Catherine Circle Projects 2016

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.

The Catherine Circle Projects:

Project 1 - Safe at Home
When is it Safe at Home for a woman who has been abused? That’s what we will find out through funding from The Catherine Circle members and The Besen Foundation.

Many women, who have been abused by a partner, leave the home to keep themselves, and their children safe. The perpetrator, in most cases, remains in the home.

About 250 women and 250 children come through the doors of McAuley Care Crisis service each year. When the women leave our safe house, or their own home, they can go to a refuge (6 - 12 weeks secure accommodation) or into private rental (high cost, potentially unsustainable).

In both cases women and children are forced to leave their homes, communities, schools, families and friends. This is a model that places responsibility on the victim - not the perpetrator.

Safe at Home is a response whereby women and children are supported to return to their home of origin. It is a coordinated response which assesses a woman’s, or family’s risk, and support needs, in order to return home and stay at home safely. Resources are provided to make the home of origin more secure (locks, cameras etc) and women are supported to apply for an Intervention Order which excludes the perpetrator from the property. Other organisations are exploring the use of safety buttons.

But when is it Safe at Home for the woman and her children

To better understand our role in getting women and children home safely, we need to examine the following:

  • Is a Safe at Home response suitable for women and children at our crisis service? What is our role?
  • When is the most suitable time to offer Safe at Home to clients?
  • What are the needs of women and children accessing our service? Does the complexity of their needs impact on delivering a Safe at Home response?
  • What are the risk and safety limitations and considerations? Is the client at too high a risk (especially in regard to recent separation which has been proven to place a family at much greater risk of serious harm or death).
  • Is it appropriate to explore a Safe at Home response when a family has experienced recent/ significant trauma?
  • How are other organisations working in this space?
  • Is it too premature? Does the ‘system’ have to catch up first, in order to provide ongoing safety and perpetrator accountability?

The Next Steps

The Besen Foundation has generously funded $10,000 for work on the project from July - August 2016. The Catherine Circle is providing an additional $10,000 to continue the project analysis through to the end of this year.

This work will provide accurate, up to date information about the suitability of Safe at Home for our family violence service and the broader Victorian agenda to end family violence, including the Family Violence Housing Assistance Implementation Taskforce, which includes our CEO Jocelyn Bignold.


Project 2 - Works Review
Women need an income to have a chance of rebuilding their lives after family violence.The Catherine Circle funding means we can go back to the women who were part of our employment program, find out what worked and how we can refine the program to achieve better employment outcomes for women.

Research has shown that in order for women to have a chance to successfully leave family violence behind them, there are several main things that must be achieved, including financial independence, which can come from being employed. Many women lose, or leave, their jobs because they are harassed at work by an abusive partner, need a lot of time off to recover from physical or mental abuse injuries or have difficulties coping in the workplace. Without an income they are trapped and have little way of establishing a new home if they leave.

McAuley Community Services for Women recognised these issues and ran McAuley Works, an employment support program for disadvantaged women, from 2011 until mid 2015 .McAuley Works was an innovative and personalised job ready program to help women secure jobs and support themselves and their family financially.

The program was unique because the staff were trained in working with women who were at risk of homelessness and / or experiencing family violence. Of the 201 women who accessed our program, 134 were placed in employment and 88 went onto Vocational Training and Education programs.

In 2013 McAuley Works was awarded the National Homelessness Services Achievement Award ‘Excellence in supporting pathways to employment or education’ by the then Minister for Housing and Homelessness, the Hon Mark Butler MP.

The Next Step - Reviewing McAuley Works

The Catherine Circle is funding the McAuley Works Review, which will enable us to build our evidence base of the ongoing value and effectiveness of the McAuley Works program.

Through this project we will contact previous participants to:

  • Establish whether they have been able to sustain their gains over time.
  • Identify what worked well and what we could do better.
  • Design a future program that is ‘user’ informed and delivers long-term results for women

Women were referred from other family violence or community support agencies, some of whom may not have been allowed or able to work for many years. For some the erosion in their confidence at the hands of the perpetrators left them essentially unemployable without our help. Up to 30% of clients came from McAuley House, our medium-term supportive accommodation facility for women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness from family violence and / or mental illness. The McAuley Works program enabled a seamless transition from small group sessions that focussed on confidence and self –esteem building, to work (or study) readiness that might include interview skills, and CV writing, to being kitted out with appropriate interview and work clothing.