News & Events

From the Executive Officer and Chair of the Board

December 7, 2020

It has been a roller coaster year where we celebrated opening our long-awaited 24/7 refuge and had to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, which has altered how we have worked with the women and children we support, and how we work as staff and volunteers. While challenging, we have been greeted with enormous opportunities to become more flexible and reach more women and children than ever.

A major focus of the last year has been the opening of the refuge to a full house. We have already seen the transformative impact it has made. Due to lockdown, we have only been able to use the communal spaces for a brief three weeks. This involved volunteers setting up a makeshift school for the children. We look forward to COVID-Normal when we can make full use of the space.

At the start of the pandemic Emerge was designated an essential service by the Government. Our outreach team and therapists came to the fore delivering food and care packages to women and art packs to the children living in the community and, at the same time, checking in on them. We pressed ahead with many of our services run virtually, as well as 15-minute face- to-face counselling and art therapy sessions in line with physical distancing guidelines. These include linking volunteers with families for on-line support and using our Fresh Start service to enable women to move from crisis accommodation into private rental accommodation.

Finding new ways of supporting women and children has been crucial as the incidence of family violence has increased during lockdown. According to a survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed that almost one in 10 Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus crisis, with two-thirds saying the attacks started or became worse during the pandemic. This finding mirrors anecdotal evidence we have from women arriving at our accommodation services more anxious and frightened than ever.

Regardless of the crisis, Emerge has continued to grow its services in response to the need we see. Over the past 12 months we have initiated a Women’s Counselling Service in partnership with Swinburne University. Another service Emerge introduced was the Family Support Volunteer Program. We contributed our voice to the Victorian Senate inquiry into homelessness where we set out seven priorities to end homelessness including the need for an improved Safe at Home Program. Currently, the national average of women returning home to violence is up to seven times before finally leaving. This is due to lack of safe and affordable housing. Other priorities included making money available from Victorian Stamp Duty revenue to house one million Victorians by 2029 through a massive expansion of public housing and social housing.

We thank the staff for their passion, commitment and resilience which enables them to undertake the difficult, complex work with women and children made more complicated because of the pandemic. We pay tribute to our many volunteers who work tirelessly to support our staff.

This year we have welcomed a new Board of seven extraordinary women who bring a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to Emerge.

We are inspired by the women and children whom we support. Their courage and determination is inspiring. It’s the reason we do the work we do.

Nothing would be possible without government and philanthropic funding, community and corporate donations and partnerships. We thank you and know that with your continued support, we can help more women and children stay safe and live free from family violence.

Paula Westhead, Executive Officer

Nicki Batagol, Chairperson

 

Our 2020 annual impact review can be read here:

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