December 2021

In this edition, we share our recent partnership with the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, which explores refugee settlement in Australia from a new angle. You can read the initial findings from our project on the impacts of COVID-19 on the community services sector. This edition also spotlights our project on Catholic responses to family violence, and provides news on the opening of the SESU’s 2022 application round and ACU’s 2022 Carnegie Community Engagement Classification submission, among other items.

Learn more about the SESU

 Dr Mary Tomsic

First-of-a-kind study on refugee settlement in Australia

The SESU has joined a broad-ranging study on refugee settlement that will be the first of its kind. Initiated by the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education, the project explores refugee settlement across seven of the LGAs that are among the most popular for refugees to settle in Australia.

We will hear from key service providers as well as refugee leaders to uncover the challenges each city has faced when receiving large numbers of new humanitarian entrants who come in search of a safe and secure home, as well as the achievements of these cities in supporting their new community members.

Bringing together 19 partner organisations, including local councils and non-profit support agencies, the study will inform future services for refugee communities and advocate for improved federal and state government policies.

Dr Mary Tomsic, from ACU’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, is the lead researcher from ACU and joins a multidisciplinary, cross-institutional research team. Dr Tomsic said about the project:

“Focusing on how people who have come to Australia as refugees make their sense of home in local communities will bring new insights to understanding and better supporting refugee resettlement.

“By carrying out research with refugee community leaders and members, as well as local based settlement service providers, we will be able to better understand how place impacts on refugee resettlement.

“I feel privileged to be part of an interdisciplinary team that is genuinely engaged with refugee community leaders and service providers and working to understand experiences more fully as well as advocate for improved services and outcomes.”

To find out more, read CathNews’ recent story on the project

Interim report finds those who were experiencing the most marginalisation pre-pandemic were hit with the highest COVID-19 impacts

One arm of the SESU project that is exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the community services sector asks: ‘How will the COVID-19 crisis affect demand for social services?’ In partnership with Catholic Social Services Victoria and St Mary’s House of Welcome, the project analyses the impact of the crisis in Victoria in terms of job losses, inequality and poverty, as well as impacts on women, young workers, temporary migrants and people experiencing homelessness.

Dr Tom Barnes, from the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, who is leading the project along with Dr Scott Doidge from ACU Engagement, provided a summary of the project’s interim report, which found that:

  • Labour market insecurity in 2020 was worse for women and young people, who were more likely to be working in sectors with the highest rates of job loss such as hospitality or the arts.
  • The Federal response to COVID-19 excluded temporary migrants from key schemes like JobKeeper and JobSeeker. This plunged millions into financial hardship. Official unemployment among the most recently arrived migrants from South and Central Asia peaked at a remarkable 24 percent in 2020.
  • Rapid falls in official unemployment in 2020/21 were misleading. Those experiencing the most vulnerability were worse off before the Third Wave in mid-2021 than they were prior to the First Wave in early 2020. For example, the number of JobSeeker recipients in mid-2021 was 50 percent higher than pre-pandemic. Jobactive caseload numbers were double. The recent Federal response, including COVID Disaster Payments, has not adequately addressed these worsening conditions.
  • Social service providers have been remarkably resilient, but government needs to pay close attention to new problems, including a major decline in retail sales and volunteers during the pandemic. Despite this decline, demand for meals from people experiencing poverty increased substantially. While calls for emergency relief fell for much of 2020 due to the impact of policies like the Coronavirus Supplement, they increased for temporary migrants with no social safety net.

The project, which aims to help community services plan for and respond to continued impacts to their service provision, will deliver an updated report in February 2022 before publicly launching a final report mid-year.

The full interim report is available to read here

Mapping Catholic responses to family violence

Through the SESU, ACU has partnered with Caritas Australia (CA), Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA) and Catholic Health Australia (CHA) on a project that will map the work of Catholic agencies in responding to and preventing family violence.

ACU, CA, CSSA and CHA are collaborating together for the first time on this issue and have members and partners who work to prevent and respond to family violence in Australia and overseas.

From emergency housing to counselling and everything in between, the project will chart the type and scale of family violence services currently provided by CA, CSSA and CHA and their members and partners. This will include considering the impact of COVID-19 to their services and their response to the pandemic.

In addition, the project also seeks to uncover themes emerging across the work of these organisations that may speak to the unique contribution of Catholic agencies to this issue.

Given the prevalence of family violence and the need for critically informed responses, the project is well-placed to contribute to the current evidence-base by documenting and understanding the response of the Catholic social services sector.

It is hoped that the findings will identify the commonalities as well as gaps that exist across services offered in the sector and future areas of collaboration that can be explored between the members and partner organisations across future projects.

