It was FamilyCare’s commitment to the local community that enticed David Tennant to shift his young family from Canberra to Shepparton in 2010 to lead the organisation. By KELLEE NOLAN.
After seven years as FamilyCare CEO, David Tennant still loves coming to work. “I love the people I work with and I like what I do. I’m just as interested in it as I was when I started the journey.”
Providing family services, carer and disability support services in the Shepparton, Seymour, Cobram, Kinglake and Wallan regions, FamilyCare has about 100 staff, 60 volunteers and provided services to about 7000 clients last year.
“We try very hard to incorporate the voice of the people we’re providing services for in everything we do,” David says.
“It’s an ongoing challenge, but we’ve worked really hard on it.”
“We try very hard to incorporate the voice of the people we’re providing services for in everything we do.”
The agency publishes six-monthly client feedback reports, holds community forums, builds connections, and tries to evaluate its success from clients’ perspectives.
“If they feel happy and a growing sense of confidence with the things they’re doing … I think that’s success.”
David says Shepparton is a proud, resilient and diverse community with enormous challenges and incredible strengths.
It is one of Australia’s major refugee resettlement areas and has one of the highest per capita Aboriginal populations in Victoria.
However the town is too often targeted as a trial site for welfare programs and dictated to by “experts” who descend from afar without recognising other work already underway, creating “a degree of chaos”.
Shepparton has been a Commonwealth welfare reform trial site since 2011, but David says rather than helping, this has become one of the community’s greatest challenges, disempowering people and creating distrust.
“Much of the focus of welfare reform seems to blame people for their disadvantage, require them to deliver their own solutions and penalise them if they don’t. I think that’s a fundamentally unfair and flawed approach.”
David believes activities that bring out people’s strengths are much better. He recalls a recent youth video competition run by FamilyCare, Berry Street and Shepparton Council, won by students from an alternative school.
“The entry was just terrific. Even better was the look of pride on the faces of the kids, their families, friends and teachers as we made the presentation. This was not a group for which this would have been a familiar experience.”
He says people don’t want “more than their fair share”, but instead want their region’s value recognised, and to be involved in designing programs that enhance it.
“It’s not always about money or more of it, it is very much about voice.” David believes the community sector needs to back its ability to connect with people, despite often being “lectured” about being more competitive, or more efficient.
“I think the community sector should be trying to be more like the community sector. And most of that’s about values, about ethics, about how you build trust.”
If you know of someone working at a VCOSS member organisation who would make a great ‘Sector Champion’, please contact Insight at firstname.lastname@example.org