CATHERINE VILLA ACCOMMODATION UNIT
The Hon. PATRICIA FORSYTHE
[6.41]: I raise an issue which I hope that the Minister for Community Services, Minister for Aged Services, and Minister for Disability Services will listen to favourably and deal with compassionately. I refer to the plight of the Catherine Villa Unit, which is a ministry to solo parents and families in the Parramatta diocese. Last week I was privileged to attend the organisation's annual general meeting. I am sorry that the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Education sent their apologies, because had they taken the opportunity to attend the annual meeting and to listen to the reports, but more particularly to look at the facilities there and to learn of the work of the people at Catherine Villa, I am sure that they would ask the Minister, as I do, to act favourably to alleviate the plight of the Catherine Villa, to dig deep and find some money for it. The mission statement of Catherine Villa, as appears in its annual report, says:
Catherine Villa works in partnership with young pregnant women, young mothers & their children to create a just world by affirming that all people, regardless of age, gender, nationality or religion have the right to resources that ensure the dignity of the person.
•adequate medical care, food, clothing and rest
•adequate educational and employment options
•adequate protection from abuse
•adequate love & security.
Over a number of years Catherine Villa has had the support of government. By way of background, it was originally established in the Blacktown area by the Good Shepherd Sisters, which is a religious order of the Catholic Church. The Good Shepherd Sisters provided a volunteer full-time, live-in person to coordinate and support the project, including overnight stays and weekend supervision. In 1992 the project was successful in securing a capital grant from the Department of Housing under the crisis accommodation program which enabled the Parramatta diocese to build the Catherine Villa accommodation unit at Quakers Hill. The unit is an outstanding facility, of which the people there are most proud. Its committee works very hard. The unit accommodates at any one time a maximum of seven teenagers. I understand and accept - as confirmed by the Minister in response to a question upon notice that I put to him - that the implication of the expansion of the service was that the auspicing organisation would be able to provide ongoing funds. The Parramatta diocese has provided funding for a considerable period of time, but the reality is that the diocese is now having difficulties. The report of the Chairman, Mr Phil Fehon, to the annual general meeting stated:
It is with mixed feelings that I present this report to the Sixth Annual General Meeting of Catherine Villa. Since our last AGM and our own internal review we have worked very hard to develop a professional service providing 24hr living skills, accommodation and follow-up support to homeless pregnant teenagers and teenage mothers . . . The Diocese of Parramatta has extended its emergency funding to continue this work well past available financial resources and can no longer continue to fund the service without stable financial support for 24 hr accommodation with living/babycare skills as a priority at Catherine Villa.
The problem faced by the unit is the provision of 24-hour-a-day accommodation. The unit can provide support, but it cannot keep a service for 24 hours a day without additional funding. As the coordinator of the meeting said, babies do not know about night, they do not understand the concept of the 24 hours, and many of the skills that are needed are often learned at night. Babies often prefer to be born at night, and indeed many of the needs of babies are encountered at night. The dilemma faced by the unit is whether it can keep the service open at night as live-in accommodation. I ask the Government to treat this matter favourably. Government departments have used the facility. In his response to my question on notice the Minister stated that in 1995-96, 20 State wards were referred to the villa by the Department of Community Services; fifteen others were referred by the Department of Community Services, seven by the Department of Housing, three by the Department of Social Security, three by the New South Wales Police Service, and one by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Many teenagers, some as young as 14, some in the 15- to 16-year-old age group, have been accommodated at the villa. This service provides valuable assistance to young mothers with children and to young pregnant teenagers. It is a service that requires the provision of 24-hour assistance. I understand that funds are limited from time to time, but given the number of government organisations that have called on this service I believe that the Government should give the needs of Catherine Villa favourable consideration. The service has funding for a full-time youth worker and a part-time trained nurse but it needs additional facilities. I implore the Minister to assist this organisation, as there are very few services like it. It meets a desperate need in our community. Many government departments have called upon it to assist. I thank all of the dedicated staff there and I commend the project.