Extract from Glenferrie Rotary Club’s History

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While many of the Club's community support programs have been completed within a particular year, some have been undertaken with an anticipation of the need for longer term support. The Boroondara Family Network (BFN) has been a project of this type.

Work towards the establishment of the Family Network, within the City of Boroondara, began in 1998 while Alex Buchanan was Club president. This initiative was modelled on a Rotary sponsored project operating in Sydney known as "Hope for the Children". In simple terms, the objective of the scheme was to provide support for mothers with newborn babies or very young children where a high level of stress was evident through family circumstances. It was hoped that assistance could be provided by matching the family with an experienced mother who, as a volunteer making home visits on a regular basis, could give appropriate support and helpful advice. Implementation of the plan required recruitment and training of a team of volunteer counsellors using the services of a qualified professional co- ordinator. A major challenge for the Rotary Club of Glenferrie was to raise the funds needed to employ the co-ordinator.

Background documentation during the start-up phase acknowledged that modern families are increasingly stressed, with difficulties in child-rearing and social isolation being major stress factors. A large number of new mothers are overwhelmed by the parenting experience, as indicated by the 30% who suffer postnatal depression, about a quarter of whom are still depressed when their babies are four years old. It was noted that children growing up in stressed family situations were more likely to suffer from illness, accident and injuries, more likely to require hospitalisation and more likely to develop learning disabilities. A further range of behavioural problems could be expected to occur later in life.

During 1998-99 Glenferrie set up an independent committee, under the chairmanship of past District 9800 Governor, Jeffrey Bird, to manage the establishment and operation of the project. A major step towards achievement of this objective was made when a grant application submitted by the Club to Rotary Foundation for a Children's Opportunities Grant was successful. This provided A$15,800 and was enough to ensure that the project could begin operation.

Two more successful grant applications to charitable funds - the Boroondara City Council Community Development Fund and the Hawthorn Community Chest - brought the total of grant funds to A$22,000 and made the project's future more secure.

The BFN Management Committee, with then Club member Jo Buchanan as secretary, appointed Mrs Dianne Sides in 2000 to manage the provision of Network services to the Boroondara community. After setting up an office with the help of Camcare, initially in Camberwell and now in Ashburton, Dianne's first tasks were to make the service known by visiting the 11 maternity hospitals and 14 Maternity and Child Health Centres in the municipality and then begin recruiting and training volunteer counsellors.

The first clients were accepted by the service in June 2000, and typical client families had little or no support from family or friends, perhaps because of relocation, or they were stressed by having to support older members of the family. Quite often the mothers only needed someone to tell them that they were doing a good job and would come through the early period of child rearing successfully.

In its first five years of operation, the BFN has helped over 200 families and nearly 400 children. Currently there are 23 volunteer counsellors. The most common reasons for family referral to the Network have been postnatal depression, isolation, multiple births, maternal illness and special needs children. One of the mothers assisted by the BFN expressed her thanks as follows: 'Thank you so much for the valuable support (from my volunteer). She was extremely helpful during a time that I found myself overwhelmed by the demands of a newborn plus the emotional stress of dealing with a different life. The service is fantastic'.

From the outset, the Rotary Club of Glenferrie has provided significant and ongoing financial support for this project. Further valuable support has come from several other Rotary clubs.

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