Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in Local Communities

The Annual Rosalie Rendu Lecture was held in Sydney on Wednesday, 14 October 2015 with keynote speaker Dorothy Hoddinott, 2014 Australian Human Rights Medallist and Principal of Holroyd High School. The topic was ‘Investing in children to break the cycle of poverty’ with panelists, Pat Fogarty, Southern Area Regional Manager for St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Support Services and Emily Goldsnith (pictured here), Sydney Regional Council President.

Here is Emily Goldsmith’s brief address. A video of the event can be viewed at the bottom of this page.


I’m here this evening to talk about how members of the Society contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty in our local communities. In essence, it is through connection. And it is having soft hearts, sharp minds, and hard feet.

In the Society we are fortunate enough to be able to do extensive outreach work. Through our home visitation, we have a unique opportunity to sit with people in their homes, and check in. This is where it counts. In Sydney alone we visit around 1,200 people a month. We have the opportunity to end the cycle of poverty with each of those people.

As Dorothy has discussed, we have a long way to go in terms of tackling disadvantage. Research tells us that over 80% of people accessing human services have experienced some type of trauma in their childhood. Trauma, particularly trauma that has never been fully acknowledged or worked through with a professional, is often the root cause of the many elements that lead to poverty. Assisting in breaking the cycle of poverty, often means acknowledging their pain, and working in a trauma sensitive way. It is having a soft heart – being there for someone who is vulnerable, remembering that the people we serve are doing the best they can with the tools they have been given. We hold no judgement, we connect, we listen and we offer assistance. We know that bringing someone out of poverty is not going to happen through the couple of food vouchers we might hand out at a home visitation. But it will happen if relationships are formed, and trust is built. Then, and only then, will we be successful about opening up another dialogue around what is next. After we assist the immediate need, can we support in any other way?

In this way, we need sharp minds. To break the cycle of poverty – early intervention and prevention is key. As we visit families in need, we need to look to the children to see how we can ensure the cycle does not continue. It means not being afraid to ask the children how they are going, to also check in with them. Vinnies has so many amazing resources – we can assist with nearly every issue – we have financial counsellors, we have access to respite programs for parents, access to free after school care, mentoring programs, child support workers, we have funding to ensure the home can be safe. The list goes on. . Find out what Vinnies can offer those you visit in the community, and take a bag of resources with you – there are many pamphlets available with information. I would encourage you to particularly think about the hand up we can offer children. We know that families at highest risk for child maltreatment as well as other parenting difficulties are those least likely to engage with formal support services. These families are the ones who fall down the cracks, but we see them. Having a sharp mind to foresee bigger issues, to link them in with early intervention and prevention programs, is vital.

We also need hard feet. We need perseverance. We need to keep going even if we’re feeling tired and unappreciated. Our ongoing presence is key in preventing poverty. Research tells us that ongoing engagement with families has the potential to negate the effects of neighbourhood disadvantage and enhance a sense of social connectedness and belonging. Within this context, we know that the children and families who could perhaps benefit from support services the most, those from disadvantaged families and communities, are reported to be the least likely to engage with them. Our consistent support is therefore vital to ensure we can break the cycle of poverty. Home visitation is unique in the sense that although we are there from a service, we are presenting in a safe, non-confrontational and helpful way that often means we get to sit with families who would never otherwise connect formally to a service. We are not there for any other reason than to respond to their needs. We don’t need anything from them. That is what sets us apart, and what often enables us to be able to delve deeper into the issues that may be fostering disadvantage. Our membership reach is extensive, and incredible unique. We need to make it count.

I want to finish with one of my favourite quotes, “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great” – thank you all for the wonderful work you are doing in walking with the broken. I would urge you to remember to have soft hearts, sharp minds and hard feet and to not forget the children in the work that you do – they are key in ensuring an end to the cycle of disadvantage.

Thank you
Emily Goldsmith

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