Jesuit Social Services has a deep understanding of place-based approaches through our extensive experience and expertise developed over many decades in Victoria, Australia and internationally. Our work with people on the margins draws our attention to the multiple and interrelated factors that cause disadvantage, diminish communities’ capacity to shape their future, and damage the natural environment we all depend on.
Our Dropping Off the Edge research into inequality and place based disadvantage has provided us with valuable insights into the many ways that vulnerability is manifested and can be measured in a given location. These factors include high levels of unemployment, low levels of income, housing stress, high incidence of family violence and criminal offending (Vinson and Rawsthorne 2015).
We recognise the direct relationship between caring for people and caring for country and planet. We know that the most marginalised people in our community are also those worst affected by climate change. Much work needs to be done to improve the places and systems that shape our lives. Helping to sustain and regenerate the natural world must be at the heart of our work to build a just society.
Developing solutions to complex social and environmental challenges requires place-based approaches together with system wide interventions. Evidence suggests that only communities empowered to make their own decisions end up with solutions that truly have impact in the long term. Collaborative, inclusive, community led and owned initiatives are a defining feature of place-based approaches with self-determination an important principle.
Drawing on this research and thinking, Jesuit Social Services’ approach to place-based work has meant that our services and programs are based on building authentic relationships at the local level, over the long term. We know that services that are right for a community cannot necessarily be franchised.
Examples of our place-based work include:
Jesuit Social Services has been carrying out our Dropping off the Edge research for over 20 years and will release the fifth edition of this research in 2021. Dropping off the Edge maps disadvantage in each state and territory and identifies that a small number of communities experience entrenched and persistent disadvantage that limits people’s outcomes and opportunities.
As well as indicators to demonstrate social wellbeing and disadvantage, the next report will include environmental indicators for the first time to measure green space, heat vulnerability and air quality. This will allow us to illustrate a more complete picture of disadvantage in line with our broader ecological justice work.
Jesuit Social Services has a long-term commitment to working at the grass roots level in partnership with local communities in Western Sydney. Supporting place-based collective activities, consulting deeply and strengthening local level partnerships with local elders and leaders is at the heart of this work.
Developing sustained engagement in the Northern Territory, where we have maintained deep relationships over ten years with Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations and local communities. Our work in Central Australia ranges from co-designed activities arising from informal small-scale discussions with remote communities to more formal, structured partnerships delivering government contracts in youth diversion. The impacts of social and ecological disadvantage inform our practice and advocacy response in his work.
Melbourne’s West – Delivering place-based responses to newly arrived minority communities in western Melbourne and co-designing initiatives supporting children and families to thrive amidst the challenges of settling in a new community. This work includes long-term relationships with African and Vietnamese leaders supporting their communities living in high-rise public housing, developing crime prevention initiatives, supporting pathways to education, training and employment, and co-designing initiatives that foster local harmony and respect for diversity. A focus on mental health support and housing security have become an increasing focus of this work.
Melbourne North and West – Delivering the Department of Education Navigator initiative in local regions across northern and western Melbourne, in partnership with local agencies and schools, to assist young people who have disengaged with school to reconnect with education. This program has a focus on restoring relationships, assisting culturally diverse children and their families to re-engage with school, teachers and local communities, and drawing on strengths and local connections to heal relationships and build confidence.
Our track record demonstrates a commitment to longer term work with communities into which we have been invited, where we have jointly identified needs and solutions, and where community ownership is the goal and outcome. Jesuit Social Services is committed to deep engagement and empowerment of communities to design and try their own solutions.