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About Us

First held in 2009 and now heralding its twelfth conference, the conference will be organised by a collaboration between Mission Australia, the Benevolent Society, Queensland Department of Education, the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs, Queensland Health, ACT For Kids, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University and Wuchopperen Indigenous Health Service.

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Cassy Bishop is a psychology graduate and has been working in the human services sector in Cairns for over 16 years. Coming from a background in child protection, working mainly within Cape York and Torres Strait, Cassy now works with the Benevolent Society as a manager for the Cairns Early Years Centre & Kindergarten.  The Cairns Early Years Centre is an integrated service model that focuses on supporting families in the early years through playgroups, parenting programs, family support and quality Kindergarten. The service includes social workers, psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapists, early childhood educators, child health nurses and family support workers who provide a transdisciplinary approach to supporting child development. The service also partners with Queensland Health and Wuchopperen Health Service. Cassy has a passion for early intervention and supporting families through integrated service delivery to give kids the best start to life. Initially working as a front-line case worker in both child protection and at the Benevolent Society, Cassy now works to help build communities that support families to build on their strengths.

Gwen Kemp is currently a volunteer member of the Early Years Conference committee. She has also been an active member of the committee for over ten years whilst employed by Queensland Health until her retirement three years ago. Gwen has always been passionate about women’s, children’s and family health which is evident from her forty plus years working in nursing education, midwifery and child health. Her roles have been both clinical and managerial and she is especially interested in knowledge sharing around research and interventions to create positive outcomes for families.
Gwen loves to travel and is currently enjoying being part of the village for her grandchildren .

Janelle Sim – Mission Australia – More to come

Jean Henle is a Clinical Nurse in Child Health, currently working with the Cairns Community Child Youth and Family Health Team, Queensland Health.  Jean’s nursing career has spanned over 30 years working for Queensland Health mostly in regional towns.   For the past 20 years, she has worked with children, infants and families in a variety of settings including paediatrics, and special care nursery. As a child health nurse Jean’s role includes supporting families with adjusting to parenting, understanding and responding to baby cues, infant sleep, breast feeding, infant nutrition, injury prevention, providing childhood immunisations, monitoring and promoting normal growth and development. Cairns Community Child, Youth & Family Health Services is a Queensland Health community based service supporting families with children 0-5years through the provision of child health nurse and indigenous health worker support in the areas of parenting, health, growth and development. Their Early Intervention Parenting Services support the nurturing role of families with children age 0-8 years experiencing depression and/or anxiety in pregnancy and early parenthood or attachment and child behaviour concerns. Other services provided include: Speech pathology support for children up to prep age – Hearing health services for children 4-17 years – Children’s continence clinic – Childhood and school immunisation programs – Primary school vision screening program for prep students – School based youth health nurses – Refugee Health.

Jen Rapier is the Program Coordinator of Family and Child Connect at Act for Kids.  She has a background in psychology and counselling and has worked within the child protection sector In Cairns for over five years, previously working in various counselling roles including individual; relationship; family; addictions and dispute resolution.  She is passionate about supporting her team to provide excellent outcomes for children and their families across Far North Queensland.

Originally from England, she has lived in Cairns for nearly 20 years with her Kiwi husband and their two teenage Aussie sons.  As a family, they love to travel and disagree with each other about sports!

Lorna Baker is the Children and Family Services manager at Wuchopperen Health Services. She has worked in the Early Childhood and Education sector for over 11 years; 7 of those with Wuchopperen. Her journey started from wanting to be a primary school teacher which eventually led her down a different path into the Early Years. Lorna has always been passionate about child development, education and learning and when she commenced with Wuchopperen, she developed a greater understanding around the importance of emotional, social health and wellbeing for a child and family. Lorna is very proud of her Torres Strait heritage and appreciates being able to work within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Service and have the opportunity to contribute to better outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and families within the region.

