Covering almost one-quarter of the continent, Queensland is Australia’s second largest state – and the most decentralised on the mainland.
With a population of just over five million people, Queensland is the nation’s third-most populous state with around half the population living outside of Brisbane – and one-quarter living outside south-east Queensland.
While regional Queensland offers many benefits such as a relaxed way of life, lower cost of living, deeper sense of community, and home to some of Australia’s top natural landmarks, the regions also face a number of challenges.
Daily challenges associated with distance, lack of infrastructure, attracting experienced personnel, higher costs and economic constraints are just a few of them.
Given Carinity’s drive to support and serve communities to make a real difference to people in need, it’s no surprise that more than 70% of Carinity services are delivered to regional areas.
Carinity’s service reaches 22 towns and cities – major regional centres like Townsville, Rockhampton and Toowoomba, and smaller rural communities, such as Boonah, Toogoolawah, Beaudesert and Laidley.
The tyranny of distance
Among the challenges associated with living in regional areas is distance.
“People in regional Queensland do not have the same level of access to support services as those living in Brisbane,” says Christine Hill, Executive Manager of Carinity Education.
“If young people in Gladstone or Townsville, for example, need to access mental health services they might have to wait months for an appointment at the one Headspace office in each area.
“And when problems are not addressed quickly there’s a danger students will give up trying to seek help.”
Janelle Heyse, Manager of Carinity Youth and Community Services, agrees.
“Distance is a disadvantage – and the lack of efficient public transport in some areas adds to the difficulty – but Carinity has a number of services that have grown out of local needs. We use site vehicles and buses to reduce that barrier for our clients at Toogoolawah and Boonah,” Janelle says.
Distance from major centres also makes it more difficult to attract specialist personnel to regional areas, and the cost of services can be prohibitive.
“Enabling clients to access services is important to us. At Wahroonga in Rockhampton we have established a low-cost wellness and psychological support service. We have minimised the cost barrier by providing sessions under the Medicare Better Access program,” Janelle says.
“We also work closely with local organisations, partnering with them to extend our service reach in a community. Our partnership with The Black Dog Ball in Rockhampton, and as a beneficiary of their fundraising, has allowed Carinity to provide longer-term mental health support beyond what clients can access via Medicare.”
Support where and when it’s most needed Carinity’s support services reach into many regional areas where there is socio-economic disadvantage including lower levels of employment, income and educational attainment.
“More than 500 students in five locations have access to alternative education programs in Carinity schools. There are waiting lists because so many young people are challenged by poverty and disadvantage,” Christine says.
Funded child safety programs in Rockhampton, Yeppoon, Narangba and Beaudesert target young people in need, particularly those who have suffered trauma, abuse or neglect.
Tracey Blok-Earl is the Program Manager for Carinity On Track which cares for young people from the Rockhampton district, largely Indigenous males, who are unable to live with their parents or others carers.
“The Indigenous community here has an amazing strength of culture that I feel privileged to learn about and assist. Working in a rural area, access to services and skilled professionals is always difficult, so creative thinking and sharing resources and practices within the sector is essential,” Tracey says.
Aid during crisis
“When regional communities are affected by economic downturn or natural disasters, Carinity’s support services are in even higher demand,” says Samantha Caves, Community Development Coordinator at Carinity Fassifern Community Centre in Boonah.
“Primary Health Network funding helped support communities affected by ongoing drought and the recent bushfires. The team at Fassifern Community Centre distributed health and wellness hampers containing personal hygiene products, including locally made soaps, and vouchers to spend locally,” Samantha says.
“They made a huge difference to those finding it tough to make ends meet. Providing a voucher for a café break with a friend not only improves overall wellbeing, it’s good for the local economy.”
The Community Centre also provides services that encourage deeper engagement and social connectivity, in line with Carinity’s focus on building inclusive communities.
“Problems related to mental health, disability, drugs or alcohol can lead to social isolation. Social stigma makes people more likely to withdraw rather than seek appropriate help,” Samantha says.
“Improving community attitudes to mental illness and encouraging appropriate help-seeking should be a priority in regional communities.”
Workshops facilitated by a registered psychologist support people living with mental health issues arising from illness, stress, family crisis or financial pressure.
“Workshops on mindfulness and managing change and stress are designed to increase community knowledge and understanding of mental health, and to help people navigate support services,” Samantha says.
Making a difference
The emphasis is on community: offering support, building resilience and encouraging participation. And it’s an approach that is working.
Carinity programs enhance social connection and engagement through community-led enterprises and through education.
For students in Carinity’s special assistance schools, connection with the wider community is preparation for the future.
“We aim to empower young people, remove the barriers to learning and help students become employable. We are disrupting systemic poverty and teaching young people to be responsible citizens,” Christine says.
In regional areas, Carinity is often the first point of contact for individuals facing immediate or complex needs. Carinity staff ‘go the extra mile’ for their clients and their families. Local staff know the local community and understand local problems.
Samantha sums up: “Responding to enhance the wellbeing of vulnerable people is at the core of Carinity’s vision and mission. Carinity seeks to make a real difference in people’s lives.
“Our vision is to create communities where people are loved, accepted and supported to reach their full potential.”