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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

the family

the individual


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

Mission Statement The mission of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia is to deepen the Catholic faith of its members and to go out into our nation to heighten awareness of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing ourselves – who we are, and what we have – with people in need on a person-to-person basis. We seek to co-operate in shaping a more just and compassionate Australian community, and to share our resources with our twinned countries. Our preferred option in this mission of service is to work with people in development by respecting their dignity, sharing our hope and encouraging them to take control of their own destiny.

2 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Contents

Mission Statement

2

Agenda

4

From the State President

5

Spiritual Reflection | The Good Samaritan

6

Introduction

8

Session 1: What are low-income families’ most pressing needs?

9

Session 2: How can conferences help meet these needs?

12

Session 3: Networking

18

Judgement vs Judgemental

21

Social Justice Committee | 3


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Agenda 9.00 am

Registration

9.30 am

Opening prayers, spiritual reflection

9.45 am

Welcome and opening - Jim Grealish, State President

9.50 am

Introduction to Social Justice Forum 2007

10.00 am

Session 1: What are low-income families’ most pressing needs? z

Introduction, followed by group discussions to identify and list main areas of need for low-income families

z

Assignment of priority to identified needs (top 4 or 5)

11.00 am

Morning break

11.20 am

Session 2: How can conferences help meet these needs? Introduction, following by group discussion to consider conference actions to meet the identified main needs of low-income families, including ways conferences can increase skills in doing so

12.30 pm

Lunch

1.10 pm

Session 2: Summary of findings

1.20 pm

Session 3: Networking Brief presentation of the meaning of networking, and how in general terms “networks” can augment the assistance which a conference can give. Case Study Open dialogue on z

Specific netwok contacts which are likely to be appropirate for each of the main family needs

z

Examples of successful networking from conference experience

z

Building and maintaining networks within the conference

2.30 pm

Wrap-up and summary of Forum findings

3.00 pm

Closure and prayers

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

Pictured (ltor): John O’Brien, Jillian Ryan, Jim Grealish and Tony Tome

From the State President Thank you all for coming from far and wide to attend the 2007 Social Justice Forum. Your commitment to the cause of justice issues is outstanding. Your work encompasses the empowerment of people and giving them a handup. For this I congratulate you and especially Tony Dalton, Chair of the Social Justice Committee for his leadership. What is really pleasing is the number of conferences with Social Justice Officers. As well as dealing with macro issues, it is important to help people at local level. This is where immediate improvements in lifestyle can be made. I am pleased the theme of this forum is "The Family | The Individual". In Catholic theology, the family is the prime and pre-eminent unit of Society. In fact, family equals the Domestic Church. Today threats to family are many and great. Today, families are put under terrible pressures, economically, psychologically, socially and morally. Many groups seek to distort the meaning of the word family as they pursue their own selfish purposes. So whatever we can do to restore the family to its proper role will be a blessing to the whole community. There is a cyclical quality in today's situation. Dysfunctional individuals contribute to dysfunctional families, which in turn produce more dysfunctional individuals. Again, I congratulate you on your commitment to the beatitude of justice and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of this forum.

