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Olive’s Place is a refuge program that operates as part of VincentCare, started life as Southern Halfway House Group in 1980. Over the years hundreds of women and children have walked through the doors in search of refuge at one of the most distressful times in their lives.

36 years on Olive’s continues to operate in the South Eastern region of Victoria at full capacity. The need for services for women and children escaping family violence has catapulted to greater numbers. Strong demand is considered the greatest challenge. Certainly the findings from The Royal Commission into Family Violence highlights the serious and insidious nature of the issue which permeates all aspects of our society.

Supporting and empowering women through group work

Working in a refuge requires thinking that is broad, creative, lateral, innovative and outside the box. Resources are never enough and staff often extend themselves to provide services that sometimes are not within the confines of time, budgets, and capacity. It is this recognition and desire to support women who come to refuge at a ‘deeper’, preventative level that can often make the difference for women breaking the cycle of homelessness and family violence or coming through the system again and again.

Group work has been noted to be a significant pillar for social and personal change for women who have had experiences of family violence. Staff collaborate and brainstorm weekly sessions and evaluate the group sessions on a consistent basis. Topics focus on understanding Family Violence dynamics, the power and control wheel, forming of new relationships, understanding the complexities and influences of family of origin, money and finances, housing and the options for exit planning, insights and understanding the nature of self esteem and confidence and how to build it. Staff are trained facilitators and guest speakers and experts are also called in for specialist presentations.

The vision for the group is essentially that women leave Olive’s with even a small seed of information that will change the fork in the road that leads to empowerment and greater insight for the next generation. Dedicating timeframes to group work for the duration of the woman’s stay in refuge enables an avenue and opportunity for change to occur. Staff are able to see first hand the significant benefit of creating conversations and interactions that enable a safe space for sharing, teaching and learning.

Olive’s has no doubt transitioned from the service that began from humble beginnings in 1980. Current challenges include maintaining the crisis intervention model and exiting women into safe and affordable housing. It makes perfect sense that therapeutic group interventions as well as broader counselling services to women and their children are housed within the refuge system. We need to think differently and be open to new ways of viewing these challenges.

The success of the service in terms of moving women into safe and affordable accommodation can only be achieved if the cogs in the larger machine are also working smoothly and without breakdowns. In the meantime Olive’s refuge continues to work alongside our clients and keep them at the forefront of our vision to provide a service that is dedicated to move them through a system that is safe, secure, responsive, compassionate, engaging, innovative and empowering.

Recently a woman from a CALD background in refuge stated that she was so thankful for the services that have been provided at Olive’s. She explained she feels so lucky to be in Australia since she would not have survived if she had been in Turkey. This made me realise that in Australia we are positioned to lead an innovative response and continue to work through the recommendations of the Royal Commission.

Ayfer Berdilek, Coordinator at Olive’s Place, VincentCare


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