The project, led by Professor Susan Broomhall, from the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, and Dr Mary Noseda, from the School of Theology, at ACU, in consultation with CA, CSSA and CHA staff, is due to finish at the end of 2022. 

SESU keynote address well-received at the recent ACU and DePaul Conference on Community Engagement and Service-learning

A keynote panel presentation on the SESU delivered at the ACU and DePaul Conference on Community Engagement and Service Learning in October provided an insightful background to the genesis of the SESU.

The keynote explored the history and purpose of the SESU, noting how the introduction of the SESU enabled ACU to embed a clear system for research collaborations that prioritise the needs of partners and engender positive social, economic and cultural impacts.

Panellists Professor Sandra Jones and Ms Netty Horton (from the SESU’s Advisory Group), Mr David Stefanoff from CatholicCare Sydney (a current partner of the SESU), and Ms Vivien Cinque (SESU Manager) each contributed insights on the impact of the SESU based on their connection to its work.

Four of the SESU’s projects were also featured at the conference. Co-delivered by SESU partners and academics, it made for very rich presentations:

  • Co-designing an evaluation of an intervention program to assist students with refugee backgrounds (Mr Nestor Estampa and Mr Chris McNamara, CatholicCare Victoria; and Dr Joel Anderson, Mr Paul Chalkley and Sr Thuy-Linh Nguyen, ACU)
  • Establishing a respectful working partnership between a university and an Aboriginal community-based organisation (Mr Graham Toomey, Gunawirra; and Dr Renata Cinnelli and Ms Kate Robinson, ACU)
  • Participatory action to overcome barriers to psychosocial care and capacity building (Ms Robina Bradley, St Mary’s House of Welcome; and Mr Ben Coyte and Professor Sara Bayes, ACU)
  • Understanding the ‘partner’ in partnerships: A case study of an effective university-community research partnering (Ms Rhiannon Cook, St Vincent de Paul Society NSW; Mr Nishadh Rego, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia; and Dr Jen Couch, Mr Sebastian Trew and Dr Jillian Cox, ACU)

The conference was attended by delegates from DePaul University and University of Notre Dame in the United States, and from numerous Australian universities.

SESU staff wish to extend a hearty thank you to the panellists and project teams for sharing their time and reflections.

We encourage you to view the presentation slides on the conference website

Meet the new Chair of the Advisory Group

Professor Br David Hall joins the SESU’s Advisory Group as its new Chair. The Advisory Group to the SESU has the roles of selecting projects to be funded and driving the strategic direction of the Unit. Read more about David’s background and what he brings to the Advisory Group.

David is a Marist Brother and the foundation Dean of the La Salle Academy at ACU. La Salle has responsibility for programs that the university offers in the areas of Educational Leadership and Governance, Faith Formation and Religious Education. He took up this position after thirty years in Catholic education. David worked in both primary and secondary schools, single-sex and coeducational. He held positions as teacher, Religious Education Coordinator, Deputy Principal and Principal. He also spent time as Executive Director of the Marist Ministries Office—responsible for governance and animation of Marist schools, youth ministry and social justice services.

David is a member of a number of school and diocesan boards and councils across the country. He teaches in post graduate programs at ACU in religious education and leadership and offers national and international workshops for Catholic educators. He also offers consultancy services across the Catholic education sector including school and system reviews and support in curriculum design.

Among his international engagements was the leadership of a team that delivered a formation program for leaders in Catholic schools across twenty-two countries in Africa. He is continuing similar work across Melanesia and the Pacific and also runs leadership formation programs in the UK and Italy.

Read about all six members of the Advisory Group

First Australian university-community engagement classification to take place in 2022

The Carnegie Community Engagement Classification has now been launched in Australia as the Network of Community Engagement and Carnegie Classification Australia.

The Carnegie Classification prompts universities to demonstrate and strengthen their commitment to the communities they serve and to share good practice in the sector. A key aspect of the Carnegie framework is engagement with community that integrates active community listening and participation and results in sustainable reciprocity. It has been the leading framework for institutional assessment and recognition of community engagement in US higher education for the past 15 years.

ACU was one of nine universities participating in the 2020 Australian Pilot of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. Carnegie feedback on our Pilot submission revealed several strengths of ACU’s community engagement approach, as well as key areas where ACU—and the broader higher education sector in Australia—can more fully embed impactful community engagement in the areas of learning, teaching and research. In both formal and informal feedback on ACU’s pilot submission, Carnegie leadership pointed to the SESU as an innovative approach to community-engaged scholarship.

With the official launch of the Network of Community Engagement and Carnegie Classification Australia, the first Carnegie Classification round will take place in 2022. A Community of Practice has also been established to connect university and community stakeholders in an opportunity to learn together about innovative university-community engagement practices.

