarine for Refugees (who initially pitched the idea to Barwon), developed the Seeking Refuge Project. This involved working with Refugee Legal to marshal an army of volunteers, create its own streamlined process and tackle the job of getting 76 local asylum seeker applications completed before the government’s deadline of October 2017.

Once it became clear they needed extra funds for interpreters, the team also worked with Deakin University in Geelong to run a Pozible campaign to raise the money.

Creating a blueprint

“Every client who contacted us got help,” says Marijana Hawkins, the Seeking Refuge project worker and lawyer who coordinated the process; now a blueprint for others.

Before her team could start providing help, they needed to train 70 volunteers, put them through police checks and skill them up on the art of the extensive application form. People from all walks of life wanted to help – law, social work and psychology students, retirees, doctors, celebrities and more.

Lawyers with practicing certifi cates registered as Migration Agents and were trained. Others were trained to provide administrative support to the clients and migration agents, completing the paperwork, not to mention managing the ongoing relationships with the asylum seekers, providing support and updates.

“There is a huge amount of work in one application. There are 101 questions, all in English and all the conversations happen through interpreters,” Marijana said.

Listening to the stories

“As part of the application you need to give a detailed history of the past 30 years of employment, addresses, travel and movements, details of all family members – for someone who has moved around a lot, it’s very challenging to remember and you don’t have these records, particularly if you have been in detention.

“Listening to their stories, most of them are just horrific. It’s hard to believe what they’ve been through and that they are still so resilient. So many are quite positive because they are safe for now,” Marijana said.

Not only are they safe, but many are working and being productive “some have set up their own businesses and are doing well. They are clever, with degrees and experience in their own countries.

“It helps with the long wait when they are working and feel like they are contributing.”

Marijana says many of the clients have been the most grateful she’s experienced in her time as a lawyer; someone has taken time to get to know them, keep them informed and built genuine rapport and trust.

A refugee to Australia herself, Marijana says if she could give asylum seekers one thing it would be clarity. “There will always be a process to enter the country but just give people clarity and a realistic timeframe for each stage of the process. It would allow people to plan and remove the suspense of not knowing.”

Even though some of the clients have been waiting up to five years to progress to the visa interview stage, the care and intensive work from the project team has put 76 individuals and families closer to the starting line.

Visit Barwon Community Legal Service

Featured Grant: Emerge

Financial independence after family violence
$50,000 over two years

A pilot program enabling a financial counsellor to spend one day a week with women who have experienced family violence is generating positive results.  

Emerge Women’s and Children’s Support Network provides housing and support services to women and children fleeing violence and one of the major issues identified for clients is economic hardship and financial issues associated with family violence.

Around 99 per cent of female victims of family violence experience financial abuse, according to the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. Despite the scale of the problem, there are few services available to victims of financial abuse and it can be extremely difficult to navigate the system to clear debts incurred due to financial abuse.

Financial issues may range from being prevented from accessing bank accounts to debts and fines in their name, taken out by a partner.

Emerge also found that women using their services had either low or little understanding of budgeting, their financial rights, or how to recover from the economic consequences of family violence.

With a grant from the R E Ross Trust, Emerge engaged a financial counsellor one day a week to work with women who are in their crisis accommodation, transitional housing or receiving ongoing therapeutic services.

In group and one-on-one sessions, the program assisted 68 clients in the first 10 months, with a clear and growing need for more services of this kind.

Seamless referral from a financial counsellor

For Emerge, having a financial counsellor, Lyn White, for seamless referral is a real positive for the women. They sit with Lyn to understand their debt crisis before being given information about their rights regarding their debts.

“My role effectively, is to take over their debt crisis and to advocate strongly with creditors,” Lyn said.

“This leaves the women to spend more time with Emerge’s case workers to focus on their other needs, including housing, legal, medical and children’s issues,” Lyn said.