Margaret Osmond  is the President of the QCWA Mulgrave Branch. Her professional background includes over 38 years’ experience working within NGOs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporations, Councils and community-based associations in varied positions. Originally from New South Wales Margaret moved to Katherine in the Northern Territory in 1979.  After a four year stint of working in the cattle industry, Margaret took a position in a senior management position with the Jawoyn Association, a corporation with interests in tourism, mining, building and construction, community health, education and aged care. In 2000, Margaret accepted a position with the Aboriginal Coordinating Council in Cairns as an Administrator and in 2004 took a position with the Indigenous Consumer Network (ICAN) Cairns. Margaret then commenced working for Mission Australia in 2006 where she assisted to establish the Communities for Children Program in Cairns South and Yarrabah QLD.  In 2008, she moved to a regional role, within Mission Australia, monitoring finances and compliance for all programs in Employment and Community Services in the FNQ region.  In 2010 she moved back to Communities for Children as the Coordinator.  In 2018 Margaret moved into the Program Managers role for Communities for Children, Circles of Care, south Cairns Specialist Counselling, Family Support and Hambledon House Community Centre. Margaret retired from paid work in July 2022.  She is also a member of the Minimbah Bundagry Aboriginal Corporation based on Worimi and Biripi country in New South Wales.

Melissa Akmentins has worked in Queensland, both in the Early Childhood Education and Care team (Dept. of Education) for six years and nine years as team leader at Disability Services. Beginning her working years as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist (Vision Australia), Melissa supported those with vision impairment across metropolitan and rural Western Victoria to regain independence and safety in their mobility.

As a Partnership Facilitator (Early Years), Melissa works in communities across the breadth of the Far North Queensland region supporting early childhood sector workers to connect and collaborate. Many communities have developed early childhood community networks which allows for those with a passion for the early years to connect.  More recently, within the “Connect for Children” initiative Melissa’s role is to support communities to develop community based birth to 5 plans.  This work allows for the voice of children, parents and sector workers to explored and included in locally developed community birth to five plans; with the long term vision to improve the developmental wellbeing of all children prior to school.

Zuri, a much loved Burmese, travelling, gardening and knitting are Melissa interests outside of work. Melissa also supports her unit complex to improve sustainability (having recycled near 35,000 bottles / cans over two years) with funds being channelled back to community vegetable gardens

Tamara Stafford has been working within the human services field in the Cairns region for over 20 years. Her professional background includes areas of sexual health, drug & alcohol, youth justice and Child Protection. She has been with Act for Kids since 2008 and her current role is Program Manager of Regional Services.

Tamara is passionate about supporting our little ones within the community and enjoys working with sector partners to ensure that children can have the safest, happiest and healthiest start to life. Tamara is a mum of five; four humans and one dog and she loves spending time with family and friends, camping and getting outdoors.

Vyvyen Wong is the Research Communications Officer at The Cairns Institute; the tropic’s premiere research institute for the humanities and social science disciplines. Prior to commencing this role, Vyvyen held a position with the University of Papua New Guinea-James Cook University Twinning Partnership, an international collaborative project aimed at building capabilities in the tertiary sector and furthering relationships between the two universities. Vyvyen holds a Bachelor of Business and has a varied professional background spanning aviation, travel, tourism, business development, sales and marketing. Honed over many years and across varied contexts, her skills in communications, planning, logistics and event management are an asset to the Early Years Committee. Vyvyen is from a cultural and linguistically diverse background and speaks English, Cantonese, Tok Pisin (from PNG) and is currently undertaking Mandarin Chinese. She has served on a number of community committees and continues to give her time to charity efforts both locally and internationally. Vyvyen originally hails from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and has lived in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Lismore and Sydney. Having travelled widely across the globe, she has now found the perfect tropical environment and is settled in Cairns. Fun fact: Vyvyen is the last of 9 children, aunt to 38 and great-aunt to 57. Let’s not count the cousins! Vyvyen is no stranger to the concept of children being raised by a village.

Kim Daly – Coming soon

Nic Waldron – Coming soon

Karen Thelan – Coming soon