How did a nurse and mother of seven morph into the leader of one of Australia’s leading children’s charities? Martin Bartlett recounts the rise of Barbara Wellesley OAM and the organisation she co-founded ‘ Good Beginnings Australia.
How did a nurse and mother of seven morph into the leader of one of Australia’s leading children’s charities? Martin Bartlett recounts the rise of Barbara Wellesley OAM and the organisation she co-founded – Good Beginnings Australia.
Although it wasn’t until 1997 that Good Beginnings Australia (GBA) opened its doors, the seeds were laid many years earlier.
It was in 1986 that a young Chinese mother visited Barbara Wellesley every week for parenting support. After a year Barbara asked, “You are a wonderful mother, doing a terrific job, why do you come here every week?”
“Because you are the only person in the world to tell me that,” was the reply.
“I was stunned” said Barbara, who then investigated what other support was available for parents, and discovered that there was often very little.
With her background as a senior child health policy advisor for the New South Wales Health Department, extensive experience as a manager and clinician in child health services in urban and rural New South Wales, and a mother of seven children of her own, Barbara was ideally placed to mobilize her considerable expertise and knowledge to do something about the dire community need she had identified.
Rosemary Sinclair, a close friend, shared Barbara’s passion for early childhood intervention, and helped persuade the Lion’s Club of Sydney and the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (NAPCAN) to partner in launching Good Beginnings Australia.
Rosie and Barbara then turned their attention to government, and “wore out the carpet” to the office of then Minister for Family Services, Judy Moylan, in an attempt to gain funding.
Their persistence eventually paid off and the government granted $1.37 million to set up a national pilot program using volunteers from the community to mentor parents of babies or small children who were doing it tough. The idea being that by enabling parents to do a better job, the child would get a better beginning in life – true early intervention.
In the ten years since that first program was trialed, GBA has grown in leaps and bounds. It is estimated that some 25,000 families have benefited, and there are now 75 programs being delivered across the country through 100 staff and 500 trained volunteers.
GBA’s fundraising has traditionally focused on government, corporates and philanthropic trusts. Last year the organisation attracted a little under $3 million in government grants, and more than $650,000 was raised from corporates and individuals. Some of its supporters include the Macquarie Bank Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, ipac Securities and the Westpac Foundation.
Wellesley has been involved in the organisation’s fundraising since day one and says she is never put off by a ‘no.’ “Asking for support isn’t difficult when there is clear evidence of the value of your work.”
The sheer enthusiasm that Wellesley brings to GBA was a crucial factor recently in securing the organisation’s largest ever donation – $900,000 from a private philanthropist. “It was your passion that sold me,” the philanthropist later told Barbara. “That and the impressive work that was being done on a daily basis when I visited the programs,” he said.
After helping give birth to the organisation and steering its course for 10 years, Barbara decided to retire from GBA in June this year. “She will be greatly missed,” said chairman of the board the Rt Hon Ian Sinclair. “The quality of program delivery and the help given to so many children and parents is permanent testimony to Barbara’s professionalism, enthusiasm and competence,” he said.
Wellesley’s vision and determination to help children and families in such a distinctive way was recognised in 2006 when she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal.
In her post-GBA life Barbara plans to seek out opportunities to provide advocacy and support to organisations involved in early childhood intervention, and she will continue as a board member of the National Investment for the Early Years (NIFTeY).
She is also part of a consortium developing a national action plan for the depression initiative Beyond Blue.
While Barbara was instrumental in creating GBA, she also recognized the huge contribution of staff. “Every day I was inspired by the dedication of the staff. It is fair to say that most of the successful ideas behind Good Beginnings have come from them.”