In the midst of the despair following the murder of young Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon in June 2018 and more assaults on women, the not-for-profit Catch Up project seeks to empower women to pay attention to the things we can control for our future, and motivate women to work together and learn to ask for help when needed, writes Family Life CEO Jo Cavanagh OAM.
The current discourse about violence against women highlights that the vulnerability of being a girl or woman continues.
There has been progress over the decades, however women must still be constantly vigilant to the continuum of possibilities for being disrespected, offended, abused, assaulted or murdered by men. Until we can achieve our ideal cultural change, women are being warned, yet again, to minimise risks and take extra care even though we can not control and are not responsible for men’s violence against women.
At Family Life, our “Catch Up” project, in association with the Women of Influence Alumni and corporate supporters, aims to strengthen the quality of life and financial security of older women (aged 50+) by improving access and raising awareness of the resources and services available to them.
The supports for those most at risk of insecurity and homelessness need expanding and we must ensure that women know how to connect to such supports. We must check that services and resources are “user friendly” and provided in the most helpful way possible. We need to help women Catch Up with what they need and to know how to do that, and increase opportunities for women to socialise and Catch Up with others to strengthen their wellbeing and quality of life for ageing.
The Catch Up program will assist those already in difficulty, as well as helping to prevent women from falling victim to homelessness or a reduction in their quality of life in the first place.
The Catch Up pilot program proposes to bring women together to learn, socialise and support each other, and facilitate engagement with specialist advice and resources. General learning is proposed through coaching or mentorship to develop a plan customised to each individual’s circumstances.
Through the project’s discovery phase, it has already been found that even well-educated women are not prepared for life events which may have a dramatic impact on their circumstances, such as a loss of a partner who looks after their finances and the loss of wealth. Hence, unlike other women’s referral services, the Catch Up project will not only be focused on disadvantaged groups, but will be a universal help service for all women.
Phase one of Catch Up included a survey and discussions with a specific cohort of women 50 plus who volunteer with Family Life in the southern suburbs of Melbourne. The data gathered raised red flags for risks as well as pointing to positive prevention and strengthening opportunities.
The red flags raised were about vulnerability and increasing risks with age for women. Societal or cultural attitudes and values that drive inequity or discrimination – whether directly or indirectly – contribute to the socio-economic disadvantage experienced. For example, the presence of gender inequity limits women’s ability to gain education and employment, to live free from violence and harm; to be financially secure and independent, and to access proper housing and healthcare [Davidson MJA 2016]
Research undertaken by Melbourne’s Lord Mayor’s Charitable Trust [Feldman & Radermacher 2016] supported the notion of intersectional socio-economic factors impacting on women’s equity as they age.
Their research found that key triggers for disadvantage were often unexpected life events – foremost divorce and widowhood, illness or injury and loss of employment.Their report found little example of long-term models in the literature, which could work to address disadvantage for older women.They encourage supporting housing, information provision, financial counselling and advice. Recommendations include the need to innovate, collaborate, and foster cross-sectoral collaborations to address gaps and opportunities.
In this context, Family Life is concerned to understand how older women who are engaged with our organisation are fairing. As women who contribute generously giving time and expertise to support others in the community, we wanted to know if they were experiencing increased vulnerability and was there specific help we could provide.
Our survey of a specific sample of women over 50, led to more questions than answers and a strong concern that even those who report doing well now may be unaware of impending life transitions and what they will need to know and do. As Donald Rumsfeld famously alerted the world in 2002 there are “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”.
For our project, a survey was sent to a selected sample of women over 50 who volunteer with Family Life in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne. Analysis of the survey results and subsequent discussions with participants and our expert Advisory Group led us to conclude that whilst women may know they are aging, and know that life transitions and changes like death of a partner and life long friends are on the horizon, they appear to either have little awareness of the vulnerabilities these events can create, or were reluctant to talk about such issues in relation to themselves.
The survey findings also suggested that this well educated and community involved cohort of Family Life volunteers (28 per cent having a postgraduate qualification and 26 per cent an apprenticeship or TAFE certificate or diploma) leave management of finances to their husband or partner and prioritise caring for others (like grandchildren and disabled partners) and not for themselves. Amongst the Catch Up survey sample 43 per cent of all respondents looked after other people’s children (including their grandchildren) without pay, on a regular weekly basis and 12 per cent cared for a spouse or disabled adult relative.
Participants highlighted the need to amplify voices and efforts for strengthening women’s understanding of the risks they face as they age, and enabling women with information, skills and actions to build the protective factors which can mitigate risks and support them to age with social connections in a caring community.
In discussion it was agreed that women can literally “catch up” on information about finances and planning for future aging, and we can “catch up” with each other to discuss that information and planning. Social connectedness is highly correlated with well being. Maintaining and expanding such connections may be one of the most important things women can do to strengthen security and well being as they age.
As we conclude the research and discovery phase, the co-design group is developing a program responsive to the evidence to test with the study cohort.
A priority already identified is to encourage social connectedness as a key protective factor for wellbeing.
Efforts need to promote supports that align with ‘interdependency’ rather than ‘independency’ to reinforce positive attitudes towards ‘help-seeking’ and enabling confidence to use the range of resources and supports available online and across the community.
The pilot program testing phase will need to be evaluated to identify the messages which might be most effective for sharing with the wider population to support a broader public health approach and discussion for empowering the wellbeing of women: women of all ages and particularly those over 50.
What’s next? The Family Life team will complete our report of phase 1 and develop a costed proposed for a pilot trial to be delivered over a 12-15 month period commencing as soon as funding is secured.
Three overall Catch Up project outcomes are possible for benefiting women over 50 and reducing risks for insecurity, isolation and homelessness: a customisable local program to strengthen knowledge, skills and connections, a website for broadly sharing the program and resources, and a public awareness campaign to increase the visibility of women’s needs as they age and promote help seeking to access to the resources and supports available.
Amongst the Women of Influence Alumni we welcome advice and assistance to respond to the red flags and risks for women as we age, and the investment of expertise and funding, both corporate and philanthropic, to realise the opportunities to promote wellbeing.
We look forward to collaborating with new partners as we progress our Catch-Up project into stage two.
If you would like to discuss this initiative further please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Family Life CEO Jo Cavanagh OAM:
Since 1976, Jo has worked for the community as a social work practitioner, researcher, consultant, manager, leader, and social entrepreneur. Her passion is the wellbeing of children.
Jo commenced working at Family Life in 1994 and has been Chief Executive Officer since 1996. Family Life is an innovative community service organisation that has provided support to families in the greater bayside region since 1970 as well as a centre of research, knowledge and innovation delivering measurable social change and impact.
In 1990, Jo was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study the prevention of child abuse in the United States. In 2013, Jo was awarded an Order of Australia for her outstanding achievement and service. As past National President of Family Services Australia, Jo has worked with the Australian Government to implement the 2005 Family Law reforms, and continues to explore how the whole community can be involved in supporting struggling families and solving pressing social problems. In November 2015 Jo accepted the position of Adjunct Associate Professor with the Faculty of Business and Law at Swinburne University.
Please contact us to get involved email@example.com.
By Jo Cavanagh OAM, Family Life CEO
The Australian Financial Review’s Women of Influence is proud to support the Catch Up project as part of our new initiative, the Women of Influence Alumni Projects.