More families to benefit from new early parenting service

Mercy Health has been chosen by the Victorian Government to operate a brand new early parenting centre in the City of Whittlesea in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. This exciting new development is an acknowledgement of Mercy Health’s experience and expertise in the field of early parenting services.

For more than 70 years, Mercy Health’s early parenting service, the Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre, has forged a reputation as a respected provider. The centre currently runs residential, day and community programs for families with children from birth to four years of age.

“It is this reputation that has contributed to Mercy Health being chosen as the provider of the soon-to-be-established service in Whittlesea,” says Mercy Health Group Chief Executive Officer Adjunct Professor Stephen Cornelissen.

“O’Connell Family Centre provides specialist support for more than 1,000 families a year at its current Canterbury site. “We are thrilled to be now poised to continue providing care for families in the City of Whittlesea, which is one of Greater Melbourne’s fastest growing areas.

“We also congratulate the Victorian Government for its commitment and acknowledgment of the importance of this type of service.”

Sunita Bist recently took part in the Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre’s Residential Stay Program to help her daughter Adya sleep through the night

Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre Manager and Director of Nursing Kerri McEgan is thrilled that more young Victorian families will be able to access this kind of support during their early years of parenting.

“So many families struggle during those first years of having children, so to be able to expand our services to one of Melbourne’s fastest growing areas where there is a great need for our expertise and support is a really important and encouraging development,” says Kerri.

Sunita Bist recently took part in the centre’s Residential Stay Program to help her 17-month-old daughter Adya learn to sleep in her cot throughout the night.

“I was having issues with Adya’s sleep. She would wake up in the middle of the night and start playing — sometimes for three hours. She wasn’t getting enough rest and I wasn’t getting enough rest,” Sunita says.

“Since taking part in the three- day residential program, Adya has now only been awake for 20-minute intervals and then goes back to sleep again in her cot. The advice I have been given has been very helpful.”

The Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre was originally established by the Family Care Sisters or ‘Grey Sisters’, as they were affectionately known.

Adj Prof Stephen Cornelissen says that “While the Sisters of Mercy saw the need to protect vulnerable young women, the Grey Sisters stepped up to provide support for families who were facing challenges.”

The need for compassion, care and support never changes

One of the remaining Family Care Sisters, Sr Jill Harding reflects that the needs of families and children were not so different in the 1940s, when the centre was established, to today.

“The need for compassion, care and support never changes,” Sr Harding says.

“Life, of course, is faster paced and the world never stands still but a capacity to provide coping strategies for young families still exists.”

While a Whittlesea site has yet to be identified and developed, it will include 10 residential family units and four day-stay beds.

The Victorian Government’s Minister for Health, Martin Foley, announced in October that the Whittlesea project will operate as part of a broader statewide network.

The Government has committed more than $135 million to expand the network from three centres to 10 as part of the 2019—20 State Budget.

Last reviewed December 15, 2020.

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