On a Mission: Bernadette Burns Rises From a Challenging Past to Create Better Future...
Why Thrive House? A place with a point of difference.
As Executive Director at Thrive House, Bernadette expertly handles all compliance, governance, and licensing requirements. It’s a young and fast-growing organisation that challenges Bernadette to remain as hands-on as possible while she’s pulled in different directions. But at the heart of it all is her number-one priority: children in care.
Bernadette co-founded Thrive House in 2017. After working in the Child Protection field for many years, she was so disillusioned with outcomes for young people that she reconsidered a career in the Human Services sector altogether. So, when Joel Dorman approached Bernadette to help create a new residential space for children and young people with complex needs, she took a leap of faith.
“When we were in amongst it all, I realised I was in the right place,” Bernadette says. “It wasn’t a sudden realisation, but slowly understanding that this is what I’m meant to be doing. This is where I make a difference.”
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Learning from the past to create a better future.
Growing up in out-of-home care in Northern Ireland, life felt bleak to a young Bernadette. She remembers being angry at the world, with no clear vision for her future. It’s an outlook many kids in care can relate to, and it’s a source of inspiration for Bernadette’s work.
“I had low self-esteem when I was growing up. I felt like people viewed me as nothing more than a failure. In wider society, there is a stigma associated with children in care. But now, I can use my journey to advocate for those kids, and ensure they receive better outcomes.”
The search for a greater life is something Bernadette knows all too well. She lived in Belfast during The Troubles conflict and witnessed horrific violence. While also experiencing religious bigotry for being an Irish Catholic, the opportunity for a life free of oppression for Bernadette and her children was dwindling.
“The final straw was when two young British soldiers were shot close to where we lived. I decided that although I loved Ireland, it wasn’t the best place for my family. We moved to the Sunshine Coast and discovered paradise.”
“In my experience, many residential houses for kids aren’t like homes,” Bernadette says. “They’re very clinical. I always ask people, ‘Would you like to live with a security screen instead of a bedroom door?' Of course you wouldn’t. How could a child thrive in that kind of environment? They need care, nurture, trust and respect.”
Watching the children in care at Thrive House grow gives Bernadette a deep sense of pride. The team is there to support the children when they need it most, and help them feel part of the Thrive family as they reach exciting milestones.
“We have a young person who came into care with Thrive when she was 14. She comes to visit me quite often in the office and will turn 18 very soon. The plan will be for her to grow into adulthood supported by Thrive House. I have watched her learn how to cope with tumultuous emotions and to trust enough in our staff to support her through the tough times. We can have a real and lasting impact.”
Shifting the conversation.
Child protection is a challenging industry. Aside from the difficult nature of the work, there’s also the stigma that surrounds children in care. Bernadette is passionate about changing the conversation.
That’s why our Thrive House team is so valuable. They work hard to remove the social barriers children in care face. And although it’s not easy, with Bernadette’s unwavering support, our team knows that nothing is impossible - and the rewards are endless.
Many of Bernadette’s proudest moments revolve around the growth of children in care. But she’s just as proud of the people forging their careers at Thrive House. Surrounded by a team that continually goes above and beyond, Bernadette is truly touched by their compassion and feels blessed to have them by her side. And it’s only with the most driven people that Thrive House will continue to grow.