Jim Grealish Social Justice Committee | 5


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Spiritual Reflection: The Good Samaritan As Vincentians we live and work with people who seem to be imprisoned in their If resentments and the circumstances of their lives. Christ sends us forth into homes and neighbourhoods where it is all too easy to cultivate prejudice towards those who are different. We are missioned to a society in which human life is threatened in all its stages from conception to natural death. We witness the weak and vulnerable of our society passed by time and again. The compassionate gaze of Christ is offered to people today through our eyes. Christ takes our hands and uses them to tend the wounds of those who lay by the roadside in our world. Christ the Good Samaritan acts through you as we learn how to be a neighbour to those around us. Henri Nouwen reminds us that "Compassion asks us to go to where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, powerless with the powerless." To be compassionate is to do what God does - stand in solidarity with those who suffer. Compassion happens when we allow God's energy to be released in us when we see someone beaten by the roadside and we take on some of that pain. We lift the pain through our care. We reach out to become part of God's healing, God's compassion. People can be captives in many ways. People who are the victims of trafficking in persons are literally captives. We can also be captives in less obvious ways. We can be slaves to materialism, consumerism, selfishness or ideology. God's love as exemplified in the Good Samaritan liberates us from these false gods. God loves each one of us no matter what we own, what we wear, how we look or how we vote. We find meaning and direction by responding to God's love by loving God and our neighbours. the world is to change in line with the vision of Jesus, we must go immeasurably further than comfortable, selective compassion. 6 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Ultimately, Jesus is calling for conversion where we identify with the ones we reach out to, not from a position of patronising and condescending superiority, but one of genuine solidarity. This is a change, not of behaviour, but of perspective - the recognition that before God all persons share an equal dignity, and together stand powerlessly before God, sharing the nonnegotiable need for God's mercy. From this standpoint compassion most powerfully serves to build up the kingdom of God. We don't have to be literally blind not to see. There are things we would rather not see, and we may even turn our heads in order not to see. Jesus calls us to see the world with his eyes. Do we see each other as sisters and brothers in Jesus? Do we see the spark of the divine in each and every other person? If we see things this way, we will naturally want to work towards the good of every person and of every group in our society. At the end of the story Jesus simply says: "Go and do likewise. Love God and love your neighbour. Take care of those in need. Take a risk to offer help Even take care of those who belong to a different group from you.� There is no other way to make compassion effective than to follow Christ's command "Go and do likewise". For in the end, it is God who lies by the roadside stripped and beaten and waiting for me!

Social Justice Committee | 7


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

Introduction The program for today's Social Justice Forum has been designed to focus our attention on issues which confront families who are experiencing need or disadvantage, and come to us for assistance. These issues involve the circumstances not only of the family as a group, but also of the individual members of the family - the mother, the father and especially the children. Sometimes issues arise because either the mother or the father are no longer part of the family group - nevertheless, the circumstances of the missing partner can impact on the circumstances of the group - for better or more often, for worse. It is unfortunately a fact that when a family group is in trouble, those most adversely affected are the children. If a family continues for any length of time in circumstances of disadvantage, the children will almost certainly themselves suffer disadvantage in their own lives, both at present and in their adult years. When we visit families as conference members, we need to be aware of the family, not just as a single entity, but also as individuals - we need to tailor our assistance as far as possible to provide for the individuals as such, as well as for the group as a whole. This is not always easy, and today we hope that by talking our way through the situation, as conference members at the coal face as it were, we can help ourselves understand and define the special issues which come up in family visits, find effective ways to deal with them, and in particular, see how best we can steer parents in families towards the specialist services they may need to help break out of the cycle of disadvantage - how they and their children can gain access to all the opportunities normally offered by the Australian community to its members. 8 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Session 1: What are low-income families’ most pressing needs? We all meet families in our conference work - and, over time, as we build up our relationships with them, we get to find out about their circumstances. Using our experience with families as members, what do we see as the areas where they are most in need of assistance - not just from us, but from the rest of the community in which they live - schools, shops, doctors, whatever?? For example - and I can quote this one because it always seems to come up as the top priority whenever we in the Social Justice Committee review these things, affordable, secure housing. In any list of needs priorities we might put together, affordable housing will be No. 1. But there are many others, and the aim of our first session is to build a list of these needs, and then somehow agree on which are the four or five most important. Remember, we are talking about our actual conference experience, try to avoid hypothetical situations! The Process Each table should elect a reporter, to take notes on the findings and report these back to the meeting at the end of the discussion period. For Session 1, we would like you to list the issues for 15 minutes - then we'll take the reports. The idea is just to put a name on the needs, not to go into deep discussion of importance etc., just enough discussion to keep the listed items well defined and distinct from one another. The reporter notes should be limited simply to the list of topics which the table has identified We will score multiple listings as we go along, and once the lists are collated, we will then try together to identify priorities . We will have time later in the day for fuller discussion on the those topics which we have identified as of high importance.

Social Justice Committee | 9


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Session 1: Findings Issues identified by the forum attendees as important for families in need - no order of priority but collated into convenient groups. Financial

Income/expenditure stress Essentials - utilities (gas, electricity, energy efficiency) Drought Food Use of loans, availability of credit Financial counseling/budgeting Transport - private, public Setting spending priorities

Health

Dental Spiritual Mental heath Drug and alcohol Domestic violence Bulk billing

Centrelink

Case workers Inadequate Centrelink income How payments are allocated Centrelink processes Centrepay

Housing Accommodation

Mortgage Public housing Lack of affordable rentals Emergency accommodation Security of tenure Upfront fees, bonds, etc.

