Our unsung Valley hero

She has dedicated her career to helping Gippsland’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people achieve fulfilling and enriching lives.

Berry Street Gippsland regional director Trish McCluskey’s feats involve establishing a debutante ball six years ago, where about 70 Gippsland young people in care or on case management participated.

Ms McCluskey introduced Koda the Kelpie as a form of animal-assisted therapy about four years ago to lift the self-esteem and confidence of vulnerable children.

In 2007, she founded the world-first Victorian Therapeutic Treatment Board for people aged between 10 and 15 years who display sexually concerning behaviours.

Ms McCluskey is now being recognised for her work, among five Unsung Hero finalists for the 2015 HESTA Community Sector Awards.

“I was really surprised and obviously it’s really humbling when you know how much work other people do,” she said.

“There’s no doubt about it; it’s also just a wonderful feeling to have that sort of recognition.”

As one of 10 children who grew up in Morwell, Ms McCluskey said her childhood founded her sense of social justice.

“I grew up all the time knowing a lot of people didn’t have a lot in terms of financial or other services,” Ms McCluskey said.

“But people always had a hand out, ready to help another person.”

Along with two siblings who work in child protection and Centrelink, Ms McCluskey attributed their education and interactions with disadvantaged children as the reasons for their careers.

“We were very conscious we wanted other children in Gippsland and families to have a really decent life like we had been fortunate enough to have,” Ms McCluskey said.

Her latest project saw State Families Minister Jenny Mikakos launch the ‘Siblings Are Forever’ posters in April.

Ms McCluskey’s aim is to keep siblings in out-of-home care together, whether through foster homes, residential units or kinship care.

“The sibling relationship is the longest of your life, it survives marriages and you know your siblings before you have children,” Ms McCluskey said.

“I’ve talked to lots and lots of children over many years in child protection work.

“Just the profound grief and loss they’ve experienced from being separated from one another has really motivated my professional life.”

Ms McCluskey is finalising her doctoral thesis on children in out-of-home care, with a specific focus on siblings.

As a regional director in Victoria’s largest independent child welfare agency, she will use this research to continue developing and lobbying for policy changes.

“Children in care, who is there to represent them and to represent their voices and best interests?,” she said.

Ms McCluskey will be flown to Sydney to attend the awards dinner on 25 June, taking sister Pauline along for support.

“So much of (the nomination) is about Gippsland, my history in growing up here, my family’s here and I work here,” she said.

“For me, I’m receiving this nomination and the pleasure of being there on the night on behalf of our community, not on behalf of me.”