This former tourist venue is now a place of healing

When the Ballarat District Orphan Asylum opened in 1865, it was in response to the peculiar situation of abandoned families and destitute children then living in the goldfields.

New challenges: formerly the Tangled Maze tourist venue and reception centre, Cafs purchased the property in December 2017 for just over $1 million. Picture: Kate Healy.

New challenges: formerly the Tangled Maze tourist venue and reception centre, Cafs purchased the property in December 2017 for just over $1 million. Picture: Kate Healy.

As the available gold disappeared so did many husbands, leaving their wives and offspring struggling. For many, there was no way to support themselves. Starvation and disease was always threatening.

A proposal to establish an orphan asylum was adopted by the North Star Lodge of Oddfellows, with Ballarat Freemasons and Foresters joining the fundraising efforts, and a committee of management was drawn from ‘gentlemen representatives’, led by the eminent Ballarat personage Emanuel Steinfeld. 

One of the activities promoted by the Asylum, later the Ballarat Orphanage and Ballarat Children’s Homes, then Cafs, was the operation of orphanage farms in the district.

Farms at the orphanage: an image of the Ballarat orphanage farm from the 1930s. Picture: Museums Victoria.

Farms at the orphanage: an image of the Ballarat orphanage farm from the 1930s. Picture: Museums Victoria.

Over 150 years later, Cafs has returned to producing market gardens and housing animals. 

Child & Family Services Ballarat (Cafs) is poised to launch an Australian first – a farm environment dedicated to help traumatised young people and their families.

Located in Springmount, Victoria, the Cafs Care Farm hopes to lead the way using the natural environment, landscape and farming practices and exercise to support positive wellbeing and mental health while supporting families and children in crisis.

Formerly the Tangled Maze tourist venue and reception centre, Cafs purchased the property in December 2017 for just over $1 million.

Cafs CEO Allan Joy on the need for a care farm in Ballarat

Allan Joy speaks with enthusiasm about the opportunities and also the challenges of opening the care farm at Springmount.

Past and future: cafs CEO Allan Joy sitting in front of a marble commemorative tablet holding the names of past heads of the orphanage and Child Services. In front of him are plans for the new farm. Picture: Kate Healy.

Past and future: cafs CEO Allan Joy sitting in front of a marble commemorative tablet holding the names of past heads of the orphanage and Child Services. In front of him are plans for the new farm. Picture: Kate Healy.

He’s recently returned from a research trip overseas looking at care farms, visiting England, Scotland and Ireland.

“I was lucky enough to visit their 15 places overseas... all different sorts of models, different sizes, different concepts,” Mr Joy says.

“I told them we were looking at the feasibility of setting up a care farm. So all those things came together, and ended up with the purchase of the maze. It was a bit of a surprise because it was a commercial activity, but based on the research overseas it had had many of the elements that were important.

“Also it's a place of great beauty, and having a beautiful environment really is an important part of working with kids, because it's something they're probably not familiar with, and being in a beautiful and natural environment really enhances your chances of doing something with the kids.”

Mr Joy says the history of Cafs from the time of the Ballarat Orphanage always had an agricultural aspect. He says Cafs is committed to acknowledging its past, and the history of farming is part of that.

From the very earliest days of the orphanage, animals and market gardens were used both as a way to engage those living there and to supplement the income needed to run the institution. Pigs, Jersey cattle, sheep and horses were all part of daily life.

The concept of care farming is not widely used so far in this country. There are two other farms Mr Joy is aware of in Australia, and he says there are about 200 overseas in the regions he visited; however none of them are going to use the approaches Cafs will take, he says.

“We have picked their the good bits or the best bits from the overseas experience,” Mr Joy says.

“We're putting them together here in a unique way. For example, some farms overseas, they do use what's called the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).That's the theoretical base for assessing kids, and some people then would underpin that theoretical assessment with different sorts of interventions –  including animal-assisted interventions, working with nature, art therapy or music therapy or working outside, all the psychological theories as well. 

“But nobody is putting it all together in a package in the farm environment as we are.”

Changes underway: a greenhouse under construction at the cafs Care Farm in Springmount. There is a major amount of work being done on the farm. Picture: Kate Healy.

Changes underway: a greenhouse under construction at the cafs Care Farm in Springmount. There is a major amount of work being done on the farm. Picture: Kate Healy.

The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics is a developmentally-informed approach to working with at risk people, developed by Dr. Bruce Perry from the ChildTrauma Academy in Houston, USA.

According to Cafs, the NMT model ‘maps neurobiological development of those who have experienced trauma, which then allows our psychologist to prescribe a range of tailored interventions – from sensory play, to engagement with animals, horticulture and green exercise, as well as more traditional consulting and counselling.

