Government: services need to show measurable success, long-term savings

Jo Cavanagh is chief executive of Family Life, which runs programs designed to help people build strong, stable relationships.
Nanjing Night Net

Jo Cavanagh is chief executive of Family Life, which runs programs designed to help people build strong, stable relationships.

Jo Cavanagh is chief executive of Family Life, which runs programs designed to help people build strong, stable relationships.

Jo Cavanagh is chief executive of Family Life, which runs programs designed to help people build strong, stable relationships.

The ability to measure outcomes and articulate the long-term savings and value created by your organisation is an important skill in the community sector where there is always competition for government and public support.

Family Life, a family services provider in Melbourne’s bayside region, has a strong record of attracting government funds and both cash and in-kind support from within and beyond its own locality.

“We get two-thirds of our funding from federal and state governments and the remainder comes from philanthropy, community donors and our social enterprises. A little — mostly project based — money comes from local government,” chief executive Jo Cavanagh says.

When she joined Family Life 20 years ago it was a small organisation with 10 employees, an enthusiastic group of volunteers and an opportunity shop that raised about $20,000 a year. She now oversees 130 staff, 400 volunteers and three enterprises with a combined annual turnover of more than $1 million.

Family Life runs programs designed to help people build strong, stable relationships; counter family violence and support struggling families. While Cavanagh is disappointed at recent federal funding cuts she is determined to look creatively at ways to maintain innovative services.

Agencies, she says, must be able to show how their educational programs and support services have a measurable long-term financial and social benefit by interrupting pathways to violence, family breakdown, child abuse and costly out-of-home solutions.

“A lot of families who are doing things hard are very isolated. Helping them become connected and involved with community and providing support services is an important part of an integrated approach.” She believes that in future Australia may follow the example of the United States and UK in exploring impact investing — the use of private capital to generate positive social change and generate a financial return: “We are at a point of real change when innovation, measurement of outcomes and impact investing demonstrate that we could do better with the money that we already spend.” Cavanagh trained as a social worker at Monash University and worked in the juvenile justice system and with children in out-of-home care before being awarded a Churchill Fellowship that took her to the United States in 1990 to increase her understanding of child abuse. On her return she worked as a consultant, developing standards to improve the quality of care for children from vulnerable families. She helped Victorian courts implement dispute-resolution initiatives and provided training to agencies offering foster care and other forms of out-of-home care.

A consultancy project at Family Life brought her back into contact with a group that had provided her with support during her own teenage years.

While building the organisation’s offerings, she has contributed to state and federal government social welfare and child safety initiatives and was awarded an OAM in the 2013 Australia Day Honours.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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