Education

University costs Early years School, fees and levies Child care costs School costs Computers, other aids, IT equipment, operation and associated costs

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Pictured (ltor): Noela Smith and Tony Feain

Social Inclusion

Spiritual support Despondency Belonging and social interactions Social skills knowledge Family counseling Basic personal skills Community services or resources and availability Incentives/disincentives Personal needs Depression Isolation Legal services Recreation needs and opportunities Emotional support Safe environment Rights and entitlements Parenting skills Home management skills

Other issues raised: z

Does the Society help enough to lift people out of poverty?

z

Availability of furniture/electrical applicances?

z

Vouchers for petrol and other goods? Social Justice Committee | 11


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Session 2: How can conferences help meet these needs? We now have a "short list" of low-income families' most pressing needs. In the next session, we want to think about two elements of this list, within the context of the conference. Firstly, what are the specific things which conferences can do to help families satisfy these needs: z

What action can be taken by the conference itself?

z

What actions can be recommended by the conference for the family to take itself?

z

What community or other services can the conference suggest the family contact?

Secondly, what can conferences do to increase their ability to provide this help to families: z

What extra resources could we use?

z

What additional knowledge would be useful?

z

Do we need more authority to act?

Findings Centrelink issues (2 groups) z Centrelink clients must be put on benefits smartly. 8 week delay should be cut to perhaps 1 or 2 weeks. z

Period of grace be given for government rental between being unemployed and employed. Society Head Office to advocate with Centrelink/Govt.

z

Centrelink agents seem to give clients jobs that are unsuitable and which client eventually leaves. The agent gets commission every time they start a new job. Some pressure should be put on agent to find a satisfactory job for client rather on client.

z

Conference to seek advice from Gavin Dufty or Phillip at the call centre.

z

Conference should get to know the manager at the local Centrelink office and call them for advice/help re client difficulties with Centrelink problems.

z

Conference should realise that quite often Centrelink are told only half the problem by their clients and therefore cannot help as much as they could

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

Pictured (ltor): Ann Magee, Maree Stewart, Sr Rosemary Graham

otherwise. Our clients should be advised to tell Centrelink the whole story. z

Conference should sit down with people and discuss the specific issues, with the Government’s payments booklet with them.

z

Conference should determine what the person is getting, and what he/she is entitled to according to the circumstances. (Parenting Allowance, Casual Worker change in hours and income - 6 weeks delay in paper work.)

z

Conference should advocate on behalf of person, representing them with Centrelink.

z

Conference should introduce person at Centrelink, travelling with the person if necessary to make sure that the service is actually accessed.

z

Conference should help families complete Centrelink forms, and ensure that they are taken to the Centrelink office in a timely manner.

z

If any concern with Centrelink ruling (eg not receiving expected entitlements), conference should advise the family to go to the original decision-maker and ask for a "review of the decision".

z

Conference should help families with their Centrelink appointment calendar, especially where there are health, language or other abnormal difficulties.

z

Level of service suburbs versus city.

z

Delay between application and commencement of payments.

z

Hardship caused by breaching.

z

Hardship caused by the Welfare-to-Work reforms.

z

Carer's benefit inadequate, and difficult to qualify for.

z

Indexing of pensions not keeping up with costs. Social Justice Committee | 13


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Education (2 groups) z

School uniform program - voucher system in Bendigo based on headmaster recommendations.

z

Indirect assistance to allow payment of school fees.

z

Negotiating fee reduction with Principal.

z

Incentives to look after school items.

z

Use of EMA.

z

One-off grant for primary and secondary schools.

z

State Schools' Relief Committee.

z

Education grant - pick up costs not covered by government payments.

z

University books/levies - disadvantaged students.

z

Kinder fees - support.

z

Excursions and camps - supported by Bendigo conference.

z

Breakfast programs in disadvantaged areas.

z

Conferences can help family develop home skills.

z

Conferences can network with schools and fundraise to help with uniforms, camps, books (including secondhand).

z

Conference can provide back-to-school assistance.

z

Conferences should liaise with local school principals and teachers.

z

Conferences can make referrals for self-education in families.

z

Conferences can provide assistance with excursions, sports activities and books.

z

Conference can assist with payment for school photos.

z

Living away from home allowance.

z

Help families accept assistance from Welfare and Social workers.

z

Assist a Student program.

z

Chaplain

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Accommodation and Housing (2 groups) z

Identify and document occurrences of housing stress.

z

Approach local bodies - other charities, small businesses ie motels

z

Develop general public advocacy for both short and long term needs through parishes, local newspapers, local politicians.

z

Explore low-cost housing options - decommissioned portable classrooms, with government assistance.

z

Get into political advocacy with Democrats, Family First, minority parties and independents. Provide case studies.