‘The Cafs Specialist Assessment and Treatment of Trauma (SATT) program will provide evidence-based assessments that result in tailored treatment programs,’ according to information supplied by Cafs.

Allan Joy says there are children assessed for the NMT who will be able to access the care farm as soon as it is ready to open. Cafs deal with children from a very early age to adulthood, as well as providing care for families.

“There's no real exclusion,” he says.

“Our particular target groups include kids in care or are likely to come into care; kids who are struggling to engage in school; and kids and their families who might be victims of family violence.

“So we’ll cater for all age ranges, but will we really need to target how we do it.”

The Springmount property will have $5 million invested over the next five years, says Cafs. The funds will be sought from philanthropists, corporate sponsors and community donations.

There are several major elements to the Cafs development, including professional consulting rooms for psychologists and accredited therapists; as well as sheltered spaces for art therapy and an indoor sensory playground.

Additional works include the construction of a therapeutic accommodation program offering short-term respite for young people, children and families; an agricultural program that utilises a market garden area, three hothouses, a potting and mushroom shed, an orchard, workshop, as well as the animal-assisted therapy areas.

“All of the activities at the Cafs Care Farm are designed to support children who are currently in care, as well as proactively working with those who are at risk of coming into care,” Mr joy says.

“We’ll use all elements of the functioning farm environment to engage with children who are struggling with family issues, school attendance and social challenges. Our programs are designed to interrupt the spiral of social issues before they start, rather than always dealing with the consequences. 

“Our goal is to provide the foundations for people to live full lives, no matter the circumstances that brought them to our door. We feel very strongly that the Cafs Care Farm will position us as a leader in the assessment of therapeutic interventions for those in our community who are most at risk.”

Annelyse, Kim and animal-assisted therapy

Annelyse is 15. She has two pets in the house she shares with her mother Kim: a dog named Piper and a soccer-playing rabbit named Hiccup. Her relationship with the animals is clearly one of love; although she finds it difficult to express in words, her physical joy in playing with them is palpable.

Set to benefit: Annelyse holds her dear friend Phoebe. Annelyse is part of the equine therapy program provided by cafs, HEAL. Picture: Kate Healy.

Set to benefit: Annelyse holds her dear friend Phoebe. Annelyse is part of the equine therapy program provided by cafs, HEAL. Picture: Kate Healy.

Annelyse also has dyslexia, and experiences severe social anxiety; she finds school a miserable experience. In Years 2 and 3, she withdrew from socialising with other people and began counselling with a social worker. Although she looked forward to a fresh start in Year 7 at a new school, she found the change difficult and reverted into herself. She stopped trying to socialise with the children at school, and although she remained close with primary school friends, she became depressed.

She got to the point where she refused to go to school. She loves animals, and her psychologist investigated ways for her to spend more time around animals. Her social welfare worker suggested the HEAL program.

The HEAL (Healing Equine Assisted Learning) program brings horses and people together in a therapeutic setting. It’s provided through Cafs, who say participants are offered opportunities to explore issues through experiential learning.  Participants learn about themselves and others by undertaking activities with the horses, and then discussing their thoughts, behaviours and patterns.

Kim says seeing her daughter go out into the paddock with the horses was a challenge and a relief.

“We pulled up in the middle of nowhere, and here's a paddock with horses everywhere and we just didn't know what to expect,” she says.

“The parents sit in a room the whole time; I really didn't know what was happening out there. It was between Annie and the two psychologists in the paddock with the horses.

“It was like her independent time away from me, and my time away from her; a little bit of respite from the parent's perspective.”

Hope and progress: Annelyse with her mother Kim, dog Phoebe and soccer-playing rabbit Hiccup. Picture: Kate Healy.

Hope and progress: Annelyse with her mother Kim, dog Phoebe and soccer-playing rabbit Hiccup. Picture: Kate Healy.

After her first day at HEAL, Annelyse cried all the way home because the horses had rejected her. The HEAL team convinced her to try again, and each visit she became more confident and formed better relationships with the horses – particularly Pegasus, a new horse rejected by the rest of the mob.

She completed two terms at HEAL, and her mother says she is now a completely different child – she lifts up her head, and will talk to others. Her mother says before HEAL she wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in a room full of people.

She recently had a birthday party, where she made the effort to stay in the room with the guests the whole time. She was concerned about leaving HEAL because she didn’t want to lose her friendships with the horses, so now does a horsemanship program 1 day a week, and is doing distance education from home. She hopes to be a vet nurse.

This story Cafs takes back the farm, as a former maze gets a new path first appeared on The Courier.