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Tackling Family Violence

16 June 2014 at 10:40 am
Staff Reporter
From working at a children’s hospital to leading a Not for Profit that provides services to women and their children who are homeless, Jocelyn Bignold has dedicated her career to the community sector. Bignold is this week’s Changemaker.

Staff Reporter | 16 June 2014 at 10:40 am


Tackling Family Violence
16 June 2014 at 10:40 am

From working at a children’s hospital to leading a Not for Profit that provides services to women and their children who are homeless, Jocelyn Bignold has dedicated her career to the community sector. Bignold is this week’s Changemaker.

Bignold, is the CEO of McAuley Community Services for Women (McAuley), a Victorian organisation which provides support, advocacy and accommodation for women and their children who are homeless, primarily as a result of family violence or mental illness.

Armed with more than 25 years of experience in community development, policy development, management and advocacy, Bignold has worked in many areas of community services including aged care, children and adults with chronic illness, adults with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities, adults and families experiencing homelessness, imprisonment and family violence.

“My work has led me into collaborations with government and other NGOs in an effort to improve policy responses and service systems designed to support those in need,” she said.

Bignold was inducted into the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll in 2009 in recognition of her work with women in prisons. She is a member of the Women’s Correctional Advisory Committee and is Chair of the Western Integrated Family Violence Committee.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

Responding to the needs of women who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, because of a mental illness or family violence is the focus of our work at McAuley Community Services for Women.

In recent months, two children and one woman were killed in Victoria due to family violence.

Understandably, Victorians were horrified and media frenzy followed, what is not well understood is that family violence also causes homelessness.

One in every two women in Australia who comes with children to a specialist homelessness service cites escaping domestic and family violence as their main reason for seeking help. Family Violence is preventable, if we can prevent that, we also prevent homelessness

McAuley runs Victoria’s only 24/7 crisis service as well as five refuges. While they stay with us, we provide safety and essential needs such as food and clothing. ??Once women and their children leave our refuge they go to a range of places. Some return home, some go to family and friends to sleep on couches or in cars in driveways. ??

We also run McAuley House, which provides medium- to long-term residential accommodation for single, homeless women over the age of 25.

For each of the women we work with, finding safe, affordable housing to set up afresh is hampered by an acute shortage of affordable, low-cost accommodation.

So that’s what I am working on, alongside the 2014-2015 budget; a revised organisational structure; and a submission for a better approach to assisting women return home safely after family violence.

Another important focus is our plan to market an employer awareness and training program to build employers’ capacity to assist women remain in the workforce

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

Initially, frustration with services, which were supposed to help but didn’t. I thought I could do better!  

So for the past 25 years I have been working alongside a lot of committed and creative people in the not for profit sector to try and making things better.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

At the Royal Children’s Hospital I was a Recreation Officer for children and young people who had cystic fibrosis.

I learnt a lot in a very short space of time, spent with some incredible kids. I played connect-four with a six-year-old who had virtually no-one at his funeral and no-one who could say anything at all about him.

I sat on the bed with a dying teenager, watching weekly episodes of A Country Practice, where ‘Molly’ died.

Twelve children died in the time that I was there – it was a privilege to have a role in making some space for fun. I’m glad we’ve made some medical advances since then.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The innovation and the projects that we manage to get off the ground.

These initiatives are usually about systems changes which supporting women to make the lives they want for themselves; improving safety for a woman and her children and helping women gain or maintain work while they rebuild their lives.

Favourite saying …

At the moment I like: “you get what you tolerate” – that rings true for me.

McAuley is a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy and the order’s foundress, Catherine McAuley, was strong on emphasising the value of  ‘one person (women) at a time’ and ‘every interaction’ – because, even amid the enormous need, our interaction with each and every women and child has the potential to make a difference. I like to hold onto Catherine’s words.

I’m always being asked …

“Why don’t women just leave?” (a violent relationship). The answer? Apart from “because they just can’t” is also, “Why should they?” – it’s the perpetrator of violence that needs to be held to account.

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?

I am reading Stoner, by John Williams. I chose Stoner after hearing a review and I was looking for something to engross me; I’m not sure about it yet… it’s a bit defeating.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

Apart from everybody living without fear of violence? Enough money to get the job done well, complete with evaluation.

My greatest challenge is …

Getting enough money from Government, the community and very generous philanthropists to get the job done well.

School taught me …

Tertiary study ignited my love of learning and perhaps this is the greatest thing of all we can get in an educational institution.

What (or who) inspires you?

The women who use our services inspire me every day with their courage and resilience. They have often survived years of trauma before they come to us. Individuals have also had an impact, especially Dr Fiona Wood, I think it’s amazing what’s she’s done for burns victims.

Dr Catherine Hamlin is another extraordinary person who has dedicated her life and career to the women of Ethiopia by repairing damage done by childbirth.

Where do you feel your passion for good comes from?

My parents were a strong early influence – it started with something like: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" – so the community sector it was for me!

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