Louise Voigt BSW, MSW, Chief Executive of Barnardos 1983 - 2015
On Monday 5th June 2017, Barnardos Australia celebrated the life and work of former Chief Executive, Louise Voigt.
A passionate and tireless advocate for children’s welfare, Louise Voigt was a warrior for the most vulnerable children in our community. She was known for her intellect, fearlessness and her commitment to social justice. Louise believed profoundly in the role of poverty as a cause of child abuse and neglect and worked to reduce disadvantage for parents and children.
Louise began her career in the early 1960’s as a psychiatric social worker in the UK and later in Australia. She moved on to co-ordinate field work placements for social work students at Sydney University and was involved in the tumultuous changes in the social work department in 1977-78. When her own children were young she worked for Waverly Council and developed a new form of crisis foster care, which aimed to get children home to their parents as quickly as possible. The Temporary Family Care model now cares for children in eight communities in New South Wales and the ACT.
In 1983 Louise became Chief Executive of Barnardos Australia and over 30 years, she worked to protect children from abuse, neglect and homelessness. She helped thousands of families, affected by domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction and mental illness, to be able to rear their own children. A large part of Louise’s vision for Barnardos was creating a range of services for parents and children under severe stress, clustering these together as one shop stops known as Children’s Family Centres. She built on the existing small Canberra and Auburn centres and established new centres to serve families in Penrith, South Coast, Central Western NSW and Southern NSW.
For children unable to stay safely at home, Louise fought for permanency for children. She believed that stability is everything to a child. ‘The same person to put you to bed and wake you up’. Louise knew lack of permanency seriously damages children and impairs their adult lives. Louise’s focus has always been towards the most severely disadvantaged and so in 1984 Barnardos developed Find-a-Family for children removed by the Courts from their families and considered too difficult to place in foster care. Her simple yet powerful philosophy that “every child deserves to be safe at home” has become the Barnardos mantra, and lies at the heart of the organisation’s 100+ programs and services.
Under Louise’s leadership, Barnardos pioneered the practice of open adoption for non-Indigenous children in Australia.
Louise commissioned the world’s first longitudinal study into the outcomes for more than 210 children after 30 years of open adoption from out-of-home care through Barnardos’ Centre for Excellence in Open Adoption.
Louise’s strong commitment to social justice has ensured Barnardos’ persistence in increasing the recruitment and support of Aboriginal staff and managers in order to deliver quality services to Aboriginal children, young people and their families. Barnardos set the target of having 20% of family support workers to be Aboriginal and developed services in towns in Western NSW as well as partnerships with Aboriginal organisations. Barnardos has a strong Barnardos Indigenous Groups to provide support to staff and a reconciliation statement and actions.
Consideration for the best interests of the child and giving the child a “voice” in decision-making has been central to Louise’s enduring leadership. Louise was instrumental in the development of the innovative Looking After Children, and subsequent, MyStory guided case management system, which ensures the needs of each child is fundamental to best practice.
As a long-time board member of the Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA), Louise earned the deep respect of all members of the welfare sector, including leaders of other NGOs, senior government bureaucrats and politicians from both sides of politics.
In 2000 she was awarded the NSW Association of Social Workers’ Social Justice Award. In 2014 she received the Association of Child Welfare Agencies Lifetime Achievement Award
She was an Honorary at University of Sydney, School of Education and Social Work and in 2015 was awarded
Barnardos Australia under Louise Voigt’s leadership has an abiding value of never giving up on children. She was forever pragmatic, no nonsense, and did not tolerate the tyranny of bureaucracy. She was creative, thinks laterally and brought others along with her. She was a reformer, a visionary and common sense problem solver. Louise never sought personal accolades for own benefit.
Louise is survived by her husband and companion of 50 years, Lothar, her children Merinda, Alice and Rohan and her grandchildren Bree, Grace, Hope and Mathilda.
"Her focus was on preventing children from entering the care system in the first place by supporting families in crisis. She championed stability and permanency for children where staying at home was not a safe option." The Honourable Pru Goward MP, Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
Watch the full memorial below.
Barnardos would like to thank all our guest speakers, Gabrielle Trainor, Chair of Barnardos, Uncle Ray Davidson, The Honourable Pru Goward MP, Shirley Ronge speaking on behalf of Barnardos United Kingdom, Child Migrant and Chair of Barnardos Old Boys and Girls Reunion Club, Jeff Sanders, Chief Executive, Barnardos New Zealand, Lothar Voigt, on behalf of the Voigt family and Deirdre Cheers, Chief Executive Officer, Barnardos Australia.
We would also like to thank the children from Barnardos Yurungai Learning centre for their performance and all of our distinguished guests including Louise's Family.