Sad things happen every day – in our personal lives, to friends and family, and people we don’t know.

We are all touched by global tragedies broadcast on the news, but atrocities such as this week’s Florida school shooting can be particularly confronting for children.

They may ask questions about what has happened and why, and worry it will happen to them.

As parents, we naturally want to protect our children from tragedy.

However, rather than avoiding explanations, brushing off their questions or telling them not to worry, it is important to talk through their concerns and how they are feeling.

“The important thing is to listen to them,” says Pauline Connelly, Assistant Director, Centacare.

“Don’t send them out to play when they ask about what has happened, as they will only take their fears and worries outside with them.”

Focus on making them feel safe in their immediate world rather than on their fears associated with the events – often very faraway –  they have seen or heard on the news.

American educator Fred Rodgers once said: “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, `look for the helpers, you will always find people helping’”.

This is valuable advice and a good place to start. Looking for the helpers amidst tragedy is a useful way to begin conversations with children about sad events.

Use age-appropriate language that builds their sense of safety and security, and acknowledge their emotions. Give them some facts but not the brutal ones.

Discussion regarding the recent tragedy in Florida might be:

“A very sad thing happened at a school in the US. A man made a bad choice and hurt a lot of students, and some people died. Some students were taken to hospital where doctors and nurses are looking after them. Usually schools are safe and fun places to be and the police are working hard to find out why this happened.”

It is important to focus on all the people who do help to keep us safe.

You could also mention ambulance officers, school principals, extended family, firefighters and even your child’s sports coaches and babysitters – all the people who keep them safe at different times in their life.

Talking to children about the people who protect them and then posing some `what if’ questions about who would keep them safe in the event of an emergency or sad time can reassure and help your child develop resilience.


Centacare’s Murray Mallee and Adelaide Hills Domestic Violence Service is running a FREE course to support women who have been affected by or are currently experiencing domestic violence.

The aim is to assist women who are in an abusive relationship – or have left a violent relationship – to better understand their experiences, seek support from others in a similar situation, and learn skills to begin healing and live a life free of fear.

Topics covered in the program include:

–          What is domestic violence?

–          Myths and facts about domestic violence

–          Impact of domestic violence on women and children

–          The cycle of violence

–          Why women can find it hard to leave an abusive relationship

–          Women’s rights to a healthy relationship

–          Healing and moving on

The seven-week program starts on Friday, February 23, and will run from 10.30am to 1pm every Friday, at our Murray Bridge site, 55 Adelaide Rd, Murray Bridge, with the last session on Friday, April 13.

For more information or to book a place in the course, please phone case managers Pam and Anne on 82156320.


Initiating conversations with your child or young person around school anxiety can be difficult, but it is important to start somewhere.

Worries can quickly spiral out of control, making it difficult for some children to adjust to their new school environment and routine.

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Refusal to go to school
  • Irritability
  • Being disagreeable
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Articulating stress through tummy pains and headaches

Simple, open questions make great conversation starters around anxiety.

Consider asking them how they are feeling about starting school and what they think it might be like this year. Remind them that often it helps to talk to someone about things if they are feeling worried.

Emotion coaching your child or young person is important to enable feelings to be named and explored.

This may mean making an observation such as “You look like you feel worried/sad/angry/upset. Is that right? If the answer is yes, follow with a question about what the worry/sadness/anger is about.

It is important to acknowledge these worries by saying something like “I can see why you feel that way” but follow that up with some ideas around resolving their worries by asking “Have you got any ideas about what you could do to manage those feelings? Let me know if you need help coming up with a plan”.

You can encourage your child to develop self-understanding by asking questions that help them to look beneath their emotions.

Questions such as “What has made you feel that way? or “ What thoughts did you have when you made that choice?’’ are useful in prompting your child to think about the underlying cause of their anxiety. In turn, this develops their ability to respond to what is troubling them.

Sometimes talking about expected feelings can be useful. For instance, asking the young person if they expect to feel nervous or worried when they start or return to school, and how they think they might manage that.

Follow up with questions such as “If you do start feeling worried, what is something you can do to make yourself feel better?”

Remember that your goal as a parent is to help your children put together their unique puzzle of feelings and past experiences so that they develop the skills they need to control their emotions and lower their anxiety.

Going back to school is not just daunting for little ones – older students can feel anxious too. Our parenting educators have put together some tips for parents of young people starting high school this year.


Many young people find starting secondary school a time of mixed emotions.

While they may feel excitement, fear, confusion and have a sense of curiosity and adventure, most will admit that starting a new school experience can be a bit scary.

They may feel lost and confused, miss their primary school friends and worry about fitting in.

Adjusting to these differences and their new learning environment can be challenging.

