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Aunties and Uncles Queensland is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 17th August 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> August -> Aunties and Uncles Queensland is In the Spotlight

Aunties and Uncles Queensland is an early intervention and prevention mentoring program assisting vulnerable and socially isolated children aged 1 to 11 years within the greater Brisbane and Gold Coast areas. The mentor relationship affords each child time, attention, care and stability. Mentors also offer guidance and exposure to new experiences through activities and positive relationships. Parents eligible for the program face significant challenges. Through Aunties and Uncles, they have more people ‘in their corner’ to support them and their family whilst focusing on their overall wellbeing.

Mentor aunties and uncles are over 18 years of age, from all walks of life, have a friendly, caring nature and are able to provide a consistent and nurturing relationship for a child. Mentors have an immense long-lasting impact on children by offering the experience of stability and the benefits of an extended family.

The Aunties and Uncles concept dates back to 1974 when Rose White founded the New South Wales Aunties and Uncles Program.Her vision was to build a better life for children. Aunties and Uncles Queensland was founded in 1992 by Ann Thew, who brought her experiences of volunteering as an auntie in Sydney to Queensland when she moved to Brisbane. Originally the program was funded by way of philanthropic grants and non-recurrent funding from the State Government.

The program closed in November 2002 due to funding constraints but reopened in October 2003 under the umbrella of the Lions Club. In November 2010 the program expanded to include the Gold Coast. An office was opened in Paddington in November 2011. The program operated under the Lions Club until September 2012. Since this time the organisation has been totally self-funded through the fundraising efforts of its members and through grants and donations from corporate partners, organisations and individuals.

Mentor aunties and uncles who become part of the program make a minimum commitment of 12 months with many continuing way beyond that time span. Auntie and Uncles' Director Judy Wood is well aware of the longevity of many auntie and uncle mentoring relationships. With her nephew now being 28 years of age, Judy continues to have a relationship with Duane who she first met when he was 8. She has also been aunty to a 6 year old little girl since she was a baby. Judy’s long term commitment to Aunties and Uncles hasn’t wavered in the decades she has been involved: “It’s impossible to be a volunteer aunty and not be passionate about the work of the program.The solutions delivered by the program basically emulate normal, healthy family relationships for those who need that kind of support the most. As a result, children spend time throughout their childhood and teenage years, often even into adulthood, benefiting from a close bond with their aunty and/or uncle and sometimes cousins experiencing a different type of family life.The children are exposed to experiences where they learn more about their strengths and abilities. Due to this intense care and attention, their quality of life and wellbeing rises.Meanwhile, their parents can concentrate more on other dependents or challenges. They too benefit from much needed respite.”

As both a volunteer mentor and as a volunteer board member, Judy is determined that the program be available throughout Queensland with the capacity to meet the high demand.Currently this isn’t occurring.Whilst there is an abundant supply of excellent mentors willing and able to assist local families, the program needs funding to undertake the screening, assessment, training and relationship building aspects of their work. Once these processes are in place, the relationships are generally self-sustaining other than the regular reviews and mentor training offered to ensure ongoing skill development and support. “I’m particularly passionate about the program right now.Our model is now so refined, it is working extremely effectively and relationships across the sector have us working in trusted partnerships and as part of a holistic approach to addressing need. However funding has become so tight, the Queensland program is facing closure” says Judy.

In spite of its tenuous predicament, Judy is adamant that the time for this program to flourish is now. Given the ever increasing need for support services that are unique and flexible, particularly in light of the recommendations of the Carmody report Taking Responsibility: A Roadmap for Queensland Child Protection (June, 2013) that highlighted the need for a diverse range of services whilst acknowledging that support is not a ‘one size fits all’ process, Aunties and Uncles can respond to the varying needs of children and families in a non-threatening, non-stigmatising, gentle and supportive manner: “Given the possibility of changes to care arrangements for the families, we often work alongside family intervention services to benefit the children and the family unit. Aunties and Uncles is also able to refer families to Family and Child Connect or other family intervention services when additional case management is required that we simply don’t have capacity or scope to carry out.”

Judy further noted that over the years there has been a steady increase in the demand for the service as they continue to see issues such as family breakdown, fraught relationships, the erosion of community and increasing pressures on families leading to more families feeling isolated and lacking positive and supportive connections. “This demand is also increasing from other service providers who know our work and have seen the positive effects within the families we are currently supporting.”

Aunties and Uncles’ program allows for flexibility, a focus on the needs and outcomes for the child with the primary aim of increasing connections, improving relationships skills, offering stability and reducing the impact of intergenerational disadvantage factors within families. This mentoring program offers the capacity to tackle the significant issues of social isolation whilst promoting the development of life skills for young children and young people: “Aunties and Uncles has worked closely with Child Safety on a number of occasions when cases have escalated to the tertiary sector. In the last 12 months the program has alleviated the need for some mentored children to enter the child protection system. There are also a number of cases where mentors have either taken up the kinship carer role or remained in contact and offered consistent support to the child as they entered the child protection system whilst also working in with carers to provide additional and on-going support” says Judy. She further notes that these supports offer huge cost savings to government and the community, with the additional bonus that the relationships and supports offer on going opportunities for connection, healing and wellbeing to children.

Judy is clear that the essence of what Aunties and Uncles offers parallels many of the current aims of the evolving child protection system in Queensland post the Carmody Inquiry in that they provide:

  • Medium to long term support
  • Flexible and responsive service delivery
  • A community service highly regarded by families, volunteers and stakeholders
  • A cost effective service
  • A unique service able to meet a gap in current services offered within the community
  • Respite support – assisting parents to have a break and be part of a support network to improve their parenting
  • Support that is an ‘extended family’ style of support
  • Improved relationships and connections for children and their families
  • Positive outcomes for families, children and mentors

After decades of commitment to Aunties and Uncles and an unwavering belief in the positive impact this program has on children, families and the community, Judy is hopeful that the child protection system will continue to move forward in a clear and planned approach whilst solidly advocating for the vitality of this program to remain an option for children and families in Brisbane and the Gold Coast with the view to expand services to all Queensland children: “We offer a unique early intervention and prevention service that is highly cost effective. We can actively meet a clear gap in the support currently available to the community.Alongside that challenge remains the on-going demand for our services and the ever-present need for funds to continue these valued services.”

Watch this video to find out more about Aunties and Uncles Queensland.

You can make a tax deductible donatation to Aunties and Uncles Queensland by clicking on the button below.

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