Centacare services impress Catholic Social Services Australia boss

Meeting: General manager Centacare, Tony Davies, Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO and family and disability services manager Tania Slack-Smith. Photo: supplied
Meeting: General manager Centacare, Tony Davies, Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO and family and disability services manager Tania Slack-Smith. Photo: supplied

The peak national body for Catholic social service agencies has cast an approving eye over Centacare facilities in Port Macquarie and Kempsey.

Catholic Social Services Australia CEO Fr Frank Brennan met with Centracare staff during a visit to the region in late November.

Topics covered during the visit included the impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

CSSA represents some 52 organisations that provide direct support to hundreds of thousands of people in need each year from 650 sites on behalf of the Catholic Church. 

Centacare general manager Tony Davies, said part of the reason for Fr Brennan’s visit is that St Agnes’ Parish is unique in Australia in the way it has developed services that support people in the community throughout their lives. 

“Fr Donnelly, during his tenure as Parish Priest, has been a strong advocate for reaching out to help those in need in our community,” Mr Davies said.

“The role of Catholic Social Services Australia, and especially Fr Brennan in his role, is to speak with peak bodies, to open the door to conversations in federal parliament on both sides of the chamber, and to work with all parties for outcomes that make a difference to the lives of the disadvantaged in the community.”

A Jesuit priest and lawyer, Fr Brennan, is a longtime advocate for human rights and social justice in Australia.

He was impressed how St Agnes’ Parish served its community and the pride shown by employees in being ‘part of the Parish’.

Pope Francis is encouraging members of the Church to get out among the people to serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, and that’s what I am seeing through your service.

Fr Brennan

“Pope Francis is encouraging members of the Church to get out among the people to serve the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, and that’s what I am seeing through your service,” he said.

“A silo mentality exists at a broader national level that separates health, education and social services – here, you have the structures and culture in place that break down those silos so service is delivered to your community in a unified way.  

“Not-for-profit organisations, like yours, have a tradition of serving the ‘poorest of the poor’, those with the greatest need, and the supply of services to these clients often comes at a high cost, which the new funding model does not take into account.

“Not-for-profit organisations now have to compete with for-profit organisations, which tend to focus on servicing clients with the least need at the lowest cost to maximise their profit,” Fr Brennan said.

For people living in rural areas, especially those with disabilities, factors such geographic isolation, poor computer skills and literacy make it more difficult to access funding under the new client-directed model because they have trouble accessing the NDIS Participant Portal, Fr Brennan added.

Mr Davies said staff have been able to share with Fr Brennan their concerns about the impact of NDIS on people with disabilities in rural areas, especially around travel costs, funding and the provision of specialist services.

Fr Brennan, awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Aboriginal Australians and the author of several books on Aboriginal issues, also commended Centacare on the programs it runs to help local Aboriginal families connect with disability and other services.