Secondary schools are much bigger, anonymous places than primary school where everyone knows your name. New school routines and unfamiliar classrooms and teachers add an extra dynamic.

Friendship circles change and even established bonds can be challenged in high school, as students tackle one of the primary developmental tasks of establishing identity.

Signs your child is not coping may include:

  • Irritability
  • A short-temper
  • Being disagreeable or rebellious
  • Withdrawing from family
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Articulating stress through tummy pains and headaches

While children may exhibit some of these behaviours regardless of the onset of a new school year, if these signs persist after the first few weeks of term, it’s time to speak to the school to help address the source of stress.

It is equally important that parents look after their own well being too. Remember, this can be a stressful and confusing time for you also, as you juggle work, family and other commitments, and try and figure out how much support to offer your child.

Here are some favourite pieces of parental advice drawn from our parenting groups over the years:

  • Remember that despite their emerging sophistication, students still need to hear you say you love, approve of and support them
  • Provide reassurance by normalising some of the confused and unsure feelings and perhaps share your own high school experience
  • Celebrate their strengths: they need to be reminded of what they do well while they tackle challenges
  • Be a supportive listener and don’t give advice too quickly: help them problem-solve and encourage thinking for themselves
  • Be patient while your student tackles the challenges of first year high school and remember that being organised is usually a learned skill
  • Get to know the school community – other parents can be your best resource.


Even in the face of unimaginable adversity, small victories can be found, but often it takes the belief of another to have faith in oneself, writes Director Dale West in The Advertiser.


Slapped with labels such as meth-head, loser, homeless, nut case and disabled, they are judged at face value by their symptoms, with no consideration of their past.

Such negativity seeps into other aspects of South Australian life, but the impact it has on our most vulnerable is often particularly cruel — confidence and self-esteem is eroded, and they feel defeated and demeaned. What would happen if we chose to nurture understanding and tolerance, instead of writing people off?

Even in the face of unimaginable adversity, small victories can be found, but often it takes the belief of another to have faith in oneself. Despite what community stereotypes lead us to believe, situational crisis can happen to anyone regardless of your address, employment status, finances and family situation.

If your entire family and friendship networks break down, how do you extricate yourself from the whirlwind if you do not have support?

Encouragement goes a long way. The proof, if you need it, is in the faces behind programs such as Centacare’s voluntary Family Preservation Service (FPS). The service works to address safety concerns and other lifestyle factors affecting ability to parent in families with children from birth to 18 years who are experiencing abuse or neglect.

Common symptoms of neglect include lice-infected scalps, skin sores, malnutrition, developmental delay, and poor attachment with parents or caregivers. Generational dysfunction often plays a part, and unemployment, financial difficulty, mental health challenges and environmental stress may also be present.

The FPS traces clients’ backstories to put their past, present and future into context. They are people like Rosie who had it all until a family tragedy turned her life upside down. She was referred to the FPS due to concerns about her children’s safety.

Overwhelmed by grief, Rosie was struggling with substance misuse and was at high risk of self-harm. The family lived in squalor and had multiple pets. For a woman who had once led a highly successful professional life, it all became too much.

From the outset, our hope for Rosie was the same as for every family we support: that when we step away from the case, they have a strong foundation for success and improved health outcomes, and the capacity to enjoy family life. Working in partnership with the State Government, Centacare provides households with intensive one-year case management, including health intervention by a clinical nurse. This includes in-home and community support up to twice a week in order to build resilience and parenting capacity.

We look for the slightest indication of strength to make positive change. Using a strengths-based approach, we try and normalise challenges so families do not feel shame or that they are being judged.

Sadly, this is a foreign concept for many parents who may have been discounted for much of their life. When vulnerable parents see that we believe in them, they start to believe in themselves, and they begin to take the first of many small but significant steps forward. While we don’t get to see the long-term outcomes, it is what we do with families and children in the period of time we support them that can set them up for life.

In Rosie’s case, her involvement with FPS led to improved school attendance and health outcomes for her children. She was supported to access counselling, financial management and help around the home, and her self-confidence grew as her social isolation decreased. Rosie reports she is feeling hopeful and more in control of her life today.

In 27 years at Centacare, I’ve never yet met a mother who appears not to love her child — some parents just need more support than others.

As a community, if we can walk with those we see struggling and be kind to one another without judgment, perhaps we can prevent today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s clients.

■ Dale West is director of Centacare Catholic Family Services

As the end of the year draws near, we asked Centacare staff about the moments that made their work rewarding in 2017. Today, Anne, a social worker with our PACE service, writes about her experience supporting a woman to reduce the amount of clutter in her home.


Centacare’s PACE team runs two Buried in Treasures groups each year for people with hoarding challenges.

Most people who start the group come to all 15 sessions and are grateful for the support and education they receive.

