The Genesis

This page talks about the tragedies that precipitated and how Family Life turned community needs into solutions for community well-being.

In 1998, three mothers who were living in public housing estates in Highett, a beachside suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, died under tragic circumstances.

A group of local organisations came together to try to help the residents on these estates deal with the aftermath of loss, trauma and sadness.  Family Life  was one of those local organisations.

Meetings were arranged on the estates to hear first hand from residents about the impact of the deaths and to offer support for dealing with their emotions and reactions.  We encountered a group of angry and distressed people.  Most were living in poverty.  Over 60 different cultural backgrounds were represented, including refugees and recent immigrants.  Unemployment was high and a number of children in the area were already known to child protection authorities.  The police were frequently called to the estates.  The way in which these estates had been built tended to segregate the residents; increasing their  sense of isolation from the surrounding, more affluent, community.  Many of the residents related histories of terrible disadvantage, personal tragedy and of experiencing family and community violence.

Family Life’s particular role was to talk to the children when our family workers encouraged them to tell us about how life was for them in their neighbourhood.  A picture quickly emerged of these children experiencing great fear and anxiety.  The impression we gained fitted the profile of children living in an urban war zone.  

Children told us that when sirens went off they raced home to make sure their parents were ok.  They were frightened to go out to play.  They said they did not feel safe and that after the deaths it was now worse.  Apparently, the mothers who had recently died were ones who kept an eye on children playing in the neighbourhood.  

The stories we heard from children and adults were full of helplessness, anger, and a belief that those in authority didn’t care about the situation.  We were told that at times this anger and frustration spilled over into conflict between residents.  This sense of frustration was shared too by the representatives of government departments who attended the meetings. They described their sense of frustration when vandalism and crime went unreported, yet their efforts to improve situations seemed to be repeatedly undermined.

Our service providers who had been involved in the community debriefing sessions were shaken and shocked by the picture of disconnection and marginalisation that was emerging. We realised the urgent need for change.  Together we thought about how we could help to build hope and improve life in these high need neighbourhoods.  So we decided to go back to the parents and to ask, “What would you like?  What would be most helpful for you?”   

We accepted that the services we were providing needed to be more relevant and responsive to members of these communities.  We were aware of the urgent need to improve conditions for the children.  Thus began the first stage of what was to become, for all of us, a new journey as we listened, helping to provide what the residents asked for and working hard to earn their trust.