This July, CatholicCare's Geelong Family Relationship Centre (FRC) celebrated an important milestone. It's been 10 years since it opened its doors! To mark the occasion, we spoke to Geelong FRC Manager, Kathryn Lyons to learn more about supporting separated families.
Can you tell us about how FRC’s were established?
11 years ago when the Family Law Act changed to make Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) regarding children’s matters compulsory before going through a court process, the Federal Government rolled out 65 Family Relationship Centres across Australia. They were established to support families experiencing relationship difficulties, particularly parental separation, as a means to assist them with parenting arrangements and avoid participating in the legal system. The Geelong FRC was established in the second wave of roll outs in 2007.
What services are provided at the Geelong FRC?
The Geelong FRC has evolved over the last ten years to offer Family Dispute Resolution, child inclusive practice, child-focused information sessions, parenting and relationship advice and referrals, and advocacy around family law issues.
You are co-located with other agencies… In what ways do you work together?
While CatholicCare are the lead agency, Barwon Child Youth and Family (BCY&F) and McKillop Family Services also form the consortium that operates the FRC. BCY&F enables us to do outreach work in Colac, where there is significant disadvantage. This allows us to assist individuals with complex issues, such as social isolation, financial disadvantage, child protection involvement, family violence and substance abuse. McKillop Family Services also work here in Geelong and run another FRC in Broadmeadows, where they serve a high proportion of clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, so with them, we share information about particular communities and are aiming to do joint professional development for our Family Dispute Resolution service.
What are the benefits for clients?
An example that springs to mind is a co-located CatholicCare counsellor who receives referrals for children in addition to adults. This means clients’ children get the best possible care from practitioners who specialise in separation and its effects on children. Many clients already engaged with our service are looking for further support for their children, and we encourage both separated parents to be part of the assessment process for their children to receive counselling.
Is most of your work with parents or kids?
While we offer children’s counselling and child-inclusive mediation, it’s a considered decision whether the work needs to be done with parents or kids. We encourage parents to be open to feedback from a counsellor or practitioner about support and strategies for their children’s wellbeing, but most of the time, the work we do is with parents including FDR and child focused information sessions.
What other support is available to separated parents?
Our family relationship advisors conduct initial assessments to consider clients’ needs – which can include arrangements for children, family history, communication, parenting, family violence, mental health, and alcohol and drug use issues. These assessments determine whether mediation will be suitable.
The assessment process also provides a direct and warm referral to our Parenting Orders Program, which is a positive, strength-based way for separated parents to come up with strategies to reduce their conflict and the effect it has on their children, and improve their co-parenting relationship.
Together with the Regional Parenting Service at the City of Greater Geelong, we deliver a parenting education program called ‘Our Kids’, which runs for 2 hours over six weeks. We also offer a shorter, 3-hour parenting seminar called ‘Building Connections’ in partnership with Bethany.
What challenges have you had to overcome to provide an integrated response to local families?
When clients from Colac wanting full service mediation had difficulty travelling to Geelong, we were able to out-post the service to Colac in partnership with ChildFIRST.
The demand for the service continues to be strong with over 1,000 clients accessing the FRC each year. What are you most proud of?
We are constantly seeing increasing complexity in families and our staff show amazing commitment to and enthusiasm for promoting the best interests of children and supporting parents to understand the impact of parental conflict on children. We pride ourselves on being flexible and creative to ensure we can assist as many families as possible to avoid the court process.
Congrats on 10 years, Geelong FRC!
Learn more about the Geelong Family Relationship Centre