We have had a few emails thanking us for holding the group without which they would not have been able to make so many changes.

One of the participants , `Jenny’, has had a great deal of success.

When Jenny started Buried in Treasures she had eight motorbikes, four storage sheds, a bus and a combi van.

Jenny has reduced this to two motorbikes, one storage shed, and a HiAce van.

Selling the vehicle fleet has contributed towards making it possible to buy a house.

Jenny has also felt less overwhelmed with the hoard which has given her more confidence and the ability to cope with the responsibility of buying a house.

Jenny states “decluttering has helped me believe that I can be effective and have a better life.”

She was very appreciative of the support she received, not only from the workers but from the participants in the group.

Some of the participants have come along to the DAIR group to help maintain their successes.

Some have met up regularly with other participants to do the decluttering together.

Jenny has found it has helped to have someone to be accountable to, and to help her to understand why she clings to her possessions.

She recounted a recent insight where she was going through paperwork that she has found difficult to dispose of.

This was partly due to the overwhelming desire to hold onto things that may be useful for someone else one day.

Jenny had kept some information about a retreat she had been on when she had cancer that she found to be so helpful for her.

She wanted to be able to pass this on to someone else.  She was prompted to think about the fact that she does not need to keep this piece of paper because the experience was so memorable that she will be able to impart this information verbally if needed.

Not only that, she was able to trust that whoever needs it will receive it one way or another.

Jenny realised that she didn’t need to be overburdened with responsibility for “carrying the whole world on my shoulders”.

This ability to trust has had a flow-on effect in other areas of her life, and whenever she feels stressed and anxious she just uses the word `trust’.

Jenny’s story is one of inspiration and heartfelt warmth.

Jenny did not see that her story was that special and recounted the story of one of the other participants in the group who she felt had made more progress.

Jenny’s humility and determination has been helpful for myself and other members of the PACE team.

It is rewarding to know that our efforts and support are appreciated.

For more information about PACE, please phone 1800 809 304 0r 8159 1400, or email

The emotive side of Christmas sadly puts children in the thick of family conflict at a time when they are meant to be wrapt up in joyful celebration, writes Director Dale West in The Advertiser today.


IT’S the Christmas clause once-happy families did not envisage: conducting child handover in a police station on Christmas Day.

My friend’s granddaughter spent two of her first four Christmases in the company of police, under Family Court order.

For her fifth Christmas, the girl asked the man in the red suit to “make the blue people go away”. She knew they kept her safe but she didn’t understand why.

The emotive side of Christmas sadly puts children in the thick of family conflict at a time when they are meant to be wrapt up in joyful celebration. As parents we have a choice: Do we put ourselves first, or our children?

Demand for formal family dispute resolution soars this time every year, as parents argue about where their children will wake on Christmas morning and sleep that night.

For parents who have not planned ahead, or have missed the court’s cut-off date to file non-urgent applications for holiday parenting orders, tension mounts.

Children may miss out on seeing one parent altogether, and others may not be returned home on time – if at all – prompting Australian Federal Police involvement.

BBC One’s short film The Supporting Act is a reminder of what’s important.

The film celebrates Christmas as a time to come together to share experiences and special moments.

Through its depiction of a working dad and his dancing 10-year-old daughter, the animated movie explores how pressures of life can seemingly get in the way of the things that matter, especially at Christmas.

The father seems distracted in the lead-up to his daughter’s performance – until she freezes on stage, and he steps out of the crowd to guide her through the moves.

We could do worse than to follow the film’s cues, in merry measure.

No matter the demands on your personal, work and family life, try and keep your child’s welfare as your highest priority.

Even if a parent is absent due to domestic violence, incarceration, or there is a court order preventing contact with the family, avoid making your emotions part of your child’s Christmas experience – they have enough to deal with.

Talk about things in an even-tone, matter-of-fact way – and be flexible. Respect family traditions too. Who instigated them is irrelevant if they are important to your child.

When your children see you calmly leading the family through challenges, they will feel safe.

With careful consideration, we can bring the focus of Christmas back where it belongs.


*Centacare provides support to families requiring mediation to deal with issues of separation. The service is available in metropolitan and regional South Australia. For more information, visit Family Dispute Resolution




Finding support for a mental health challenge can be tricky if you don’t speak English.

How do you articulate your feelings and ask for help?

New multilingual resources produced by headspace Port Adelaide (hPA) aim to make it easier for young people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to access information and support.

To be launched tomorrow (Friday, December 8) the resources explore types of mental illness and offer tips on how to nurture healthy head space.

“All young people face challenges in their lives but young people from CALD backgrounds face additional pressures,” said Stacey Roy, Manager, hPA.

“They may feel torn between cultures and experience social isolation, violence and discrimination. This makes them even more vulnerable, yet we also know they experience more barriers when trying to access health and mental health services.

