Viv Freeman is a Wiradjuri woman who has worked with Barnardos Australia for the past 18 years. She manages the Yurungai Learning Centre, where all the children call her ‘Auntie’. Barnardos Australia invited Viv to tell us a little about herself and her work at the centre.
Growing up in a big family, Viv says her parents had an open-door policy to help anyone who needed it.
“It was a tight-knit community environment where we were all one big family,” Viv says. “This instilled my passion for working with children and families. I love helping people find solutions to their issues. To me, family comes before everything,” Viv says.
Viv is incredibly passionate about her work at the centre, which is “so much more than just a place for kids to come and do their homework.”
“We teach them respect, do arts and crafts, have picnic days,” Viv says. “We want them to be able to relax and just be kids as well.
“When parents come to pick up their kids, it gives us a chance to develop a relationship with them, too. We update them on how their child is going with school or if anything is bothering them.
“Getting someone to reach out for help is a huge achievement. It’s about connecting and building trust with children and families, helping them overcome the feeling of being judged, by motivating and supporting them.
“I just want to encourage all families and children to reach out for help if they need it.”
A better future
Viv explains that one day they were doing a public speaking task to help the children build confidence, and asked “What does everyone want to be when they grow up?”
One boy put his hand up: “I just want to be a man like my dad – he says you’re not a man unless you go to jail,” he said.
The little boy’s mum was determined to help him develop a different mindset and asked Barnardos for help.
Working together, Viv and the staff at the centre encouraged him to refocus his ambitions and he decided he wanted to be a professional footballer instead. He’s really good and it’s a joy to watch him play – but he still didn’t see the value of getting an education, believing he could survive just playing football. The Barnardos team did lots of roleplay to help him understand that he’d need to work too, and that learning is just as important as training.
To give him a fresh new environment, Barnardos found him a place at boarding school. He studied hard there for a year – but he was worried about his mum being alone with his dad, who can be violent, so he moved back home to be with her. He’s now left school and is working hard at a traineeship alongside his football training, which is wonderful.
Support during the COVID-19 lockdown
Unfortunately, too few children were able to attend the Yurungai Learning Centre to warrant keeping the centre open throughout lockdown. However, this has not prevented Barnardos from continuing to help the community. Viv has been making regular calls to Yurungai families to ensure that they are coping with remote learning. She has arranged access to laptops, where possible, for children who do not have access to a computer or the internet at home. The Barnardos team are also providing homework support over the phone for all students who need help.
Children and families struggling with behavioural issues have been a key concern for the Barnardos team. Viv contacts these families after hours to provide support. The lockdown environment is not ideal for families where living space is an issue, and support services like Yurungai Learning Centre have been striving to make the situation more manageable. Some families were concerned that without their usual evening activities, children could spend their evenings roaming the streets. The centre responded by sending baking packs to families to provide an activity that parents and children could do together, with the added bonus of something extra special to eat. Viv and her team have been visiting some of the families and checking on the children in their front gardens and porches. Viv also drops off containers of cooked meals. All these efforts let the families know that people care about them.
About Barnardos Australia
Barnardos Australia believes all children and young people deserve caring families in which they can grow safely and fulfil their potential. They work together with children, young people and families to break the cycle of disadvantage, creating safe, nurturing and stable homes, connected to family and community.