Executive Director’s speech
I acknowledge that we are meeting on the lands of the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to their elders past and present, and acknowledge the ongoing contribution that they make to the Territory and the region.
Today is an exciting day. Even when I started writing this speech yesterday I could feel the sense of occasion. This is not just a name change, it’s an undertaking, a transformation.
This is not our first name change. Many years ago, we used to be Murringu Canberra, a small association which started up in 1994. Murringu was a small group of men meeting a couple of times a week to find ways of supporting men in peer support groups or by helping them to access counselling. Gerald Franks, our Director of Client Services became a member of the Management Committee in early 1998, and I joined in November that same year. Yesterday when I was looking through the patchy collection of documents from our early years, I found the first committee meeting minutes in which Gerald’s name appeared. It seems that ‘Gerald agreed to flesh out an innovative concept for the Grant submission’. Well, he’s still doing that, 18 years later! Indeed, my name first appeared in the minutes submitting a financial report as Treasurer. It seems that some things never change.
Murringu was founded on honourable intentions but its reliance on volunteers in the long run proved unsustainable. So when Gerald and I began to have increasingly animated conversations about the possibility of a mainstream professional community service organisation for men, Murringu was there to provide the foundation on which Canberra Men’s Centre was built. If it wasn’t for the contribution of all those men who gave their time and energy to creating Murringu and keeping it afloat we would not be here.
By September 2003, when Murringu Canberra became Canberra Men’s Centre, we had a small part-time counselling service; we offered what was then known as an anger management program, and with Gerald as our first full-time employee, we were providing a case management service to the men living in Ainslie Village. In 2004, we began the men’s homelessness service which became the MASS program, well-known to many of you here, and the platform for our development as a community service provider ever since. Gerald’s vision for using an advanced practice case management approach in working men with high and complex needs has enriched our service delivery and earned us the reputation for professionalism and capability we still have today.
Starting the MASS program meant we had to hit the ground running, so the Management Committee appointed Gerald and me as co-directors – on 12 month contracts with subsequent permanent appointment to be based on our performance. I guess we did ok, because we’re still here. Driven by our evolution and growth as a service provider, last year our Board decided to restructure the organisation, which led to Gerald being appointed as Director Client Services and me as Executive Director.
Our counselling service supports men in almost every challenge that life can conjure up – ranging from using violence to partners and children to surviving child abuse and neglect, public violence and sexual assault, or dealing with intense personal concerns around depression, suicide, anxiety, social isolation, relationship breakdown, employment, disability and mental health matters, parenting concerns, loss of contact with children. The list is a long one.
The supported tenancy and case management services we provide to men living with high and complex needs has grown exponentially over this period – our specialist services are delivered to men involved in the justice system, to men living with drug or alcohol issues, and to men living in the community with significant challenges related to mental illness, intellectual disability and acquired brain injury. Men who are mostly socially isolated, disengaged from the sources of personal and community support that we take so much for granted that we assume their presence in much the same way that we expect air when we inhale. Men who are so far from the glass ceiling that many have never even had a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
The NDIS is a natural environment for EveryMan Australia. Our records show that approximately 45% of our clients experience a disability, predominantly in the area of psychosocial or cognitive impairment. To put this in context, it has been established that 1.5 – 2% of the general population suffers from an enduring acquired brain injury, and 1.2% of the under-65 population has an intellectual disability. Studies have indicated that overall 1.5% of prisoners have a diagnosed Intellectual disability.
Recent research has found that the prevalence of ABI in the prison system is high, with 42% of males found to have evidence of an ABI following formal neuropsychological assessment. PTSD and personality disorders make up a further 19%. Better screening practices may well result in an increase in those figures.
EveryMan has a solid track record in providing effective assistance to disadvantaged and marginalised men living with disabilities to change entrenched patterns of behaviour and find new ways of living which work better, for the men themselves, and for the people around them in their communities.
