For Emily (name changed), a young mum from Mildura, trying to finish her diploma while balancing the demands of two young children was an uphill battle, and she was all but ready to give up on her studies. With a three-year-old and four-month-old to care for, she had little time for much else. “Life was hard,” she says. “We were struggling to find stable accommodation.”
But then, Emily found out about Mildura-based non-profit, Zoe Support. “Since engaging with Zoe, we’ve found long-term accommodation and I’ve nearly completed my diploma,” she says. “My children enjoy spending time with the other kids at Zoe, too.”
Founded by local sociologist, social worker and researcher Anne Webster, Zoe Support is a one-stop shop that provides essential skills, mentorship, tutelage and on-site childcare for pregnant and parenting young women in the Mildura region. Since it began, the non-profit has empowered approximately 150 young mums to build a range of essential, ‘money-can’t-buy’ life skills.
The teen birth rate in Mildura, a regional city in north-west Victoria, is 21.6 per 1000 people. That’s a third higher than the state average. Those statistics are further exacerbated by the fact that Mildura is a lower socioeconomic area. Employment and personal growth opportunities are scarce, and the traditional government support networks simply can’t do enough to plug the gaps and provide assistance to those who need it most.
With four centres spread over the Mildura region, the organisation helps mothers by providing onsite childcare for their kids while facilitating education in a range of areas – like a community hub and college rolled into one (with its very own bus service to help clients get to and from the centre). A Bank Australia Impact Fund recipient in 2019, Zoe Support will use the grant to pay the rent for one of their centres this year.
“Without that, we’d have to close the centre,” says manager Merinda Robertson, who’s been with the organisation since 2013. “These centres are based in residential properties. The children go to the on-site daycare while their mother studies. Each mum has her own desk, computer and internet access, while her child is being looked after by an educator in the same house. It’s about targeting individual needs with the most appropriate wraparound support.”
Many of Zoe Support’s clients have lived experience of trauma. Some 48% of the young women have experienced family violence, 43% have experienced substance abuse, and 70% were homeless or at risk of homelessness on intake. The organisation also helps connect women with resources in the area to help them find housing, work and any other specialist care they might need.
“We have a young mother who’s just turning 25,” says Merinda. “She will be leaving the program this year. She’s doing her diploma of community service, and she’s been doing absolutely amazingly. I know she’ll get a job in that field. I’ve seen a lot of mums grow with us, and they all say, ‘Without Zoe Support, we wouldn’t be where we are today…’”
For Merinda and the team of dedicated staff, changing young women’s lives for the better is all in a day’s work. “I get up in the morning, and I love going to work,” she says. “I was a young mother myself but I have not experienced anything like the trauma some of the Zoe mothers have. I feel privileged to walk beside these young women”.
You can find out more about Zoe Support and donate to the cause through the website.