Uniting Annual Report 2020-2021

Uniting for service evolution in FY21.


Innovation and evolution are critical levers for social impact and service delivery at Uniting. This year, we’ve continued to invest in designing new ways to address some of society’s most pressing challenges, while demonstrating our agility in pivoting to the people, places and programs where we’re needed most.” 

In FY21, we touched the lives of more than 119,000 people through our services – an increase of almost 20% on FY20. Highlights included expanding our Local Area Coordination of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the Hunter New England region, adding 160 new team members to assist an additional 12,000 NDIS participants; and opening Uniting Westmead, a new integrated and inclusive community with an early learning centre, health and wellness facilities, retirement and independent living apartments, assisted living services, and residential aged care. And in addition to the steady progression of our Future Horizons initiatives, our flagship household model of residential aged care was externally evaluated to prove that we are increasing residents’ sense of choice and control in our home-like environments.

Our clients in FY21:

Children Youth and Families (CYF) in FY21

This year, Uniting continued its long and proud history of investing in programs across NSW and the ACT that support and empower children, young people, families, First Australians, and socially and economically excluded communities. Our CYF services are focused on improving engagement, opportunities and outcomes.

We believe everyone deserves to lead a flourishing life: to be physically and psychologically safe and healthy, to develop as expected, to enjoy full rights as citizens, and to live in families and communities that promote wellbeing.


Throughout FY21, the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 led to a significant increase in demand for our diverse range of supports. Our CYF teams met these challenges wherever they were needed, with solution-focused innovations in addition to delivering existing services. Here is just a small snapshot of what the year brought.

Making First Steps Count

The Northern Uniting CYF team began their partnership journey with a local innovation project in Taree, called First Steps Count (FSC). It’s a purpose-built community centre that will function as a service hub, where providers can deliver evidence-based and timely wraparound supports in a safe, welcoming and collaborative environment.


The main aim of First Steps Count is to ensure that all local children are ready to learn, and ready for school, and that parents and families can access advice, information and support when they need it.


Services will include:

  • Parenting and domestic violence support
  • Therapeutic interventions
  • NDIS and developmental assessments
  • Reading, homework and cooking groups.


The FSC Hub will be a culturally-safe space, where Elders can mentor and lead cultural activities. Designed in line with the Living Building Challenge, the hub will encourage connection with nature and offer healing outdoor spaces. Our team attended the sod turning ceremony in April 2021, and it’s anticipated that the centre will be fully operational in mid-to-late 2022.


A 4-year evaluation of the project will be undertaken by the University of Newcastle to:

  • Assess the hub’s effectiveness in addressing children’s vulnerabilities
  • Seek to understand the social return of the hub model
  • Identify the key components to ensure that future hub developments are sustainable and evolve appropriately.

1: The First Steps Count Child and Community Centre foundations were laid using 100% recycled concrete from demolition sites.
2: Artist’s impression of Taree’s innovative First Steps Count Child and Community Centre.

Thriving in Westmead

Building on our 55-year legacy of supporting the local community, we opened the doors to Uniting Westmead in FY21. It brings to life a pioneering continuum-of-care vision, by providing high-quality services for all ages and stages of life, at one convenient location in the heart of Westmead’s health precinct.


The new Uniting Westmead community offers:

Spotlight on our newest early learning centre

In January 2021, Uniting Early Learning Westmead opened its doors to welcome new children and their families to our innovative educational space.


The 4 indoor learning environments include an art studio and kitchen, offering children a broad range of learning experiences including STEM discovery, literacy development, imaginative play and sensory immersion. The natural outdoor space incorporates a veggie patch, chicken coop, sandpits, water channels, plenty of room to run around, and even a mud kitchen to encourage exploration and active play.


We believe in the power of community, and being co-located with Uniting ageing services opens many doors for learning through shared activities. Having older people living nearby makes it easy to get together for painting, gardening or reading stories. Uniting Westmead is a shining example of service evolution for the benefit of people and communities at different ages and stages of life.

Innovative and interactive indoor/outdoor play spaces at new Uniting Early Learning Westmead.

