Change Makers – Deborah de Rossi

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Envisioning a Future Free from Family Violence

29 May 2024

For this month’s Change Makers feature, we spoke to Deborah de Rossi, the recently appointed CEO of one of our wonderful charity partners, You Matter. Deborah shared insights into her new role, the organisation's vision for supporting women and children recovering from family violence, and her aspirations for the future of You Matter.  

You Matter is a small, for-purpose organisation that creates Havens of Hope: fully functional homes designed and created based on the individual needs of women and children so they can lead safe and happy lives. 

What drew you to the role of CEO at You Matter, and what aspects of the organisation inspired you to join?   

My long-term career in community services, particularly in recent executive roles in organisations focused on specialist family violence services, including recovery, drew me to the role of CEO at You Matter. This area is of great interest to me due to the historical lack of funding and evidence in this space, and the important role, when done well, it has in ensuring women and children are, and remain, safe from harm. I am deeply passionate about the importance of creating the best possible outcomes for women and children impacted by family violence and the need for collective, whole-of-community approaches to tackle this systemic issue. My own lived experience of homelessness as a child and witnessing my mother navigate a nearly impossible service system as a single woman facing significant financial, cultural, and educational barriers has always driven me in my work, and even more so in my role as CEO with You Matter.

Please take us through a day in the life of a CEO in the not-for-profit sector – 

It's a bit of a cliché, but no day is the same! With a small team, I need to be able to shift gears between strategy and operations on a regular basis. The best days are when I get to spend time with the team, check out new arrivals in our warehouse, see the stock curated, and head off to a Haven to create a beautiful new home for a woman and her children. It's a balance between supporting the team on the ground and having the time and space to think strategically, cultivate external relationships, identify and secure funds, and ensure our organisational legislative obligations are adhered to. 

I believe it's very important to find a 'blend' to maintain my health and wellbeing and to be able to show up in the best way possible. To do this, I make sure I walk daily: in the morning when I get my coffee, at lunchtime when I walk our office pup, Charlie, and when I get home, even if it's dark and cold. I am an obsessed 10,000-steps-per-day kind of person! As a leader, it's important to be a good role model for the people I work alongside, and I hope I demonstrate the value of taking care of oneself, eating good food, getting lots of sleep, laughing, and making time for the people and things you love. The work we do requires us to give much of ourselves, therefore it is critical that we take time to fill our own buckets! 

Reflecting on the legacy of the organisation, how do you plan to build upon the existing foundation to lead You Matter into a new era? 

  Eight years after the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and the delivery of 227 recommendations resulting in significant progress and increased awareness in the space, the current statistics and almost daily media headlines demonstrate that we still have a long way to go in addressing family violence in a real, meaningful, and sustained way. You Matter plays a vital role in the family violence service system, assisting women and children in recovery, healing, and creating a new life free from violence and fear. As a relatively new organisation, it is important that we are bold and articulate the significant contribution we make to the family violence service system, gather evidence that continues to support this impact in supporting women’s healing, and highlight the important role that this healing plays in the long-term journey of recovery for women and their children. 

Of significant importance and a key area of focus is securing adequate and recurrent funding to ensure we can respond to existing and future demands. Equally, building strong partnerships across the family violence and community services sector, along with businesses traditionally outside of the sector, is essential for a whole-of-community approach. We must encourage people to increase their understanding and knowledge of family violence and feel comfortable asking questions and learning; by breaking the silence, we remove the secrecy and shame. I strongly believe that one of the reasons You Matter has been so successful to date is that the work we do is immediate and impactful for the families we support and accessible as a concept for those external to the service system who truly want to contribute and make a difference. Each and every one of us knows how it feels to be ‘home’, to be safe and secure and free from harm, and by creating Havens of Hope, that is what we have been able to achieve for over 207 women and 245 children since our inception. 

What is the process for securing a Haven of Hope for the women and children seeking a fresh start in life? 

Our primary relationship is with a large number of government-funded, specialist family violence service providers located throughout Metropolitan Melbourne. These providers have a direct case management relationship with women and children who have been impacted by family violence and are progressing through the crisis and response stage. You Matter works within the recovery stage, which is when women have transitioned from short-term, emergency housing and secured long-term accommodation, often after an extremely long and protracted period of time and different locations. 

During the recovery stage, women are significantly vulnerable and often at risk of harm due to returning to the perpetrator because of financial stress, including the very real possibility of not being able to furnish their newly acquired house with even the most basic items. 

That’s when You Matter steps in by offering a tailored response and establishing a fully functional home based on the individual needs of the women and children who are referred to us by their specialist family violence case manager. The intervention we provide is immediate, impactful, and creates a lasting difference, ensuring that a woman and her children have all the material items they need so they are not forced to return to the perpetrator for economic reasons and can commence their journey of healing.  

Once we receive a referral, we generally deliver a Haven within one week. The process involves collating, delivering, and staging furniture and every other household item you could imagine, based on the "wish list" of the women and children who have been referred to us. Every Haven we deliver is unique, just like the family who will be making it their home. It never ceases to have an impact, seeing what we create and hearing the stories of the families when they see their Haven for the first time. Hearing comments such as "I feel valued", "I feel seen and heard", and "I feel safe" never cease to touch my heart. Recently, when a very young child asked, "Is that bed for me?", my heart broke a little, but it also strengthened my resolve and commitment to the impact and importance of You Matter and the work we do. 

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What strategies do you envision for engaging the wider community in a collective effort to address family violence recovery and support?   

To engage the wider community in addressing family violence recovery and support, You Matter has commenced a formalised engagement program involving corporate groups participating in volunteer activities in our warehouse. We have also initiated a broader volunteer recruitment process to engage individuals with much-needed corporate infrastructure skills, supporting us in a range of organisational activities and opening up the scope of our work to a new audience. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people over the past few months who have stepped up to assist us, particularly around event management, marketing, PR, and media. With our major fundraising event just around the corner, I can’t imagine how we would have achieved what we have without these amazing new additions to the You Matter community! We are also incredibly blessed with the most skilled and engaged Board, all of whom are powerhouses in their own right, and who show up and support us whenever we need them, across a wide range of functions. 

Additionally, and where possible, as we are a super small team, we participate in key speaking events to raise awareness of our role in the family violence service system and provide opportunities for people to increase their knowledge in a safe and non-confrontational space. 

While there are experts within the space who are far more qualified and equipped to speak to comprehensive responses, strategies, and solutions to eradicate family violence, it is my strong belief that men and boys must be engaged throughout; to stop using violence, to protect women when violence is being used, and to hold one another to account. At You Matter, we have an amazing team of men who support us and who are an integral part of the work we do. 

Lastly, as someone who commenced their career in early childhood, I am deeply passionate about recognising children who have been impacted by family violence as victim-survivors in their own right to address the resultant trauma, prevent the perpetuation of family violence, and break intergenerational cycles of abuse. 

How would you like to see the future of You Matter evolve? 

Anyone working in this space would say that they would like nothing more than to see themselves out of a job, but the current family violence crisis in Australia suggests that You Matter will be needed to provide Havens of Hope for women and children for some time yet. My vision for You Matter is that we continue to respond to the needs of our community and build a strong evidence base for the importance of healing and recovery interventions and how, when delivered well, these can, in turn, impact prevention by breaking intergenerational cycles of abuse. And even if there is growth in response to demand, it's crucial to never lose the principle of engaging the community in our work. This has a twofold impact: it connects a broad and diverse range of people to the work and, hopefully, the solution, but more importantly, it gives a message of hope to the women and children we support that they are important. That they matter.  

To support You Matter, please visit