Laura Florisson (9/12/1983 – 19/10/2020)
Laura was born in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains in 1983, and her passion for making friends showed up as soon as she could toddle – sneaking off through the broken fence one day with older sister Karli to meet the elderly neighbours, and so introduced them to her family!
While completing her Bachelor of Social work, 19-year-old Laura volunteered in her holiday in an orphanage in Bangladesh, showing early her heart of compassion for young people with a less fortunate life.
On graduating in 2005, Laura worked for three years with the Department for Child Protection, investigating child safety situations and case management with vulnerable families and young people.
In 2009, wanting a more pro-active preventative role with young people, Laura became Youth Development Officer for the Shire of Halls Creek, implementing programs of engagement and skill development, and finding practical ways to empower young people. She was a finalist in the Australian Association of Social Workers 2010 Social Worker of the Year Award – Rural & Remote Category.
In 2011, Laura moved into community support work with Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH) – choosing to live below the poverty line to relate with Burmese Muslim refugees in Springvale. She supported young people in homework centres and assisted them to get their drivers licence, while supporting establishment of a social enterprise “Free Burma Café’. Laura was invited to travel through Burma with some of the girls and stayed with their families in a refugee camp on the Thai Burma border.
Laura then became a Residential Care worker in Melbourne, with unaccompanied refugee minors in supported accommodation in a Community Detention Program run by Wesley Mission. She advocated passionately for these isolated young people from diverse, trauma backgrounds, assisting them with their everyday living and education.
In 2014, wanting to do more for young refugees, she moved to work on Nauru with unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, while being held in offshore detention. She cared for young people so desperately without hope that some sewed up their mouths and tried to take their own lives. Laura inspired and challenged everyone she knew to speak up and care about Australia’s treatment of refugees, continuing until she contracted Dengue fever and had to leave. She kept in touch with some of the young people and was thrilled when some were resettled in the USA.
When she recovered, Laura became a residential support carer for a family of five culturally diverse young people in out-of-home care, keeping in touch with them long after they were transitioned into a foster home placement. Laura had an incredible ability of making everyone she met feel important and heard, enabling young people to build trust with professionals which in the past may have been broken.
All this experience combined to empower her as a community facilitator with CREATE foundation in Perth, supporting foster-carers and managing programs and events across the State for young people. Laura organised CREATE’s first cultural celebration event for Aboriginal children in care, in partnership with Yorganop, a relationship and event that still continues at CREATE today. She also worked alongside the Department, Noongar Sports and other organisations to host a big celebration event in recognition of National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day.
Conducting research and supporting youth-led advocacy, Laura also acted in the State-Coordinator position for 8 weeks and led the young leaders’ program. She created many opportunities to empower young people to have their voice heard in the sector – to feedback and influence agencies about the foster care system. She created youth leadership days to build skills and plan events, and together they delivered training and presentations for the sector, believing that young people should be at the forefront of these conversations and that their voices were the most important in the room.
Laura led CREATE’s consultation about Speaking Out about Concerns in Care, in partnership with the Commissioner for Children and Young People’s Office and the Department of Communities. Again, Laura’s ability to make people feel important and safe enabled a large number of young people to be heard at the highest levels. “To see the ownership and pride young people took in the day was just fantastic.” (Elle – CREATE)
Laura championed (and CREATE continues) to ensure the voices of young people in care are heard by Departmental workers about the importance of proper leaving care support. Even when sharing difficult truths about what needs to be improved, Laura was considered, thoughtful and had an amazing ability to frame advocacy messages in an effective, strengths-based way, keeping people on board. During this time CREATE won the Child Youth & Family Agencies Association 2017 Exceptional Practice Award.
In 2018, while continuing to volunteer with CREATE, Laura led the Strength2Strength program for the City of Gosnells and Save the Children Foundation, which was awarded the Community Initiative Award in the Australia Day citizenship awards.
This 12-month project supported young men from Afghan, Arabic-speaking and Burundian backgrounds to develop positive attitudes towards masculinity and healthy relationships. Designed as a preventative program, in response to Save the Children’s work with women seeking support for issues of domestic violence, the participants were engaged in weekly activities to encourage them to be leaders for change.
In January 2019 Laura married Justin at a beautiful ceremony on the beach at Dunsborough and they lived very happily in a home beside the lake in Joondalup.
Laura’s commitment to walking alongside the most disadvantaged in our community, and her passion to see young people have proper support when leaving care, led her to become the first co-ordinator of Anglicare’s Home Stretch Trial in June 2019.
Drawing on her extensive experience of the state care system, Laura played a critical role in implementing the Home Stretch trial, building the vision for a better offer for care leavers in WA. She inspired front-line child protection workers to be part of the journey of Home Stretch, as well as establishing the Youth Advisory Group that guides the trial. (Andrew Kazim, Anglicare)
Of particular note, Laura’s work developing and testing ‘Staying On’ agreements as a model for supporting young people to continue living with foster carers until they reach the age of 21 has laid the groundwork for future reforms of policy and practice in WA.
Her leadership was greatly valued by her team, as was her contribution to the design and development of a number of innovative approaches implemented in the trial.
In December 2019 Laura was diagnosed with a rare, virulent form of bowel cancer caused her to reluctantly relinquish this ‘Home Stretch’ role in January 2020.
During her battle with cancer in 2020, Laura continued with a Unit of studies towards a Masters, in “Advanced Trauma Perspectives” and also served on Tear Fund’s WA Youth committee. She continued to mentor a young lady who had moved on from foster care with no family support and felt terrible when she could no longer keep catching up with her.
Laura died on the 19th October 2020 and a celebration of her life was held in Esperance and then at Pinnaroo. In 2021 Laura was awarded the “Minister for Youth’s Most Outstanding Youth Worker Award” at the WA Youth Awards.
All her life Laura was warm, generous and caring – she worked her heart out for so many young people who didn’t get a fair go in this world. She believed there was room for everyone at the table and wouldn’t stand for people being excluded, saying ‘If you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a taller fence’.