Mental Health – Spotlight on the Empowerment Challenge

Empowerment Challenge - May 2023 Web

The Geelong Community Foundation is shining a light on a wonderful local organisation providing critical support to young mothers.

Like many good ideas, The Empowerment Challenge began over a cup of coffee when a group of women who were involved in existing programs for younger mothers were lamenting the fact that, although there were some current programs and services on offer, locally they had enormous limitations.

Key Support Worker Narelle Arthurs says that critically, these programs were not ongoing and many of the younger mothers would age out of them.

“Their experience had shown them that many younger mothers in these programs lacked confidence and were disengaged. They were scared of being judged, wary of getting unwanted advice, found it difficult to trust, and had negative experiences trying to access services in the past,” she said.

“Without the right type of understanding and support, they would pull even further away and it was hard to make progress with these younger mothers when their time in the programs had an end-date. This is where the idea of The Empowerment Challenge was born.”

The organisation now provides younger mothers with a safe space to feel empowered, connected, respected and valued while also offering long-term accessibility to services providing mental health and well-being support, mentorship and community connection.

Geelong Community Foundation CEO Gail Rodgers points to the ABS National Study of mental health and wellbeing, which has identified that almost half of all young women in Australia suffered an anxiety, depression or substance abuse disorder in the last financial year.

“Worryingly, the annual prevalence of mental ill health in people aged 16-24 surged from 26% in 2007 to 39% in 2021,” said Gail.

“This is a major reason why programs like The Empowerment Challenge are so important for young women in our community as the study identified that their mental health is declining even more rapidly than young men.”

The Empowerment Challenge specifically provides services to support the wellbeing of mothers under the age of 26 and those who birthed their child under the age of 26, with the point of difference being that no younger mother will age out of the service.

“They are welcome for as long as they need if they fit in with our criteria,” says Narelle.

“We will work with over services to facilities warm hand-overs and promote smooth transitional engagement, allowing for time to build trusting relationships between participants and staff.”
Weekly mother’s group catch-ups provide a safe and nurturing space for young mothers to connect, share their stories, challenges and celebrations, and to seek whatever support they need.

“We have been able to create a strong community for our mothers and their little ones, supporting their bonding as well as breaking down the social isolation that often comes with parenthood,” says Narelle.

“Providing a safe space where these women feel safe, accepted and not judged for their age has been a huge accomplishment and we are so proud that we are continually growing our community.”

One of the biggest challenges that the organisation has faced is the development of a strong referral network.

“We were a very new service/program so it took a lot of work to get our name out there and for other services to understand what we were offering,” says Narelle.

“Thankfully we now have great connections and have been able to demonstrate that we are a supportive, inclusive and positive program.”

The best outcomes at The Empowerment Challenge are the forging of new and long-lasting connections, mainly through a weekly mothers group.

“Watching those young mothers create a community themselves has been amazing,” says Narelle.

“All of our mothers have experienced family violence in their lives, some of them are still dealing with it. We are so proud that we have created a space where they feel comfortable talking about those issues as well as seeking support and help from us.”

When asked about the organisation’s vision for the future, Narelle explains that it is all centred on growth.

“We want to continue to grow the service so that we can offer mothers groups in different areas around Geelong, and we’d also like to develop a mentor/peer work program so that some of our mothers can also support new mothers coming into the service,” says Narelle.

“To make that happen we need continued funding, recognition and support from other services in continuing to send through referrals. We are so fortunate that there are quite a few great services out there that are willing to work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for mothers and their children, and we are proud to be a part of that.”

Adds Gail, “Funding provided by the Foundation for The Empowerment Challenge over the last two years will prevent many young mums in our region from falling through the cracks. The provision of social connections and support free from judgement and filled with care and trusting relationships will allow these women to thrive.”

Reflecting on Mental Health Awareness Month, Narelle says that the organisation talks about mental health a lot with its participants, but worries that people often wait until they are in crisis before seeking support.

“Reaching out before it all gets to be too much, before you are so overwhelmed, before you feel stuck, is important.”