The Catherine Circle Projects

The Catherine Circle, the McAuley Community Services for Women giving circle, was launched on June 23 2016. It was a great celebration to 'announce' the first projects funded by the Circle. Our CEO Jocelyn Bignold talked about how advocacy works, and Louise Doyle, CEO of the Besen Family Foundation,  launched the Circle and inspired those present when she spoke about the power of giving.

Each year members are presented with two projects to consider for funding.

For those who want to know more about joining this remarkable initiative, head to our Catherine Circle page.

Findings from 2016 The Catherine Circles projects

In 2016, two research projects were funded through the Catherine Circle: Safe at Home and an evaluation of McAuley Works. 

Jocelyn Bignold, CEO, said: “The studies will help inform the future direction of both programs, and have already shaped new thinking.”

“The Catherine Circle highlights the power of giving when people come together for a common cause. The projects give donors an indepth understanding of particular issues, and their donations directly help to solve a problem or gap in the system. It is a tremendous initiative, and I encourage people to consider joining.”

Safe at Home


Since 2010, McAuley has attempted to deliver a Safe at Home service for women and families at McAuley Care.

The aim is to work collaboratively with other organisations to ensure women and children can return home safely, with the perpetrator of violence removed from the home.

Unfortunately, this approach is in stark contrast with the current system where the perpetrator stays, and it is the victims- the women and children- who are forced to leave.

“While we support many families to move into safe accommodation, very few safely return home,” Jocelyn Bignold said.

“Thanks to the Catherine Circle, we have been able to carry out essential analysis to understand more about why women coming into its family violence service are unable to return home safely, and to investigate the possible development of an expanded Safe at Home program,” she added.

The findings are revealing. Through discussions with clients at McAuley Care, women said they felt conflicted about returning home, some were too scared to stay in their homes after violence which is why they chose to flee to stay safe. Others were reluctant to apply for an Intervention Order to exclude their partner from the family home because it meant the partner would effectively become homeless.

“The current reality is that women and children are fleeing into a system that is under resourced and potentially places women and children at further risk of trauma and harm,” Jocelyn said.

“Our data shows that most families who come to McAuley Care move on to short term, unstable accommodation with friends or family, or to refuge accommodation,” she added.

The Catherine Circle analysis has enabled McAuley to put together a framework that will guide how the organisation works with the women in the future.

“Emergency housing isn’t the only option, and the opportunity to explore going home safely is something we need to introduce at every point of our service,” Jocelyn said.

Safe at Home, which was McAuley’s primary recommendation to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, was taken up by the Commissioners. They said the program should be expanded and be funded to include suitable case management, rental/ mortgage subsidies, personal safety devices, in addition to monitoring of perpetrators by police and the justice system.

McAuley Works

Financial independence is critical for women to successfully leave family violence behind them. While women remain financially dependent on violent men, they are less likely to leave them. Without sustained employment, women who have left a violent relationship are more likely to enter the homelessness sector.

“We set up McAuley Works, a successful employment support program for disadvantaged women, to address these issues and were successful in placing women in worthwhile jobs at a greater rate than government-funded programs could manage. Unfortunately, we had to close the program in 2015 due to a lack of funding,” Jocelyn Bignold said.

A year later, McAuley was funded by the Victorian Government’s Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN) to develop a new employment support program.

“As part of our planning process, we wanted to find out more from previous clients about their current employment status and history, their level of financial independence, and their opinions of the program,” Jocelyn said.

Of 204 registered clients, 90 were contacted and 35 completed a telephone questionnaire. The findings show that ten of the respondents have sustained full time employment indicating their potential for financial independence, however the majority were in part time or casual positions and still reliant on government financial support.

Most of the women are in part-time work, with jobs in aged care, community care and cleaning the most common. Today three are studying.

“We now know from this analysis that the women all gained increased confidence from practical work-ready skills, being fitted out with work attire, and being accompanied to interviews,” Jocelyn said.

“These findings are already making a difference to the new McAuley Works program,” she added.