The Network’s Community of Practice has already started hosting free workshops for Network members, and the next event will take place on 16 December, entitled “Appreciative Inquiry Methodology”. This workshop will introduce principles of this framework which can be used to help formulate a shared vision for your work with stakeholders and enhance relationships. It will explore the power of positive imaginary. As a Network member, any ACU staff or community partners are welcome to attend.

Register here

Have a great idea for a research project? Applications to the SESU will open in February 2022

The SESU will call for expressions of interest (EOIs) from community organisations again in our 2022 round. Organisations working in areas central to ACU’s Mission and ethos will be able to apply.

You’ll be notified when the call for EOIs opens in February, but until then read on for information about our application process.

Organisations may put forward applications for one or both types of project:

  • Organisation-specific project: a project that aims to inform, evaluate or enhance one of your programs or services; or
  • Sector project: a project that aims to address a broad or systemic issue that multiple organisations face in the community sector.

The SESU is designed to support projects that can be completed within a period of 12-18 months from their start date. However, if you have a larger project in mind, we recommend you consider segmenting the project into smaller phases and submitting an EOI that focuses on the first phase of the project.

If you are considering submitting an EOI, we encourage you to begin by reading our online FAQs. Here you will find application guidelines—including how EOIs will be assessed—information that will help you determine whether your project is a good fit for the SESU, and tips on submitting a competitive EOI. You will also find information on the kinds of contributions your organisation will be expected to make to the project, which you will be asked about in the EOI form.

Other ways ACU can support you

Do you need support in areas other than research? ACU can also support organisations through the community engagement student placement program and the staff Community Engagement Time Release initiative.

ACU and Sacred Heart partner to enhance the academic, social and emotional skills of students through literacy and education support programs

The Read to Learn (RTL) program was launched in 2016 after an ACU student noticed that some children attending the Homework Club Program at Sacred Heart School in Fitzroy struggled with reading, which held them back from completing their homework activities. It was identified that a literacy program could help address the gaps in literacy attainment for the most at-risk children in the school, resulting in the inception of RTL. The program focuses on enhancing the literacy skills and emotional and social development of culturally and linguistically diverse children, and aims to raise children’s aspirations through the building of quality relationships with the ACU tutors.

ACU students volunteer on the program as tutors through the community engagement placement component of their ACU course and have also benefitted from the experience. One ACU tutor said:

The program and interaction with the school community has meant so very much to me and really was a highlight of my time at uni this year. Thank you so much for making it possible and trusting me to take up the role. RTL has no doubt been transformative for me not only as a pre-service teacher but also an individual.

The program runs weekly during Semesters 1 and 2 with up to 16 ACU students selected to join the program as a tutor.

Participating as a tutor in the program is highly impactful for our students and is a meaningful experience as part of their degree. Anecdotally, their highlights include "getting to know the student and becoming a positive role model for them", "being someone they can trust and learn from" and "building a special connection with a student, therefore being able to influence them and support their reading ability."

For more information about community engagement at ACU please visit our website or email our team

Supporting communities experiencing disadvantage through ACU’s Community Engagement Time Release initiative

At ACU we value community engagement as a key means of advancing our mission in serving the common good and enhancing the dignity and wellbeing of people and communities. This is why ACU staff have access to Community Engagement Time Release, an initiative that allows staff to take five days leave to participate in community-based activities that help those in our communities that are experiencing marginalisation or disadvantage.

One example of the type of support ACU staff have provided is through Ardoch’s Literacy Buddies® program. This year on the Ballarat and Sydney ACU campuses over 30 staff joined forces with Ardoch—a children’s education charity focused on improving educational outcomes for children and young people in disadvantaged communities—to deliver their Literacy Buddies® program.

Ardoch’s Literacy Buddies® is a letter exchange program between students and workplace volunteers with the aim of providing a real-life context to practising composition and writing skills. Big Buddies and Little Buddies exchange six letters across the year, followed by two excursions, one where staff visit the Little Buddies’ school and the other where the Little Buddies visit ACU. Often for Little Buddies it is the first time that they have heard of or been introduced to the idea of university and able to learn of all the different opportunities that lie within, a powerful way of impacting their future study aspirations.

In terms of the program’s wider impact on students, an external evaluation found that over half of the student participants progressed in their studies twice as much as expected over a six-month period, which the majority of teachers surveyed attributed to the students’ participation in Literacy Buddies®.

ACU is continually welcoming new partnerships with organisations seeking workplace volunteers (either as individuals or as a team). If you are interested in speaking to one of ACU’s Community Engagement Officers about a potential opportunity at your organisation please contact ACU Engagement via email:

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