Which brings us to the pilot project we are launching today – Connect24
As I indicated earlier, our commitment to working with men using violence has been at work for a long time. We were providing ten-week anger management group programs long before we had our first full-time employee. Our counsellors provide individual support to men between programs, to help the men learn to deal more effectively with what was driving their violence, to build safer and more respectful relationships, and contribute to greater safety for partners and family members. Our growing experience in this area, combined with our successful practice in case management and counselling for men living with high and complex needs, enabled us to design and deliver the Working With the Man program – a specialist service for men living in the community who have been violent to their partners or are at considerable risk of escalating to violence. A recent evaluation of this program undertaken with the assistance of ACT Policing found a reoffending rate of only 1.6% in comparison with to a rate of 16% for a comparison group of men referred who didn’t enter the program. This is a program for all men, with participants ranging from working class men to public servants, lawyers and business people.
Not long ago, after listening with despondency to a conversation where people were bemoaning the fact that the rate of domestic violence had remained unchanged for decades, I started to talk with my colleagues about what prevention actually means, and we started to see the essential crisis and refuge services for partners and families as delivering protection rather than prevention. If that was the case, what would prevention actually look like? We understood that programs like Working With the Man and our now rebadged Preventing Violence, Managing Anger program were successful in prevention – of further violence. Then I recalled talking to a caller asking for help because in his words ‘something bad nearly happened last night’. Was it possible to provide a prevention service for people who hadn’t yet hit their partners? Because of our experience in DV service delivery, we weren’t naïve about this – just because somebody hasn’t been using their fists, doesn’t mean they haven’t been abusing and dominating their partner by non-violent controlling behaviours. We know that psychological abuse can be extremely harmful.
But as a men’s service provider, we were in a unique position to start looking for places where preventative services could be delivered. For instance, Working With the Man often works with men around risk of breaching domestic violence orders. Many men who go back into the community after court appearances for breaches could be referred into a community-based AVO support service run by experienced violence prevention practitioners. We’ve made a proposal for such a scheme in our submission to the 2015 ACT Budget process.
So, if someone was worried that they were at risk of hitting their partner, what if they knew there was a number to call? Would access to a known helpline with the capacity to deliver timely face to face follow-up make a difference? This was the idea that we took to David Pryce when he was the Deputy Chief Police Officer ACT Policing. David was very keen to develop a partnership with Canberra Men’s Centre, and Connect24 was born.
What is Connect24? This is a four month pilot project and it starts at 5.00pm today – we need your help to get the word out, so please use your email distribution lists, your Facebook pages, Google+ if anyone’s still active there? If you find a website where there are DV contact numbers let us know so we can approach to get Connect24 information there. If you want a Connect24 worker to talk to people who need to know about the service, let us know. If you have friends or co-workers or neighbours or service users who need some preventative help, give them our number. We will have flyers and poster very soon – if you want some, let us know.
I’d like to acknowledge our partners in the Connect24 venture – without the financial support of ACT Policing, Hands Across Canberra, the Snow Foundation, and Austereo Ten, who will be helping us with promotion, the idea for this project would still be like having music in my head that won’t stop playing. Your support has our deepest appreciation, and we look forward to opportunities to build on our partnerships with you in the future.
Some time ago, like many organisations contemplating the arrival of the NDIS, Canberra Men’s Centre started to have a conversation about our profile, and started to notice how well known we were inside the tent, but not outside. It’s been easy for us to miss this – our tent is really big – it’s full of people who’ve come to know us and our work because they’ve needed our services for themselves, or for a man in their lives – a husband, a family member, a service user, a patient, an employee. Someone who’s referred people to us, or consulted, or trained with us, or partnered with us in service provision, or encountered us at meetings. Or read our Facebook page, or visited our website. A lot of people.
What we realised though, was that there are many people who have not heard about us, mainly because the men in their lives haven’t needed our services. Yet.
So we made a commitment that by the end of 2016, everyone in Canberra would know who we are and what we do. We asked the people at CRE8IVE to help us, and they developed a branding package for us which you can see around you now. A really fantastic job, so James Willson, Rob Hode and Naomi Lemmon – we can’t thank you enough for what you’ve contributed. Thank you. The first question, literally, the first, that James asked was – have you thought of changing your name? The answer was no, for no reason other than we had been Canberra Men’s Centre for so long, it just felt like who we were.
