February 20 marks the World Day of Social Justice, established by the United Nations, promotes efforts to tackle issues such as poverty, exclusion and unemployment. Issues which we as an organisation are passionate about tackling. We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability. It’s something at the very heart of our work at Mission Australia as we remove barriers and help people on their journey to independence.

Recently, Mission Australia’s Gateway Local Area Coordination program did just this for Kate*. Funded by the Tasmanian Department of Health & Human Services, Gateway links disadvantaged individuals and families with appropriate information, advice and referrals to relevant services.

Kate was just shy of 18 when concerned local police and teachers referred her to our Gateway Local Area Coordination team. Kate had a difficult relationship with her parents and teachers suspected physical, emotional and financial abuse at home. Burdened by social anxiety and shyness, at the time Kate became a selective mute, choosing not to speak in specific situations or to specific people even though she was able.

It was clear Kate was fearful and mistrusting of her home environment - she kept all her treasured personal items in her school backpack. As an immediate step the team arranged for her to be given a locker at school where she could store personal possessions, and all her personal care and washing was done at school by teachers and helpers.

Sadly, Kate’s story isn’t uncommon, with recent Mission Australia research revealing up to one in seven young people could be at risk of homelessness.

Because the Gateway team were unable to involve Kate’s family, they met her at school. And as she started building a relationship with the team they were able to focus on her goals and longer term wishes.

Although Kate should have been a perfect candidate for the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), she wasn’t on their radar because her parents refused to engage with any services.

Kate just wanted to be safe, she did not want to go home and wanted her things to be safe too. Once Kate turned 18, the Local Area Coordinator (a specialist case manager) explained how NDIA and Mission Australia would be able to assist her if she chose to give consent, which she immediately did. But Kate was finishing school in two weeks so the pressure was on as staff feared that once she disappeared from the school system her parents would keep her isolated and further help would be difficult.

Within days, appropriate and safe accommodation was secured until Kate’s NDIA emergency funding came through. She was supplied with clothing, personal products, bedding, and other essential items through our programs and donations from her school teachers.

Kate’s program manager said: “Kate is no longer a selective mute and feedback from her support workers is that she has gone to the other extreme and can talk underwater! She is constantly giggling now and forming connections with others in her group home”.

Kate’s story is a great example of multiple services collaborating together to achieve the best possible outcome for people in need. Barriers have been removed and social justice advanced.

Kate, the strength you showed at each step of your journey is truly inspiring. We wish you every success for your future!

Noel Mundy, State Director Tasmania and Victoria, Mission Australia

@NoelMundy59

*Names changed to protect privacy

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Purpose - 'Inspired by Jesus Christ, Mission Australia exists to meet human need and to spread the knowledge of the love of God'