Our History

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Family Life was founded in 1970 by a concerned and caring group of citizens wanting to help families in the southern Bayside suburbs of Melbourne.

Our History

Home > About Us

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Family Life, formerly Southern Family Life, was founded by community volunteers in 1970 to ‘support families and prevent family breakdown’ – which now underpins our enduring purpose of Transforming Lives for Stronger Communities.

Family Life in the 1970s

Established in March 1970, Family Life’s first “home” was rented professional rooms owned by Mrs. Marion Wilson in Reserve Road, Beaumaris.

Mrs. Wilson was a volunteer receptionist at the agency for many years.
Rooms were painted and fitted by volunteer labour and the. The ongoing cleaning and maintenance work was done by volunteers too. In the early years, students from Haileybury College maintained the lawns and gardens.

Family Life’s first constitution was adopted at a special meeting in May 1970, and the association was registered with the Hospitals and Charities Commission. Members of the first committee of local people included a solicitor, housewife, councillor, Sandringham social worker, clergyman, nurse, businessman and doctor.

Through the 1970’s Family Life began to be recognised in the child welfare field for the agency’s work with family-aides supporting mothers with young families.
The first opportunity shop was set up in Bluff Road, Black Rock in 1971, to raise funds for the work of Family Life.

A major step in assured funding occurred when the federal Health Department agreed to fund Southern Family Life in April 1975, under legislation providing for community health centres. Federal government assistance through the Community Health program enabled the agency to rent additional rooms.

By 1978, the agency had outgrown its accommodation. Federal and State Government funding enabled Family Life to buy permanent offices. After an extensive search Sandringham Council offered to provide a site for a new building, next door to the Sandringham Hospital in Bluff Road.

Volunteers planned the native garden, cleared the site, donated plants and by sheer hard work created a beautiful area now admired by many. The building was opened on the 30th March 1980.

Volunteerism our Greatest Strength

It was always apparent that our community of volunteers added greatly to the quality of the agency’s work. This workforce had a wide variety of skills and life experiences to offer; they were mainly local people who knew the community and were able to advise about appropriate services and people to meet clients’ needs. The concept of paid staff and volunteers working together, each with clearly defined roles, proved an outstanding success.

In 1982, For Love Not Money, a handbook for volunteers and volunteer coordinators written by Margaret McGregor, Shirley James, Joan Gerrand and Doris Cater, was published by Dove Communications. The book was based on the Southern Family Life training course.

A Growing Range of Services

From 1996 to 2000 Southern Family Life experienced a major expansion in programs and services. This was in direct response to the growth in community needs, assertive action by the agency to design, fund and develop effective programs and successfully securing new State and Federal Government funding opportunities. The increased support from philanthropic trusts, the community and all levels of government was an expression of confidence in Southern Family Life’s work and outcomes.

In 1996, the new Director, Jo Cavanagh, implemented a further practice and systems review to achieve the focus of the mission statement and improve service performance. The intake and case allocation system was centralised to integrate referral response and abolish the waiting list. Community agencies were consulted to extend the agency’s understanding of service gaps and needs in the community and clarify priority areas for Southern Family Life’s service.

For over 20 years, Jo led Family Life on a program of social innovation, evidence-informed practice, and organisational learning, which has created sustained and transformative change for vulnerable families, children and young people.

In 1998-99, the Victorian Government chose Southern Family Life, through contestable processes, to develop and manage several new services.

In 1999-2000, client services staff responded to 1549 referrals, including 362 young people aged 10–25 as primary clients. A total of 2,352 children were involved in, or affected, by Southern Family Life services.

Since 2000, Family Life has delivered community engagement and empowerment programs. At the heart of our community organisation is the authentic grass-roots relationships with our people; the people we help and the people of the community.

In 2016, Family Life was recognised for its innovative approach when named in the top ten Not-for-Profits across Australia in an Australia Post and Westpac survey involving 1,100 Not-for-Profits measuring the Innovation Performance of the sector.


Below is a book published in 2015. This publication showcases how Creating Capable Communities (a Family Life developed suite of programs)  can empower parents and residents to lead change in their communities.

This publication takes you on a journey of how it all began, telling the story of Creating Capable Communities and what we (as a caring, capable community) have achieved.

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