But coming back and starting to have that conversation among ourselves, we realised we were being given the perfect opportunity to take stock of everything that was Canberra Men’s Centre. To see the character of our organisation as given by our underlying values, the services we provide, the opportunities we’ve been given, the perspectives we have developed, the aspirations for our future, our grand plans and wild dreams.
In understanding who we had become, we began to see that we can now choose who we are going to be. The name Canberra Men’s Centre suddenly started looking too small. When we came up with EveryMan we realized that it worked as the beginning of a sentence, as a claim for who we represented, as an invitation and as a promise. We may not work with every man, but we can stand for every man. We can take on the responsibility for being a voice for men’s needs and interests and concerns. In being thought leaders, we can speak to the things that matter to men, and the things that matter about men.
I posted a wonderful article on our Facebook page this week, written by Ginger Gorman, about the sense of loss older men who miss out on having children can have. A beautiful story that went to the heart of men’s humanity. The next day the news broke about the murder of a child by his father in northern Canberra. A terrible story that went to the heart of men’s capacity for inhumanity, which was so hard on the heels of Ginger’s story that I couldn’t write about it, and still haven’t managed to yet. But at some point, we must have something to say, not only about the murder, but about the man, just as we must speak to the men who live with brain injury, the men who suicide because they can’t live with the loss of their children after separation, those men who are victims of all forms of violence (physical, emotional, sexual) – by their parents, their siblings, their friends, partners, by strangers in public places. If we’re not responsible for raising such matters on behalf of the men affected, who is?
When you say our name, say EveryMAN. Emphasize the second word. We are not everyman, a name which speaks to the ordinary man. We know that men have much in common, but we also know that each man is a unique constellation of experiences and talents and limitations and hopes and life malfunctions and intentions of all kinds. We stand for the greatness in men, from the everyday greatness a man might offer to his children, his neighbours, his work colleagues, his church community, his local soccer team or strangers in the street, to the more public greatness that a man might bring to his community through his contributions to areas like health, education, business, science, art, the environment, or music.
The years ahead are full of promise, and we will not let the people of Canberra down. We will be reaching across the border into our regional neighbourhood, and exploring ways of offering our support to help people there who dealing with domestic violence and with the community issues that are created by the presence of men living with high and complex needs.
In closing, I’d like to thank some other people who have contributed to today – Mick and Kris at ONETOGO for getting the t-shirts done ahead of the deadline, and to Andrew Hore for the really great job with the cartoon on the back – Andrew, I have an idea for a larger work so please catch up with me afterwards. A particular thank you to Daniel at Bytes’n’Colours for getting out the banner and the cards, and then all those last minute changes to the posters. That was some fine work.
It’s also been a huge pleasure to be working with Mark Parton, the man who brought sport to our Facebook page. Believe me when I say, that was never going to happen. You have an elegant simplicity in your work which belies its intelligence. I’m learning so much about social media by looking at how you go to work. And tweeting. I had my first Twitter conversation the other day. I commented on his tweet and he replied to me. At least, I think that’s what happened. Amazing.
Finally, I’d like to thank EveryMan’s people. What they contribute is what make us such a great organisation.
Our Board of Directors. You are the people who keep watch over us. You have your eye firmly on our future and you make sure we get to where it was we said we were going. You believe in us. We are here because you are. Thank you.
Our admin people. You are the people who keep our internal clock ticking, you make the organisation work, you are its heartbeat. Thank you.
And finally, our counsellors and case workers and coordinators. You are the people who deliver on the promises we make to our service users, their partners and families, to the people who make the referrals, to our partners and to the government, and ultimately to the community. We thank every one of you.
All of you are EveryMan Australia, and you make it possible for me to say in closing that EveryMan can.
EveryMan. Great services for men. Stronger communities for Australia.