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Delivering person-centred care across an evolving immigration service landscape

Clare Camilleri is National Welfare & Engagement Manager for Immigration Services, Serco Asia Pacific. In that role, Clare oversees wellbeing programmes for people in our immigration detention facilities, whilst also managing two community programmes and coordinating the several hundred volunteer and community groups with whom they work to deliver their services.

“At each of our facilities,” explains Clare, “we have specialised teams delivering a range of programmes covering recreation, religion and culture, education, physical fitness and vocational trades as well as welfare services. Supporting them, and providing intensive oversight, is my nationwide team of integrated care specialists.

“Meanwhile, the Returns and Reintegration Assistance Program (RRAP) is a voluntary returns program for people in the community, based in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program managing eight properties for community detention New South Wales.”

Clare originally joined Serco in 2011 as a Detainee Support Worker responsible for the care of new arrivals seeking asylum.

“I was based in remote and rural localities across Australia, working with unaccompanied minors arrived by boat. The majority were fleeing civil unrest in their home countries.”

In 2012, Clare worked with a team to establish an education centre at the now-closed detention centre in Leonora, Western Australia (WA). In 2013, she was based in the now-closed centre in Pontville, Tasmania. She was then deployed to the remote Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island – 5,220 km away on the opposite side of Australia.

In 2015, Clare moved to the Australian capital, Canberra, before being offered her current role, newly created to standardize and grow immigration welfare and engagement nationally.

Clare’s career with Serco has been defined by a more than a decade of significant political and policy changes.

“My journey and Serco’s have been one and the same,” says Clare. “Serco entered immigration services in Australia shortly before I joined, with four detention centres and 300 people in our care. Boatloads of asylum seekers began arriving on Australian shores in 2010, and by 2011 we were managing more than a dozen facilities.”

This trend continued. By 2013, Serco was looking after c.11,000 people across 28 facilities. In that same year, however, the government announced a new approach, offshore processing, which Serco chose not to participate in. Asylum seekers already in Australia were transferred into community accommodation to await decisions on their claims. The number of detainees in Serco care began to fall – to 6,000 in 2015 and 2,000 in 2016. Closing redundant facilities became a major focus.

2016 brought a change in government and an amendment to the Australian Migration Act that hardened provisions and introduced a stronger focus on the management of people with criminal backgrounds.

“With asylum seekers now living in offshore facilities or in the community,” says Clare, “the mainland detention centres evolved mainly into a destination for individuals with immigration and criminal histories. Many of our detainees today have served custodial sentences. Some are established citizens – some have lived nearly all their lives in Australia – who traveled or were brought here from anywhere in the world.”

RRAP has also experienced significant shifts in cohort composition. Service users are now more likely to be international students and other visitors to Australia who have found themselves in destitute circumstances.

Today’s immigration detention cohort, now numbering c.1,500, may be a far cry from those Clare spent her early career caring for, but her task remains the same:

“It doesn’t matter who they are, it’s our job to support them and deliver them the best service possible.”

Underpinning this is what Clare describes as a ‘person-centred’ approach:

“We treat them as a person first, with dignity and decency – placing them at the centre of the service. In our immigration programs, we focus our service on the person – on who they are today and what they can do – not their background, behaviour, condition, mental health or level of ability. We tailor our support to their individual needs and circumstances.”

Clare is rightfully proud of the level of care and quality embedded throughout Serco Immigration Services on her watch.

“I’m extremely fortunate to be working with an incredible team,” she says, “and very grateful for their passionate commitment to our purpose.”

The team comprises professional, qualified social workers equipped with a range of specialisations including human rights, community services, trauma-informed response practice and therapeutic crisis intervention as well as person-centred care. Some are engaged in adjacent activity beyond their immediate roles – one oversees a programme employing First Nation ex-offenders in Melbourne, for example, while Clare herself is a volunteer team leader for the St Vincent de Paul Society, focused on providing support for people experiencing homelessness.

“For all that we share a common philosophy and values,” says Clare, “the key to our success is our diversity. We have a very good balance of gender and culture. And background – half of us were born overseas, or our parents were.”

Clare may be celebrating ten years with Serco in 2021, but she remains eager to get out into the business and make a difference. This year, Clare has been deployed to Australia’s second largest prison, Acacia, in Wooroloo, WA.

As Rehabilitation and Reintegration (R&R) transition lead for Acacia, Clare will embed Serco’s Real Change framework and Real Steps model in the prison. In this, she will be responsible for developing a range of programmes to help ex-offenders with community reintegration, including several aimed specifically at First Nation prisoners.

“A significant number of the prisoners in Acacia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander,” says Clare. “We’ll be working to enhance our services for them. And, because the best people to provide support for First Nations people are First Nations people, we’re bringing six new First Nation partners onboard to deliver R&R programmes aligned to their unique cultural needs.”