It’s the end of my second year at Sands and it’s been another year of exciting change and growth as we continued to expand our reach and support to more bereaved families across Australia.
Since launching our new strategy at the end of 2015, Sands entered a period of growth during 2016 where demand for our telephone, email and live chat services increased. We supported over 2,500 bereaved parents through our national services during 2016, a 25% increase compared to the previous year and the most parents we have supported in a 12 month period throughout our 37 year history.
Whist it is very positive that we are supporting more families, with almost 100,000 families experiencing the death of a baby each year through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, medically advised termination, stillbirth or neonatal death, we know that there is still much to be done.
The year started very positively. The Department of Health who funds our core costs and part of our services confirmed that they would be funding us for a further 12 months until June 2017. This funding is a lifeline to Sands and ensures we can continue to operate around the clock. Throughout the last few months, we have worked closely with the Department as they seek to introduce changes to how they fund mental health services and we are now waiting to hear whether we will be funded post June 2017. Whilst this funding is critically important for Sands, it unfortunately does not provide all the funds needed to run all our services and we are very grateful to the many donors, fundraisers and supporters who contributed to our organisation.
One of our aims this year was to reach out to more parents across Australia. We recruited Regional Training Officers across the states to help us train more volunteers, more often. As a result of this, we ran seven training sessions across Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane and trained over 30 Volunteer Parent Supporters. We launched two new slots on Live Chat, meaning that this service is now available four days per week. We made improvements to our email service meaning that more volunteers are now on shift and we achieved a long term ambition of restarting our services in NSW.
The first half of 2016 was also a very important period for the five state Sands organisations and Sands Australia, the national body. We consulted extensively with our members, volunteers and staff on the question of how the organisation should be structured going forward. We want to ensure we reach as many parents as possible across Australia, regardless of location or background and to ensure we can achieve this, we need to improve how we support and grow our grass roots community of parents and volunteers.
During July, we held Sands 24/7 for the second year running. Our Annual Fundraiser is an opportunity to bring our community together on the 24 July each year to raise awareness that our services operate around the clock but also that we need support to make this happen. We had over 50 generous fundraisers who took part in running or walking events, skydiving from 14,000ft and morning teas which raised a fantastic $34,000 for Sands. We have some exciting plans for 2017 which we look forward to announcing in the New Year – do ensure you save the date, 24 July 2017.
In the run up to Pregnancy & Infant Loss Month during October, Sands planned a number of activities to raise awareness of our cause. All 150 Members of Parliament received a letter from us with vital information about our work; a large number of them proceeded to wear the Sands Pin on the 15 October and we received supportive letters from Minister for Health, Sussan Ley and Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. In addition, we asked our Social Media supporters to #goPinkandBlue in their profile picture and we were very pleased that over 2,500 supporters did so, raising vital awareness across Social Media.
This year saw another positive – it was our busiest year in the media with over 100 news stories and five Regional and two National TV appearances. This has helped immensely with raising awareness of who we are and what we do so that families hear of us and access our services. It has also helped to raise awareness of pregnancy loss and whilst we are not there yet, started the process of breaking the taboo that surrounds the issue.
Looking ahead to 2017 promises to be an equally exciting but challenging year.
We will find out if our funding from the Department of Health will continue post June 2017. We will continue to work very closely with the Department during early 2017 to continue to make our case. We have developed an exciting corporate partnership for Sands 24/7 which promises to turn it into a very big event across Australia. Stay tuned and we look forward to communicating more in the New Year. We look forward to starting two new Support Groups in the Sydney area as part of our plans to establish our services in NSW. Volunteer Training will take place in early 2017 so do stay tuned for volunteer recruitment announcements on our Facebook Page. We also look forward to developing services in ACT and NT in the latter part of 2017. We also look forward to launching our new work to support healthcare professionals. Our ambition is to ensure all professionals that engage with bereaved families have the right level of knowledge and information to ensure families are well supported. We look forward to developing new initiatives to help realise this ambition. We look forward to bring you 'Lives Unlived' - a very ambitious project which will aim to break the taboo that surrounds the death of a baby and start a national conversation on the issue. 2017 also promises to be a huge year for how we look and operate as an organisation as the State Sands Members vote on the proposals to improve our operating model. The end result will be more support for parents locally which is at the core of why these changes need to happen.
We are also looking forward to our inaugural Sands Gala which will take place in Hobart, Tasmania on the 18 March 2017. The event will be an opportunity to bring together our current and new supporters and the event will rotate to a different state each year. We hope to see you there.
I would like to express my huge thanks to all Sands supporters, donors, fundraisers, volunteers and members. Because of your contribution, Sands is able to provide a safe, non-judgemental and confidential space for many parents and families. We could not do what we do without your support and we hope that you will continue to support our work for many years to come.
Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year.