Among the most frequent issues Lyn deals with are debts that have been accrued because the perpetrator through coercive or controlling behaviour simply passes them onto his partner.

These include infringements incurred by the perpetrator using their partner’s car which impacts financially and accrues demerit points and cash loans from pay day lenders which are easily accessible over the internet enabling the perpetrator to input the details of his partner, leaving her with the debt whilst he gets the cash.

In evaluating the pilot, Emerge found understanding of basic financial rights and basic budgeting to set achievable financial goals was an important first step for clients. Financial institutions became more receptive when overtures were made by the counsellor on behalf of clients in relation to loans made under duress or other abuse. With the help of financial counselling, clients had increased hope and confidence and improved housing stability.

Visit the Emerge website.

Featured Grant: Mental Health Legal Centre

Strengthening the voice of mental health clients
$75,000 over three years

With the help of funds from the R E Ross Trust and the Helen McPherson Smith Trust, the Mental Health Legal Centre is training teams of social workers and other practitioners across Victoria, to ensure pre-prepared advance statements give mental health clients a voice even in moments of acute illness. At the peak of a mental health episode it can be almost impossible to clearly convey your wishes to your treating practitioner.

In a system which is overwhelmed, under resourced with a high staff turnover – in 2015-16 there were 66,000 people in the mental health system in Victoria; 12,000 under treatment orders – anything which shortens timeframes and leads to better outcomes is invaluable.

The Mental Health Legal Centre (MHLC) has been working with its clients to put in place a document to help in these acute moments of stress and there have been some surprising results.

General Manager of the MHLC, Charlotte Jones, says advanced statements are the result of almost 20 years of campaigning and lobbying to ensure the voices of consumers with mental health issues are heard.

An advance statement sets out what you want to happen in the event you become unwell and you are not able to make decisions about your treatment and care in a hospital setting. They must now be considered by decision makers under the Mental Health Act 2014, to be taken under advisement. If they aren’t followed, a consultant psychiatrist must explain why not.

Training professionals to use advance statements

It’s one thing to prepare the advance statement with the client, and it’s another to have the treating team understand and use them appropriately. An R E Ross Trust grant of $75,000 over three years has helped the MHLC put in place a rolling program of training with mental health practitioners to help increase the likelihood they are. Now over 600 medical staff and clinicians have been trained and nearly 200 lawyers have been trained to give advice and assist in the development of advance statements.

“One of the results was the practitioner identifying that the document had the power to change the conversation with a patient,” Charlotte said.

“The statements, when used well, allow for better engagement with the treating team. They give treating practitioners the ability to understand their patient’s interests and quickly breakdown barriers to build rapport. Given the likelihood that mental health patients move around, have insecure housing and may need to be treated by those they don’t know, this is highly valuable.

“The key benefit to the clients has been somewhat of an unexpected one – the advance statement gives you a sense of the person and a really clear voice.

“We spend from four to six hours with someone putting the advanced statement together and, in the circumstance that a client has lost all sense of self, the first thing they get to say is ‘this is who I am, and this is what I want to be called’. We take the time to create something of value.

“It provides the ability to say what does and doesn’t work for them. Things like ‘Please don’t give me x medication because it makes me worse’,” Charlotte said.

Understanding the triggers

One of the other key changes and realisations was for the mental health patients themselves.

“The thing we’ve reflected on is that our clients have started to understand their own triggers better. We hadn’t anticipated this. Clients were saying to us ‘we’ve now got a way to understand how we ended up so unwell’. One of the results is greater empowerment and validation.”

With over 73 training sessions complete, collaboration across the sector to design information and training, and evaluation findings which have led to a recommendation of government funding, Charlotte says this project has taken a long time to build momentum. Now it has traction with both the medical profession and the Mental Health Tribunal convinced of the value of the service.

The MHLC provides a free and confidential legal service to anyone who has experienced mental illness in Victoria where their legal problem relates to their mental illness.

Visit the Mental Health Legal Centre website.