The Grassmere Community Youth Guidance Centre was established in 1973, in the south eastern suburb of Doveton. The service provided locally based programs and sought to engage with young people before they came into 'care' or the juvenile justice system. Grassmere gained a reputation as a valuable alternative to institutional 'care' and benefited from strong support from the local community. The program grew to deliver a range of services to 'at risk' young people in the region. In 1993, Grassmere took up the auspice of the Uniting Church and in that year it relocated to new premises in Narre Warren. In 1998 Grassmere Youth Services merged with Copelen Child and Family Services to form the new organisation, Copelen.
Grassmere's founding director, Rev. John Smith, had previously worked at Tally Ho. There were a number of links between the two institutions. The service was largely the brainchild of Ian Cox, a former superintendent of Tally Ho, who went on to work in the government's Youth Welfare Division. In 1973, Tally Ho's superintendent Denis Oakley employed Grassmere's director, John Smith, to undertake research about young offenders.
John Smith later reflected on the philosophy underlying the programs at Grassmere:
We were critical of the major theory that offending behaviour was entirely the responsibility of the offender. We firmly believed that the social, economic, educational and justice systems were also an important influence and often it was the interaction between the two that was an important starting point. To remove a child from their environment and place them in residential care did not solve the problem of learning to cope with law-violating behaviour, it merely delayed it.
The 1976 Norgard Report into child care services in Victoria made reference to the innovative programs for young offenders at Grassmere, providing alternatives to wardship and keeping young people with their families:
We are interested to observe the program operated by the Grassmere Centre, Doveton, where offending and misbehaving children attend for specified periods each week under the conditions of a Probation or Supervision Order. There are strong arguments for using such Orders to bring children into this type of group recreational program under skilled leadership.
The decision to merge with Copelen Child and Family Services (another agency auspiced by the Uniting Church) was made following a strategic planning process in 1997. A Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies was signed in July 1998 and the merger was completed by May 1999. This established the new organisation using the name of 'Copelen'. From 1999, 'Grassmere Youth Services' was a division operating within Copelen.
Sources used to compile this entry: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Child Care Services in Victoria, July 1976; 'Historical Details', Kildonan Uniting Care, 7 September 2007; 'pp.24-25', Reconnections and Recollections: Charting the History of Connections UnitingCare, Connections UnitingCare, May 2010, http://web.archive.org/web/20140320060720/http://connections.org.au/pdfs/ReConnections-and-ReCollections.pdf; Howe, Renate; Swain, Shurlee, The Challenge of the City: the centenary history of Wesley Central Mission 1893-1993, Hyland House, Flemington, 1993. p.186..
Prepared by: Cate O'Neill
Created: 21 April 2009, Last modified: 5 March 2014