Pictured: Dulcie Torr

z

Expand/extend case studies to scenarios and trends - workshop with other areas in this way.

z

Maintain a persistent message.

z

Be radical, as was Jesus, and as are our gospel, and living out the gospel.

z

Conferences should support empowerment of families.

z

Conferences should get to know local networks and housing support services and use them.

z

Advocate on behalf of families with the Office of Housing, local members of parliament, landlords and estate agents.

z

Co-operate with local government programs such as "Healthy Connected Communities" in the City of Bayside.

z

Assist with arrears - utilities, bond payments, mortgages.

z

Help with information - encouragement to use financial counsellors to deal with issues putting someone at risk of homelessness (eg debt cancellation.)

z

Continue to provide day-to-day material and practical support.

z

Help family apply for specific purpose grants - local government, state government, community. Social Justice Committee | 15


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007

Pictured (ltor): Damian Vella, George Lawson, Bill Smolemaars

Household costs, management and budgeting (2 groups) z

Provide practical support - food, bills, clothing, furniture.

z

Provide information/referrals on how to make house more energy efficient (eg Kildonnan Family services).

z

Mentoring, helping family with household budgeting and family home skills.

z

Encourage use of easy-pay or Centrepay systems for utilities.

z

Encourage to apply for capital grant for more energy efficient appliances.

z

Conferences can team up to provide necessary skills to meet particular family needs.

z

Conferences can develop relationships with tradespeople (eg plumbers) and professionals (eg legal services), who can be accessed by families for low-cost effective services.

z

Provide basic budgeting help -interact with family input.

z

Conference can organise information sessions - presentations by mothers, domestic operators, etc. sharing stories on cheaper groceries, cleaning costs, household management, domestic and social skills, government and other resources which provide help for families.

z

Conferences can undertake member development to provide better assistance to families.

z

Conferences should assist family to organise bill payment strategies, in conjunction with external organisations where appropriate.

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Health Issues (1 group) z

Bulk billing availability too limited.

z

Conference can develop data on areas not coping with mental health needs because services overloaded.

z

Conference can use this data to apply pressure to local and higher governments for improvement.

z

Conference members should be educated and encouraged to refer families to other organisations and resources in the community.

z

School health programs, including dental health, hygiene and diet, should be encouraged. Advocacy by the Society is indicated.

z

Dental care waiting lists are a major problem. Advocacy called for.

z

Conferences can pay for emergency dental treatment if necessary.

z

The Society should maintain a program of education for members on health problems associated with disadvantage - mental health (including depression), substance abuse (including alcohol), domestic violence, sexual assault victims.

Social Inclusion (1 group) z

Encourage development of Compeer program.

z

Foster kid camps, roadshows, outings, excursions, movie trips.

z

Organise 'Pamper Days' in areas of widespread distress (eg drought areas).

z

Support by various means, including financial, access to local sporting facilities such as swimming pools, sports clubs,

z

Promote community sponsorship for social groups and facilities eg parenting groups, mens' workshop, etc.

z

Compile and promulgate local directories of community support services and facilities.

z

Refer family to appropriate community resources where inclusion can occur eg craft groups, gardening groups, walking groups, etc.