Putting Youth First

Uniting’s Youth First program officially launched in Western NSW in July 2020, amid the challenges of COVID-19 and the Dubbo Needs a Rehab campaign.


Youth First is a targeted early intervention and prevention service for young people aged 10-24 who are experiencing, or at risk of, disadvantage and vulnerability. Specialising in social participation, education and training, and advocacy and Indigenous consultation, Youth First partnered with high schools in Dubbo during FY21, to reach the student population.


The Youth First team delivered a suspension support program to 26 young people who had been, or were at risk of being, suspended for a period of 4 days or longer. We received high praise from schools and participants, owing to individuals returning to school early from suspension, or receiving a less significant suspension period. Significantly, 14 participants avoided suspension altogether – by identifying new supports within the school environment and using them to help change their behaviour or their choices.


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Youth First has found creative ways to engage young people in their communities, and we’ve established partnerships with other local services to ensure that every young person has somewhere to turn to for support.

A fresh start with Foyer Central


This year, Uniting celebrated a major milestone together with our Foyer Central consortium partners – the completion of brand-new, purpose-built accommodation for young people with lived experience of out-of-home care.”

On 8 February 2021, then NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, and Minister for Families, Communities and Disabilities, Gareth Ward, joined Uniting Executive Director Tracey Burton, and the leadership teams from partners St George Community Housing (SGCH) and Social Ventures Australia (SVA) to cut the opening ribbon and celebrate the opportunities available to Foyer Central’s 53 future residents. 


The Chippendale campus offers young people affordable accommodation in a self-contained studio, close to transport and employment, and right in the heart of Sydney’s central higher education district. The Foyer Central building was provided by Social Ventures Australia, with Uniting providing the staff and support services.


Foyer Central residents are championed by a 24/7 team of youth development workers, supporting them to build on their strengths, nourish their health and wellbeing, learn valuable living skills, engage in education and employment, and connect with community and culture.

It’s the first Foyer to focus solely on young people with a care history, and the first in the world to be funded by a Social Impact Bond (SIB).

How the Foyer Central SIB works:

Foyer Central is a proactive example of Uniting listening to young people who have experienced out-of-home-care. At this important stage of life, many tell us they want a fresh start that’s guided by who they are and what they want, rather than where they have come from. We hope that in the years ahead, Foyer Central will continue to support young people to cultivate their own dynamic and diverse community, in a place to live and be proud of.

Kitchen facilities inside a Foyer Central studio apartment. 

Our response to COVID-19 in FY21

In Residential Aged Care, the priority focus throughout FY21 was COVID-19 pandemic preparedness. We also planned for implementation of regulatory reforms, continued the rollout of our household model of care, and invested in ongoing redevelopments and refurbishments of our aged care homes.


To manage our operations effectively, and to meet the expectations of our employees, clients and funders, Uniting continued to seek organisational efficiencies through the ongoing digitisation of our processes in central services and facilities. We supported operational innovation with technology, including launching the Uniting Senior Health Hub, developed assisted living solutions in aged care services, and promoted telehealth delivery in the Children Youth and Families directorate. We continued to manage and govern risk and quality through the quality management framework program, and to invest appropriately in information and system security.


As NSW and the ACT approach the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, with high vaccination rates, fewer restrictions and a shift from lockdowns to a ‘living with COVID-19’ approach, our services will need to continue to perform increased infection surveillance and demonstrate the agility to adapt as circumstances change.

Study proves household model works

In July 2020, Uniting’s Research and Social Policy team published a report on the impacts of our household model of care’s environmental design and staffing at Uniting Annesley Haberfield. This aged care home is only one of two in Australia that cares specifically for older people living with a mental illness.


Since 2015, we’ve been shifting away from a traditional and institutional model of residential aged care and implementing our household model of smaller-scale domestic settings and person-centred care. We’re currently 70% of the way there, with our remaining homes expected to transition by May 2022.


Designing a home for people living with mental illness in residential aged care: evaluating the impact on residents and staff at Uniting Annesley is a significant study, due to the paucity of existing research and the fact that older people who’ve experienced a lifetime of chronic or relapsing mental illness are particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable.


