INVESTIGATION

Premier Youthworks investigation part three: provider seeks not-for-profit status

OVERHAUL: Premier Youthworks' headquarters at Cardiff. The company's management has decided to apply for not-for-profit status. Picture: Marina Neil
OVERHAUL: Premier Youthworks' headquarters at Cardiff. The company's management has decided to apply for not-for-profit status. Picture: Marina Neil

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Premier Youthworks management acknowledges that avoiding further public scrutiny is part of the motivation behind its decision to apply for not-for-profit status.

The embattled out-of-home care provider has also defended the turnover in its senior ranks, with three different chief executives having been at the helm within the space of a few months.

The company runs group homes across Newcastle and the ACT for traumatised children who have been removed from the care of their families.

Its annual revenue is unknown, but in the past the figure has reportedly been estimated at $20 million.

As one of the few for-profit agencies in the sector, Premier has faced intense scrutiny in the last 12 months over its handling of taxpayer funds, as well as over staffing and conditions inside some of its group homes.

Fairfax Media has obtained an email circulated among Premier Youthworks staff on November 17, in which chief executive Jared Gillard announced the company would be seeking not-for-profit status.

Mr Gillard is a former caseworker with the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS).

“Becoming a not-for-profit entity has been something that has been on the radar for a long time at Premier Youthworks and considered by the leadership team and [managing director Lisa Glen] strongly in recent years,” Mr Gillard wrote.

“We felt that it had to be a very considered decision to make such a huge change to the organisation and fundamentally impact on the structure of Premier Youthworks.”

Less than a month earlier, a spokeswoman answering questions on behalf of Premier Youthworks denied the company had moved to change its for-profit status.

“No, we have not applied for not-for-profit status, but this is something [Premier Youthworks] has considered from time to time,” she said.

In a November interview with Fairfax Media, managing director Lisa Glen was quizzed about whether such a change could be in the pipeline.

“This is been something that we’ve been tossing around for, oh gosh, a long time. And even more so probably this last 12 months, because if that was something that would maybe get us out of the media attention,” she said.

Not-for-profit entities qualify for a range of tax concessions but must direct profits towards the purpose of the business.

Whistleblowers have complained the organisation has not directed enough of its taxpayer funding towards financial and risk management frameworks and IT systems.

The care of vulnerable children on the ground suffered as a result, one of them claimed.

“It’s like nothing I’ve experienced before ... from a financial management perspective, it is just a recipe for disaster,” he said. 

But those allegations were strenuously denied by the company.

A spokesperson said it had a governance advisory board and used a range of expert consultants to support governance and risk management.

“[The company] utilises a range of modern systems and continues to invest in new systems,” he said. 

“We are answerable to the NSW and ACT governments who are across all of this.” 

Ms Glen pointed to the five-year accreditation that Premier received from the NSW Office of the Children’s Guardian in June as an indication the company was well run. “You don’t just get it easily,” she said. “You have to be doing the right thing.”

Earlier this year the company’s previous chief executive, Mathew McGovern, announced his resignation. He was replaced by Elaine De Vos, who lasted three weeks in the role before she tendered her resignation. 

Around the same time, corporate services and human resources manager Bill Armstrong also called it quits, after less than 12 months in the job.

Fairfax Media attempted to contact the former employees to discuss the reasons behind their resignations, but they did not respond to calls.

Ms Glen denied the turnover in the company’s senior ranks was abnormal, given the sector and the size of the organisation. 

“In terms of senior management turning over, Matt McGovern was the first to leave but he’d worked here for over 10 years … Elaine came on and had to leave because of personal reasons and gosh, most organisations this size have staff turnover,” Ms Glen said.

“We have had a tough year, granted, but it is what it is. The corporate services manager put in his resignation [but] there was no issues leading up to that.”

Earlier this year, FACS placed Premier Youthworks under review following a scathing Four Corners expose

FACS’ operations are also under a cloud, after its Hunter New England office was given a “six month lifeline” to meet standards or have its accreditation withdrawn. 

But a spokesperson denied FACS was responsible for oversight of Premier Youthworks. 

“The standards you refer to are set and monitored by the Office of the Children’s Guardian – not FACS,” he said. 

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