“Having access to youth-friendly, high-quality youth mental health information in a range of languages leads to a greater awareness of available supports, increased mental health literacy, and earlier help-seeking for all young people.”

Funded by the SA Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, the resources explore anxiety, depression, trauma, and other information in Persian, Chinese, Greek, Italian and Vietnamese.

This week, Centacare’s suicide intervention and prevention program ASCEND revealed a rapid rise in the number of consultations for school students – many from CALD backgrounds – at risk of suicide in South Australia.

Aspiring paediatric mental nurse Angie Bui, who is Vietnamese Australian, said cultural beliefs about mental illness could affect people’s readiness – and willingness – to seek support: “Talking about mental health is quite foreign for a lot of my local and international friends and their families; there is still a lot of stigmatism and misunderstanding attached to it.”

A member of hPA’s Youth Reference Group, Angie (pictured) said she hoped the new resources would break down existing communication barriers, and start vital conversations about mental health across cultures in the community.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the same as physical illness, just not visible, so it’s crucial that we spread awareness about the different types of mental illness and support services available in the community.

“The fact sheets will support young people and their families to not only recognise challenges they may be experiencing, but how to access vital holistic and recovery-based care through headspace, Centacare and other service providers in the community.”


*Join headspace Port Adelaide to celebrate the launch of the new multilingual youth mental health resources tomorrow (Friday, December 8) from 3pm at 78-80 St Vincent St, Port Adelaide. For more information, please phone 8215 6340.




Little hands glue coloured sticks onto paper fish to tell the Ngarrindjeri dreaming story of the thukeri (bony bream).

“It teaches us not to be greedy and to share,’’ explains Rosslyn Richards of the story, at a playgroup to help Aboriginal children reconnect to culture.

Every Tuesday, Ros and fellow family practitioner Natasha Sumner take Centacare’s Po:rlar Ka:ngkun Tainkuwalun (PKT) Journey to Learning program on the road, from Murray Bridge to the Goolwa Children’s Centre.

In a first for the Fleurieu Peninsula, the playgroup is bringing Aboriginal families together to learn their language, play, and make new friends.

Craft, dreamtime stories, and water and nature play feature, as children aged 0 to 6 engage in fun activities to prepare them for kindy and school.

For many families, the playgroup is a vital connection to their cultural heritage, especially language.

“It’s often when the kids get to high school that they think `we should have learnt this more often’,’’ says Uncle Archie, a Ngarrindjeri Elder.

“It makes me very proud. I’m glad they do pick it up otherwise it’s just going to die out. I hope they carry it on.’’

The playgroup is part of a wider push across the Fleurieu to recognise Aboriginal language, history and culture. Local schools are leading the way, including Goolwa Primary.

Deputy Principal Kym Palka integrates students from Reception to Year 3 in the playgroup each week.

“It gives them the opportunity to meet with the Elders, to do a bit of bonding, arts and crafts, and connects them with Aboriginal culture,’’ he says.

For others, the playgroup is a chance to see extended family.

“I love coming here, not only for the kids to interact with each other but for us as well. It’s a good time for all of us to catch-up,’’ says a grandmother who brings her grandson each week.

“It has opened a lot of eyes down here for the better and we’ve got a lot more to look forward to for these little ones.’’

Aboriginal families are invited to join the playgroup from midday to 1.30pm,  every Tuesday, at the Goolwa Children’s Centre, Brooking St, Goolwa. The final playgroup for the year will be held on December 19. The fun will resume on Tuesday, January 2, 2018. See you there!


Aboriginal children on a journey to learning from Centacare on Vimeo.


School’s almost out and it’s time for fun and friendship at Kolbe Cottage.

With its state-of-the-art renovation complete, Kolbe is offering daily activities from Monday to Friday during the school holidays for young people aged 5 to 18 years with NDIS funding.

The Plympton service has been providing support for children with intellectual disabilities for more than 34 years.

Come along and join in:

  • Leisure and recreation activities
  • Community programs
  • Games and sensory learning opportunities
  • Outdoor learning and play
  • Swimming and music programs
  • Friendships and fun

Overnight stays and day respite on weekends is also available.

Kolbe is open throughout the holidays, except for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

For more information or to book a spot in our school holiday program, phone our Disability Services team on 8215 6818 or email

To explore our NDIS support services, visit our new website.


Meeting the Challenge

Centacare Catholic Family Services is a Catholic welfare organisation delivering a range of services across the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.

Client Services

45 Wakefield Street Adelaide SA 5000
T 08 8215 6700 | F 08 8232 8920

Opening Hours

Monday – Tuesday | 9am – 5pm
Wednesday – Thursday | 9am – 9pm
Friday | 9am – 5pm

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