Michelle Toogood, Operational Manager, Therapeutic Strength Based Care (TSBC), Murraylands and Limestone Coast
A FIRM belief all children have the right to feel safe, loved and cared for inspired Michelle Toogood to start a career in community service with ac.care a decade ago.
She recently celebrated her 10 years of service milestone with the non-government community welfare agency.
Michelle is currently ac.care’s Therapeutic Strength Based Care (TSBC) operational manager, based in Murray Bridge, but overseeing homes across the agency in the Limestone Coast and Murraylands.
TSBC homes operated by ac.care offer around the clock staffed, residential-based care for children and young people under the guardianship of the chief executive of the Department for Child Protection.
“During my time in TSBC, I have been privileged to learn of the children’s stories around what led them to coming into care,” Michelle said.
“All of the children’s stories are heartbreaking and although upsetting, have inspired me to be a better advocate for children’s rights and to adapt our service to be able to provide the quality of care that our children need and deserve.”
Her extensive experience in residential care has driven Michelle’s own professional growth and development.
“But it has also had a positive impact on my personal growth, communication and all relationships, so I am sincerely grateful for all the opportunities ac.care has provided,” Michelle said.
Born and raised in Adelaide, her passion for childhood development initially prompted ambitions for Michelle to become a kindergarten teacher, however she changed direction due to an interest in design and fashion.
“That led me to pursuing employment in the retail sector, where I remained until I left the workforce to become a mother,” Michelle said.
With her husband Steve, Michelle relocated to Murray Bridge following the birth of her first son to be closer to family and embraced the opportunity to raise a family in a rural community.
“That was initially quite a culture shock for me after feeling at home and comfortable with a city lifestyle,” Michelle said.
After becoming a mother to two boys, Michelle returned to the workforce, initially as a youth support worker with ac.care.
“At the time we only had two TSBC houses, one in Murray Bridge and one in Mount Gambier,” she explained.
Her move into a house supervisor role and then various senior management positions was in line with growth across the ac.care agency, which now has four homes in Mount Gambier and two in Murray Bridge.
“I have had the opportunity to witness huge growth and changes within TSBC over the 10 years, proudly watching the program and staff teams develop greater understanding and adapt the program and model to integrate essential therapeutic elements,” Michelle said.
In addition to qualifications in management, youth work and child, youth and family intervention, Michelle became an accredited trainer in Therapeutic Crisis Intervention, which has been implemented across the TSBC program.
This also allowed her to play an integral part in implementation of TSBC Trauma Informed Practice, which has involved all staff being trained through the IMPACT Respond Rather Than React program.
“With these two core trainings and the implementation into TSBC program systems and daily practices, ac.care and its TSBC program are recognised by similar agencies that provide residential care services to be leaders in the advancement of providing a therapeutic care environment that is responsive to the needs of the children and young people in our care,” Michelle said.
“None of this change and growth would have been possible without the dedication and adaptability of the staff and the house supervisors.”
After an early interest in child development and how trauma affects the developing brain prompted Michelle to pursue her passion further and progress her rewarding career with ac.care, she acknowledges working in residential care is not easy.
“It requires a unique set of qualities, attitudes, mindset and skills,” she explained.
“Self-care outside of work is crucial given the nature of our work.”
To unwind and maintain her own sense of wellbeing, Michelle maintains a love of the arts, diverse genres of music, mindful walking, yoga and reading.
“I’m also a strong believer in retail therapy and love playing with my dog Alfie,” she said.