THE rising cost of living, lack of affordable housing and impacts of the River Murray floods led thousands of country South Australians to seek support from regional agency ac.care last financial year.
Data collected during the 2022/23 financial year showed increased demand across many key ac.care services, including homelessness and emergency relief, financial counselling, as well as a desperate need for foster carers.
The organisation’s annual report, released to coincide with its recent annual general meeting, also highlighted the agency’s achievements across the Limestone Coast, Murraylands, Riverland, Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula.
Early intervention support helped 510 people avoid homelessness across the regions – an increase of 107 compared to 2021/22, with a further 698 people moved from homelessness to stable accommodation.
ac.care chief executive officer Shane Maddocks said data showed a clear growing need for the agency’s services, which includes family and relationship support, Aboriginal services and management of nine residential care homes for children under the Guardianship of the Chief Executive of the Department for Child Protection and for whom foster or kinship care is not currently an option.
“A housing crisis combined with increasing costs of living mean that safe homes are harder to keep and to find,” Mr Maddocks said, adding staff worked tirelessly alongside the community to achieve positive outcomes.
“Sadly though, there are many people we are unable to help find that longer term answer to their needs,” he said.
“We have seen increasing demand for our financial counselling and emergency relief programs with more and more people also collecting donated food to be able to feed their families.
“We also receive more and more requests to care for children and young people who are not able to safely continue living with their birth families.”
ac.care supported 147 foster carer families in the 2022/23 period who provided stability and security for 335 children and young people, while a 24/7 roster of dedicated ac.care staff cared for 51 children and young people living in the residential care homes.
Securing ongoing funding for the agency’s three community centres in Mount Gambier, Berri and Millicent, as well as the strong response by staff to assist communities affected by the River Murray flooding were highlights of the 2022/23 period for the agency, which also included the launch of Weaving Stronger Futures Together – a 10-year vision and strategy for disrupting cycles of disadvantage and strengthening the fabric of our communities.
“Our new strategic plan has a strong focus on getting in early to prevent and address issues before they become a crisis,” Mr Maddocks explained.
“We will continue to advocate for increased funding for prevention and early intervention support and will be adapting our services to increase this focus where we can in collaboration with our communities.
“We cannot achieve significant change unless we all work together and this is why we will be working more closely with our communities to develop local responses and solutions.”
Mr Maddocks said ac.care’s work with Aboriginal people and communities continued to be a significant focus for the agency, underpinned by the commitments in its Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan.
Cultural bus tours led by Boandik Elder Aunty Michelle Jacquelin-Furr in the Limestone Coast proved an important way for staff and volunteers to learn about the impact of colonisation in these communities.
“Listening to the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, staff and communities has always led to better outcomes and we hope that everyone in our communities will open their hearts and listen more deeply,” Mr Maddocks said.
Looking ahead, ac.care board convenor Rick Fisher backed the agency’s new strategy as a carefully staged plan to weave communities together, break cycles of intergenerational disadvantage and increase aspirations, optimism, opportunity and hope for country people.
“We believe now is the right time to step up as leaders to affect transformative community change,” Mr Fisher said.
“We see disturbing evidence that many children begin their education on ‘the back foot’, and that many do not recover or catch up with learning.
“We aim to make sure children start school prepared for learning on their first day and that all are supported to learn and to succeed, then to contribute fully to community life.”
Do you need support, want to contribute to ac.care or would like to know more about becoming a foster carer? Call 1300 ACCARE (1300 222 273) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Become a regular donor to ac.care by visiting www.accare.org.au/donate