z

Liaison with Centrecare

Social Justice Committee | 17


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Session 3: Networking This session set out to identify what pre-existing networking might help conferences with the suggested actions raised during the previous session. Session 3 was divided into four parts: 1) Discussion around "what is networking?" 2) Examples of successful conference networking including case study 3) Building and maintaining effective networks 4) Tools for conference networking "What is networking?� focused on the fact that the Society’s volunteers cannot, by ourselves, solve all the problems of everyone seeking assistance. And when being compassionate and offering a 'listening' ear, we can often identify the underlying problems ie beyond the food parcel or voucher, and it is through networking that we greatly expand the level of assistance available. Many examples of successful networking were raised by conferences from around Victoria, and these were also related in various cases to those listed during Session 2. CASE STUDY: IT'S WHO YOU KNOW! A lady in her fifties, living in Central Victoria, was employed on a regular but casual basis. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and after an operation, was discharged to her home. She faced a long convalescence. When she applied to Centrelink for a Disability Pension, she was advised that it would be seven weeks before she received her first payment. Ineligible for sick pay because of the casual employment, with no income, and in desperate circumstances, the lady was referred by a friend to a St Vincent de Paul Society conference. The conference, as well as providing food and care, enquired at Centrelink on behalf of the lady, actually making contact twice with the Centrelink office. Each time they were told that payment could not be made sooner.

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Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 A phone call was made to the Federal Member's office, which, on enquiry with Centrelink, was advised that Centrelink had actually cancelled the application for Disability Pension because the lady's former employer had not responded to Centrelink's request for information. The cancellation had been made without any advice to the lady. However, the intervention by the MP's office resulted in the application being re-instated. Further, the lady received her first pension payment, and her Health Care card, within four days! The segment on building and maintaining networks covered several options. A number of useful tools for conference networking were presented and discussed in open dialogue. z

Renting a Home (copies available on table at the door)..

z

Helping Australians in Financial Crisis

z

Commonwealth Directory of Services (copies available on table at the door).

z

Centrelink Contact List (already sent out to conferences).

z

National Community Services Contact List (Department of Family and Community Services)

A suggested effective method for using these tools was to: a) Compile a reference/information manual in each conference (and region). b) Arrange meetings with local staff associated with each component. The basic components of a conference reference/information manual were discussed: z

'A guide to Australian Government payments' - from Centrelink

z

'A guide to confessions in Victoria' - Department of Human Services

z

'Right a wrong' - Victoria Legal Aid

z

'Child FIRST'/family services assistance details (including the new agency partnerships which provide integrated family services) - Department of Human Services Local Councils assistance details, and those other community service organisations

z

z

Contact information for politicians (federal, state and local) - who can offer open doors and free up 'blockages'. Social Justice Committee | 19


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Other useful inserts mentioned for the information manual were papers, for example 'SJ Speaking', issued by the St Vincent de Paul Society’s state office. Recent papers covered topics such as: z

Telephone numbers of each utility company, to assist with hardship cases

z

Transitional housing managers, with details listed in geographical area

z

Contact list for Centrelink managers and senior social workers

During the conclusion of this session the advantage of Social Justice Officers within conferences (and regions) was highlighted. In many conferences these officers maintain the directory of local resources and agencies, as well as the useful federal and state information.

20 | St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc.


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 Judgement vs Judgemental Many conference members have difficulty with the distinction between "judgement" and "judgemental" - we know that we must always exercise judgement in our conference work, but must NEVER be judgemental. The Social Justice Committee received several requests to include discussion of this problem at the 2007 Forum. After a considerable amount of research on the many articles written on this subject by a variety of authors, the Committee has condensed what it believes to be the essence of the distinction into a short comparative table, which was presented to attendees at the Forum.

JUDGEMENT z INFORMED, CONSIDERED DECISIONS BASED ON FACTS. z

REFERENCE AGAINST GENERAL COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

z

ACCEPTANCE

JUDGEMENTAL z UNINFORMED, UN-CONSIDERED DECISIONS BASED ON ASSUMPTIONS. z

REFERENCE AGAINST PERSONAL PERCEPTIONS.

z

CRITICISM

Social Justice Committee | 21


Social Justice Forum Saturday 13 October 2007 NOTES

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“Yours must be a work of love, of kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. “The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning with an inalienable right to respect. “You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis: You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement.” Blessed Frederic Ozanam 1813-1853

Social Justice Committee | 23


St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria Inc. ABN: 28 911 702 061 43 Prospect Street, Box Hill Vic 3128 Locked Bag 4800, Box Hill Vic 3128 Phone: 03 9895 5800 Fax: 03 9895 5850 Email: info@svdp-vic.org.au Website: www.vinnies.org.au/vic January 2008


http://vinnies.org.au/files/VIC/SocialJustice/Forums/2007%20-%20SJ%20Forum%20booklet