Families struggle as costs increase

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COST of living pressures are pushing central Victorian families to breaking point, according to the community services sector.

Both the Salvation Army Bendigo Corps and CatholicCare Sandhurst have seen an increase in the number of families calling for assistance.

Financial stress underlies the problems for which many are seeking help. 

There is an eight week waiting list for families seeking relationship counselling from CatholicCare Sandhurst, chief executive officer Peter Richardson said. 

“They’re prepared to wait,” he said.

Prospective clients are reporting similar waiting times at other organisations servicing the region.

“The increases across a household budget are having an impact,” Mr Richardson said.

The Salvation Army Bendigo Corps sees about five per cent of the Bendigo population in a given year, according to Major Andrew Walker. 

That’s not counting the people they’re unable to assist.

The corps has the capacity to respond to about 80 per cent of people presenting to the service. The rest are referred to other agencies that might be able to assist. 

Single people and single parent families account for the bulk of people seeking help.

Fifteen per cent of people who present to them are couples with children, while 7.7 per cent are couples without children.

“Social isolation is a strong underlying issue with poverty,” Major Walker said. 

Isolation is what programs such as Home Start, run by Baptcare, seek to remedy. 

Volunteers are matched with families with children under the age of five, which are experiencing difficulties.

Program co-ordinator Jane Worthington said the issue was often that families lacked connections within the community.

“People are more transient. They don’t know what’s out there,” she said. 

“Often parents will say, I don’t really know any of my neighbours.”

The volunteers seek to put the families in touch with relevant services and resources. 

Bendigo grandmother Kietha Jamieson has helped eight families in her nine years as a volunteer.

Much of what she does is about reassurance and confidence-building. 

Her role is not to solve the issues, but to be there for the families.

The issues affecting the families with which Kietha Jamieson volunteers are many and varied. Loneliness is among them. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

The issues affecting the families with which Kietha Jamieson volunteers are many and varied. Loneliness is among them. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

Whereas Andie West and the team at Bendigo Community Health Services are looking for solutions to issues such as intergenerational disadvantage. 

“It’s a cycle that’s very difficult to break,” Ms West said.

There are up to 50 people are on the organisation’s books, many of whom are seeking help for a number of issues.

Family violence, mental health and intergenerational trauma are among them.

“The issues families are dealing with are more layered and multi-faceted,” Ms West said. 

She was hopeful, with assistance, life for this generation of children was going to be on the up-and-up.

“If you can get the first four years right, it really sets them up well,” she said. 

That’s what a new program starting in June, called Cradle to Kinder, hopes to achieve.

More than 20 families will be involved in the initial intake, all of which will involve young parents who might be disadvantaged, disengaged or at risk.

The program will run for four years, from children being born to pre-school age. 

Bendigo Community Health Services has partnered with CatholicCare and MacKillop Family Services to deliver the program.

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