Uniting Annesley accommodates 86 seniors within 4 smaller households. Each household has its own full kitchen, dining room and living room, and most residents have their own bedroom and ensuite. There are also communal activity areas, a café, and a designated ‘sacred space’, with outdoor access and a swimming pool that’s maintained with the assistance of residents.


Employees such as care workers, kitchen hands and cleaners, are encouraged to work autonomously and perform blended roles as part of their household, headed by a dedicated Homemaker. It’s a service model that promotes a caring and compassionate environment, enhancing the time spent with residents, maximising residents’ engagement and choices, and fostering stronger personal and community relationships while offering opportunities for staff to learn, develop and lead. At the heart of this person-centred model of care, residents are supported to achieve safety, comfort, normality, meaning and purpose in their lives.


A key finding of the study is that the built environment at Annesley contributes to wellbeing and a feeling of home for residents, and a positive experience of care for staff.”

Uniting conducted the study with approval from the UTS Human Research Ethics Committee, in partnership with researchers from the UTS Centre for Health Services Management and from the UTS School of the Built Environment.


Compared with Annesley’s previous location in Leichhardt, the purpose-built Haberfield site offers:

  • A quieter location – leading to less night-time wandering
  • Greater choice of indoor and outdoor spaces – helping residents to feel more settled and less anxious
  • Safer and more inviting spaces – enabling easier visits from family and friends, with the inhouse café functioning as a social hub
  • More places for relaxation and meaningful interaction – especially around the swimming pool and garden areas
  • An authentic sense of home – creating the feeling of ownership and domestic pride, including setting up for meals and washing dishes afterwards, something that didn’t happen in the old accommodation.


The results of this evaluation affirm that Uniting’s household model of care is an important innovation to help us deliver on our belief that every older person deserves to age with dignity, respect and compassion – no matter who they are, or how they live.

New Senior Health Hub

COVID-19 was a catalyst for many great ideas and innovations throughout FY21, especially when considering the physical, emotional and social impacts on the older people we serve. Although anyone is at risk of contracting the virus, seniors face significant risk of developing severe illness, due to the physiological changes that come with ageing, and underlying health conditions.

In FY21, Uniting launched a Senior Health Hub for our Healthy Living for Seniors (HLFS) clients to stay physically active and socially connected, even though they couldn’t leave their homes. Many of our existing programs pivoted to online delivery so that any participant with a PC or tablet, and internet connection, could choose from our wide range of activities, including stretch, yoga and tai chi sessions, book clubs, art classes, trivia and language groups.


The opportunity to connect with people outside of local HLFS communities was an unexpected bonus, and contributed to building a strong sense of togetherness. And the success of the Senior Health Hub will see it continue as a valuable adjunct to face-to-face HLFS sessions.

The magic of musical ‘medicine’

Also in FY21, ACU Psychology Researcher Dr Kirsten Challinor led a team of academics to investigate how Moove & Groove silent disco technology can enhance quality of life and reduce depression for people living in aged care.

This joint research partnership measured staff experiences and observations of residents’ behaviours in 63 Uniting aged care homes, during this unique music therapy. The program was found to have a positive impact on behaviours of concern, such as agitation, pacing and apathy. It also boosted the job satisfaction and sense of connection for the members of the care team. Plans are now being made to continue investigating Moove & Groove’s effectiveness in reducing the need for psychotropic medications to treat people living with dementia.


Early analysis of staff surveys suggests a correlation between the use of the Moove & Groove program and an observation of a positive impact on dementia-related behaviours including:

Dr Challinor explains the impact of music on seniors:

“Before the class, you’d see people living with dementia in quite vague conversations, quite downcast and not very responsive, and then they’d join the music class and suddenly start dancing around and becoming extremely excited and joyful and vibrant during the class.”


The most amazing thing, she shares, is what happens directly after a music therapy session:


You watch participants sit down and start chatting with their loved ones, and they have deep conversations about really important things. The husbands and wives of these people will often say, ‘Honestly, I’ve not had a conversation like this with my partner for a very long time.’ It’s almost like they’re reconnecting with the person they were.”

Read more about the Moove & Groove research here.

Stories celebrating our service evolution in FY21

Creating art while we were apart

Flooded with outreach support

New capabilities for family mediation services