Change makers: Berry Street

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Berry Street is one of Australia's largest independent family service organisations, dedicated to supporting vulnerable children and families, offering them safety, therapeutic care, and the means to rebuild and thrive.

09 November 2023

We spoke to Executive Director for Strategic Engagement, Heidi Reid, about Berry Street’s vital work.

Berry Street was founded in 1877, a time when societal norms were vastly different. How do the organisation’s beginnings influence and shape its objectives and methods today?

Berry Street began with a group of courageous women in Melbourne who defied social norms at the time, to care for mothers and babies who had been abandoned. We were founded on leading social change, recognising that all children deserve to have their basic needs for safety and wellbeing met. Today we continue to work with children and young people who have experienced neglect, violence and abuse, to help them recover and set them up for a healthy future. This continues to be our focus as an organisation, in partnership with our valued supporters and carers in the community.

You express a vision for fewer children in care and more children safely nurtured by families. How is Berry Street proactively achieving this, especially considering that many support systems only react at the crisis point?

Rising living costs, housing instability and mental health issues are affecting many Australians, and they are impacting vulnerable families who have less resources to deal with these challenges, even harder.

A critically important part of our work involves helping children and families at an earlier stage to create safe homes. Where there is a risk of children or young people entering out-of-home care, we work to support families through evidence-based programs. And where children need to be removed from home for their own safety, we train and support foster and kinship carers to provide nurturing, supportive homes and a chance for children and young people to recover.

As the understanding and awareness of trauma grows, how has Berry Street refined its methods to ensure children recover and thrive in the future?

We now know that traumatic experiences change the way our brains work. Trauma makes it difficult to regulate our thoughts and emotions, leaving us hyper-alert to danger. When we don’t feel safe, we can’t pay attention at school, we can’t care properly for our children, and we can’t deal with challenges in life. The good news is there has never been greater awareness of the importance of addressing trauma, and we have tried and tested approaches that work, and are changing lives.

Berry Street’s focus is on delivering trauma-informed work across all our services, from supporting victim-survivors of family violence; to training schools and teachers around Australia on trauma-informed education, which helps all students and teachers to build resilience and deal with the everyday stresses of adolescence.

How does Berry Street’s holistic approach, which emphasises collaboration with service users, shape the outcomes and experiences of those you serve for the best possible results?

We partner with those who need our services, to help them overcome the challenges they face and create the future they imagine for themselves.

We continue to question and evolve our ways of working, listening to the voices of those who have experienced poverty, violence and abuse. Support from our generous partners and donors has allowed us to invest in trialling and rolling out evidence-based programs that are globally recognised as best-practice and provide better outcomes and greater impact.

Berry Street’s ethos revolves around relating, innovating, and advocating. Could you share a story where these three core principles intertwined to bring about a profound positive change for a child or family?

I can share with you a beautiful story relating to Alice, one of our very valued foster carers, and a young boy Adam*, who is currently in her care. Alice was initially uncertain about her capability, given she’s single, rents, and works full-time. Despite her doubts and starting her journey during the pandemic, Alice became a certified foster carer in December 2020.

Soon, she was fostering Adam, a young Aboriginal boy. Alice has prioritised Adam’s cultural connections, integrating Aboriginal symbols into their home and facilitating family visits. Through Berry Street’s guidance, Alice has provided a therapeutic space for Adam, aiding him to heal from his past. In this supportive environment, Adam’s progress in school and his social life has been remarkable, and their bond continues to grow stronger.

Alice says about her experience “(Fostering) has taught me things about myself that I never imagined. Every day is a privilege. I love it.”

With National Children’s Week on the horizon, how does Berry Street plan to leverage this event to amplify the message, especially regarding the urgent need for more carers in south-east Victoria?

Berry Street is aiming to spread the message of our work during National Children’s week – to create greater awareness of the needs facing many children and young people, and to share ways that all members of our community can support children who have experienced abuse and neglect, to recover and thrive. This could be via donating to support our vital work or finding out more about becoming a foster carer via our website.

What do you envision for the future of Berry Street?

As an organisation, we are working to solve the challenges we see around us, to build healthy and safe families and communities. We continue to advocate for early intervention, ensuring that families and children get the help they need, when they need it, so that all children can grow up healthy and happy.

Our vision is to foster communities where families receive the support they need, allowing children to grow, develop, and seek assistance when necessary. We aim for families to have the tools to remain unified and for both children and adults to recover from trauma. Through connection and belonging, children thrive, learn, and shape their futures. It’s an ambitious goal, but one we collectively strive to achieve.


You can find out more about Berry Street’s work or becoming a foster carer at

H5 (*names and images have been changed to protect identities).

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