Make a Difference mentioned in NSW Parliament

Extract from NSW Parliament Hansard, 24 September 2012



(Parliamentary Secretary) [10.56 p.m.]: After its successful inauguration last year, the New South Wales Parliamentary Spring Ball was held again last Thursday to raise funds for a few select charities through the generous sponsorship of our lead sponsors, Westpac, NRMA, PremierState, the Australian Hotels Association (NSW), Kreab Gavin Anderson, NRMA Insurance, Macquarie Bank, Capital Investment Group and Freehills. Many of these sponsors were back for the second year. After wonderfully entertaining and erudite speeches from the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and Leader of the Opposition, John Robertson, a great night was had by all, especially with the entertainment of the Police Band.

This year $85,000, so far, was achieved through donations and moneys raised through the auction conducted by the Hon. Thomas George. Some of these charities are small in size but big in heart and they have shown us just how important their contribution is to the wellbeing of vulnerable children and the wider community. The charity Make a Difference helps children affected by mental illness in Sydney's south-west. Typically the children they assist do not have a mental illness, but are affected by the mental illness of a family member, usually a parent.

To give members an example of how well-targeted assistance can make a lifelong impact, Make a Difference recently assisted a four-year-old girl we will call Abbey. Abbey lives in Sydney's south-west with her mother and five older siblings, who have five different fathers, none of whom remains involved with the family. Abbey's 15-year-old sister has a new baby who also lives with them. Abbey's mother has strong features of three different forms of mental illness, including bipolar and obsessive compulsive disorder. She lives a chaotic life and has little insight into the needs of her children. Unfortunately, this means that Abbey and her siblings, without outside support, are unlikely to have their physical and emotional needs met and are at risk of developing a mental illness in later life. Indeed, by the age of four, Abbey was already behind on educational and other milestones she should have achieved.

The family's counsellor advised that spending too much time with her mother could cause further problems for Abbey, and asked Make a Difference if it would pay for Abbey to attend a preschool three days a week, with the mother paying for the fourth day. Make a Difference assessed the family and agreed to fund Abbey's attendance at preschool for the last two terms of the year, at a total cost of $3,236. Make a Difference maintained contact with the family and several of its support services during this time to ensure its assistance was working well for Abbey and her family. At the end of the year the preschool reported on how well Abbey had overcome her previous underdevelopment. She had made gains educationally, socially and emotionally that the preschool believed made her school-ready for the following year. She also had more resilience and independence to cope with the challenges presented by her mother's serious mental illness.

This is just one example of a very broad range of interventions provided by Make a Difference, but it shows how a small, responsive charity was able to strengthen the foundations for a vulnerable child in ways that will benefit her for the rest of her life. Other charities who will benefit are the Bush Children's Education Foundation. Cliff and Sue Cowdery from that organisation were there to enjoy the night. Richard Appleby, the Chief Executive Officer of Can Assist, was there. That organisation is ably chaired by Kay Hull. Can Assist is a grassroots, community-based charity dedicated solely to supporting country people affected by cancer and their families. Noah's Ark Toy Library exists for children with special needs. Alzheimer's Australia NSW is another participant, having recently launched a new brain health program called Your Brain Matters, which is taking a special mobile bus to Aboriginal communities across regional and rural New South Wales. I particularly thank Ann Lewis from my office for her leadership, Sam Brown from marketing and Phil Freeman from catering for their hard work to ensure that the ball was such a huge success. I also acknowledge the contribution of the Hon. Helen Westwood.