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Giving children a better start in life

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Giving children a better start in life

Sunshine Coast-based IFYS offers myriad programs to support a growing number of families through tough times. WORDS: Linda Read.

While the Sunshine Coast may be one of the state’s premium lifestyle destinations, its residents are not immune to the struggles being experienced by thousands across the country.

As a housing crisis grips the nation, the number of people at risk of homelessness or being unable to put food on their tables is soaring, with some children unable to start the next school year with shoes on their feet.

That’s where Integrated Family and Youth Service (IFYS) comes in. Supported by government funding, IFYS also relies heavily on community support, including many local businesses and organisations.

Starting life 43 years ago as a four-bed facility at Maroochydore, IFYS was the brainchild of the late youth and community trailblazer Eric Moes, then a young psychologist who recognised a need for helping kids living on the streets.

Since then, IFYS has grown to become an organisation that accommodates more than 1000 people every night across the state, from Cairns to the Gold Coast, with its headquarters remaining on the Sunshine Coast.

IFYS also delivers a range of services for children and families in need, including foster care, support for young parents, youth transition housing and food programs. And IFYS marketing manager Paul Morton says all of those programs are in more demand than ever.

Paul is speaking with My Weekly Preview as he walks from Caloundra to Mudjimba as part of the Kicks 4 Kids event. The fundraising walk in partnership with radio station SeaFM raises money for Inclusive Kids – one of IFYS’s major arms.

Inclusive Kids supports better inclusion into community life for children who would otherwise be isolated through poverty, family breakdown, disability or severe illness.

“[The walk] is what we call our back-to-school strategy for Inclusive Kids,” Paul says.

“Basically, we put shoes on the feet of kids who are disadvantaged or underprivileged. For families who have to make those decisions about putting a roof over their head or buying some food, shoes are often low on the priority list.

“Inclusive Kids is very much about inclusive behaviour – if we can get a kid starting on day one with a pair of shoes and a backpack and a lunchbox and they look like everybody else, there’s less likelihood of them feeling disengaged or different to others – because when you’re little, you want to be just like everybody else.”

This year’s walk raised in excess of $55,000 through sponsorship by local businesses and individuals.

In the past four years, Paul says, the event has raised about a quarter-of-a-million dollars – every cent of which goes into the Inclusive Kids program, with the administration costs covered by IFYS.

Paul says IFYS has seen a “massive spike” in the demand for its services recently, with an ever-increasing number of people at risk of homelessness due to high rents and lack of housing stock.

“It’s not just us,” he says.

“If you talk to emergency relief programs across the Sunshine Coast, there is just an enormous pressure on families now.

“Some people are literally living in cars, needing support.”

While IFYS may provide 1000 beds every night across the state, including a 60-bed facility at Kawana Lakes – managed by the organisation on behalf of the Department of Housing, Paul points out that this only goes part-way to providing relief.

“As an organisation, we don’t have a silver bullet,” he says.

“We use the housing stock that’s in the market.

“We don’t own houses. In lots of instances, we rent them and then sub-lease them to people who need accommodation.

“One of the big issues is that the majority of people’s income is going to keeping a roof over their head.

“I guess we’ve got a philosophy which says we’d much rather you keep your rent paid and we’ll work with you on the food front, because once you haven’t got a roof, we’re not in a position where we can change that in a lot of cases.”

On the food front, IFYS runs the Urban Angels Community Kitchen, which provides a stunning 10,000 meals a month to families and individuals in need on the Coast, from Caboolture to Gympie.

With more than 100 volunteers, the kitchen relies heavily on the support of the community.

“Their funds come from people who donate, and food that people want to donate,” Paul says.

“It’s like a community pantry in lots of ways, but these guys turn it into meals.”

Providing foster care for children in the care of the Department of Child Safety, another one of IFYS’s services, is also an area that Paul says is experiencing an increase in need.

This is due, in part, to family breakdown and higher community expectations of care, he says.

“We’ve lifted our threshold as a community, and we’ll say, ‘Abuse of children is not acceptable’,” he says.

“And I think also, we’ve seen a denigration of the family unit – whether it’s violence or drug addiction, they’re all contributing factors.

“When there’s repeated or ongoing violence, the department will intervenein the life of a child, and that can result in a removal [of a child into the care of the department].”

While foster carers are in high demand, however, there is a shortage of carers to meet that demand.

Paul cites a natural attrition rate as the reason for this, with some people who have been carers for 30 years retiring, and an influx of new people to the Coast who have yet to settle in.

“We constantly work on the principle that we have to recruit, because there’s more and more kids in care than ever before,” Paul says.

“As [new] people settle in, get their house sorted, and become part of the community, then they might start to hear our message and start to have a look at [foster caring].

“We’re looking for good-quality carers for kids who didn’t choose this life. They didn’t choose whether they were removed. They didn’t choose whether there was family violence. They’re often just victims of it.”

Other programs run by IFYS include out-of-home care for young people who are out of foster care but still need support, and group work and assistance for young parents who are often raising their children without a traditional family support system.

Paul is effusive in his praise for the Sunshine Coast community that continues to enable IFYS to meet the growing needs of some of its most vulnerable residents.

“We recognise we’re not an island,” he says.

“And we can’t do it without business either – businesses that support us.

“I just think it’s about acknowledging that it’s this community that makes it great. Acknowledging that we can’t do this by ourselves.

“It’s fine to say we’re an agency funded by government to do this work, but that’s just a fraction of what we do.

“IFYS is an agency that doesn’t just follow government funding. It’s about looking at need and seeing if we are the right agency for that need.

“At the end of the day, it is community.

“The key is we just can’t do it without them.”

HANDY WEBSITES

  • For foster care inquiries, go to fostercare.com.au.
  • For donations, go to inclusivekids.com.au. You can nominate exactly where your donation will go, and 100 per cent of your donation will go to Inclusive Kids.
  • For volunteering inquiries, go to ifys.com.au.

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