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About Us

First held in 2009 and now heralding its tenth conference, the conference will be organised by a collaboration between Mission Australia, the Benevolent Society, Queensland Department of Education, the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland Health, ACT For Kids and The Cairns Institute, James Cook University.

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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

Margaret Osmond is the Program Manager – Communities for Children Cairns South and Circles of Care in Yarrabah for Mission Australia.

Her professional background includes over 36 years’ experienceworking within NGOs, ATSI 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 has now been with Mission Australia since 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 and Emergency Relief. She is also a member of the Minimbah Bundagry Aboriginal Corporation based on Worimi country in New South Wales.

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.

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.

Image of Rebecca GiacomoRebecca Giacomi’s passion for the Supporting Families, Changing Futures agenda has helped to shape the Far North’s child protection and family support system.  With 15 years’ experience in contract and project management, she has spent the last six years supporting the Regional Child, Youth and Family Committee through a period of considerable change and evolution, focusing on increasing the reach and effectiveness of the family support service system to help families earlier.

Rebecca studied health science, education and the arts at university and has a wealth of knowledge and experience which is the scaffolding for her current role that aims to better the way government, community organisations and families work together.

Over the past 15 years, Rebecca has developed a strong skillset in organisational management, harnessing and further honing her knowledge across the department’s objectives, vision and strategic goals.  She is a communicator and a connector, she works towards building purposeful relationships across industry so that families, children and young people experiencing vulnerability can become resilient, overcome hardships, and change their futures for the better.

Along with the Early Years Conference, Rebecca is actively involved in the Cairns Alliance of Social Services, Cairns South Coalition Collaborative Working Clusters and the many Local Level Alliance/Families Networks in the Far North Queensland Region.

April Schipke has worked in the early year’s sector and schooling for the 36 years in the roles of teacher,
consultant, manager, school leadership and director. Throughout this time she has continued to promote the importance of the early years.  April currently works as the Director for Early Childhood Education and Care for the Far North Region Department of Education. The focus of the work of the Department of Education is “Giving all children a great start” from birth and into schooling.  The department and region are setting the foundations for better life outcomes through promoting the importance of quality early learning experiences and strengthening partnerships with early year’s services, schools and communities.

April leads a team of passionate and experienced early childhood advocates for young children, families and educators. The work of the team is regulating for quality in early years services, capability development for the sector and early years of schooling and empowering communities to plan for positive outcomes for their families and children. A child’s developmental journey, acknowledging families as first teachers and the importance of continuous quality improvement in early year’s sector is the foundation of the work in the Far North region.

“The first five years last forever”

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

Vyvyen Wong is the Communications and Engagement 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 56. Let’s not count the cousins! Vyvyen is no stranger to the concept of children being raised by a village.