Posted by Maree Reason-Cain
on 2 July 2020
How fortunate Australia's children and young people are -- that for 30 years yourtown's Tracy Adams has been one of Australia's leading voices championing the rights of kids.
Growing up in a small country town in New Zealand, near central Otago, the eldest of six children Tracy Adams had no idea of the legacy she would leave in Australia many decades later.
For Tracy Adams, that innocent upbringing is a world away from the advocacy work that she has been doing to protect children and young people as the Chief Executive Officer of yourtown.
Growing up in New Zealand, Tracy reflects on going to church with her mother and grandmother, growing up with a knowledge of social justice, yet it was not referred to as that, it was just knowing you were doing the right thing, you helped out, you looked after each other, you were part of community.
Tracy is a wife and mother she describes herself in three words: Energetic, optimistic and driven.
Tracy will celebrate her 30th anniversary at yourtown this year, working her way to the top, having been appointed to the position as yourtown's Chief Executive Officer thirteen years ago.
The businesswoman, who started at BoysTown charity 30 years ago as a fresh faced young woman in her early 20's, to fill a casual administration assistant role, for what was meant to be two days says she never left. BoysTown transformed into yourtown in 2016 to better reflect the organisation.
It is fantastic to see the growth of yourtown from its humble beginnings in 1961 to an iconic organisation that enables young people, especially those who are marginalised and without voice, to improve their quality of life.
As CEO, Tracy is responsible for the overall leadership and management of one of the largest providers of charitable youth services in Australia, employing over 700 staff across four states with an annual budget of more than $120 Million to tackle this issues affecting the lives of young people in Australia.
"I actively encourage staff to challenge the status quo. I want people to feel empowered to take action. I maintain an open-door policy, and I want to hear the opinions of our team."
Today, yourtown provides a range of face-to-face and virtual services to children, young people and families seeking support. These services include:
Kids Helpline, a national 24/7 telephone and on-line counselling and support service for 5 to 25 year olds with special capacity for young people with mental health issues
Employment and social enterprises, which support young people into employment, including programs for youthful offenders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific services
Education engagement programmes supporting young people at risk of disengaging from formal education early
Accommodation responses to young parents with children who are at risk and to women and children seeking refuge from family and domestic violence
Young Parent Programmes offering case work, individual and group work support and child development programs for young parents and their children
Parentline, a telephone and online counselling and support service for parents and carers
Mental health service/s for children aged 0-11 years old, and their families, with moderate mental health needs
"You don't often get the opportunity to take on a role like this. I inherited an incredibly well run and impactful charity, for which I must thank my predecessors. We are lucky to be in a strong financial position, given the wider challenges and uncertainties that we face in the current economy."
"yourtown is an inclusive faith-based organisation, committed to being a practical example of the Lasallian Charism of courage, tenacity, compassion, love and respect. We are committed to serving young people in need regardless of their religion, race or gender. I am also a member of the District Safeguarding Committee and have a number of other Board roles unrelated to the Lasallian Charism."
"We are clear about our goals. Our leadership team makes sure the staff know how their efforts all contribute to keeping children and young people safe. The principles and values that embody yourtown are our Lasallian heritage. These are the elements we aim to demonstrate at all times and we're privileged to have many people working with us because they believe in what we do."
With a focus on evidence-based research, we are well positioned to be a voice for those who may not be heard otherwise. We have been actively engaged in providing responses to Governments on issues such as cyberbullying, youth suicide, employment, bullying, health and wellbeing and issues affecting the lives of people within remote indigenous communities.
Like many organisations, yourtown has sustained many challenges over the past 59 years. The headquarters in Milton suffered significant damage in the January 2011 floods. Kids Helpline was needed more than ever for the children and young people who were in serious distress, so the team dismantled and re-established the call-centre to higher ground to keep the national counselling service open 24/7 through overwhelming adversity.
In recruiting and evaluating staff, Tracy has always valued intangible qualities like motivation and drive. Despite having a deep knowledge and industry nous over her three-decade engagement with yourtown, she believes the real keys to her success as a leader have been energy and ambition. Tracy believes being a hands-on CEO is essential for success. "I think it's critical not to lose sight with what's happening across all service levels of our organisation."
Tracy continually strives to be a collaborative, thoughtful and an empowering leader to her team. "There is nothing that I would ask any of my team to do that I would not do myself."
With an incredible work ethic, Tracy heads up yourtown at a critical time in which she and her team shape and deliver an ambitious strategy to tackle the demand on all its services including Kids Helpline during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It has been a privilege and an honour to steer yourtown through these difficult first few months of 2020 to continue to make a substantial difference to children and young people's lives daily."
"We are facing a challenging year we have seen firsthand the repercussions that the pandemic is having on both mental health and the safety of the nation's youngest generations. This has been evidenced by a 40% spike in demand to the counsellors at Kids Helpline over the past 3 months."
"The unknown duration of COVID-19 and the social isolation of the community is having deep and long-term impacts on the mental wellbeing and safety of children and young people."
"COVID-19's economic impact is the unseen enemy. It's impossible to tell what will happen in the future, but we're keeping a close eye on the situation, and putting plans in place to make sure we're in the best position possible as an organisation to advocate for the needs of children and young people."
"Our income generation and fundraising is likely to become harder over the coming years, and so maintaining our work in supporting children and young people will be critical."
"It is a big responsibility: we need to lean into the challenges and changes we see before us. At yourtown, we are primarily funded by the generosity of our yourtown Art Union supporters and corporate partners which make up over 70% of our annual income."
"However, I am confident that we will continue to succeed. We are making clear and measurable progress against mental health and child safety goals, and we will continue to do that. One of my top priorities as CEO has been building collaboration. I see our role as collaborating with the nation's best to build a movement of protecting children."
"I confess being in a leadership position of an organisation of enthusiastic people who really are wanting to make a difference each and every day is an opportunity of a lifetime, and one I never take for granted."