Catholic Social Services the human face of the Gospel for those on the edge

The pressures on people in relationships seem to be much greater than ever before and helping people get on with loved ones has become a major part of the work of Catholic Social Services.
For this reason retiring director of CSS, John Consedine, sa

Cecily McNeill

The pressures on people in relationships seem to be much greater than ever before and helping people get on with loved ones has become a major part of the work of Catholic Social Services.

For this reason retiring director of CSS, John Consedine, says the agency’s outreach is an important manifestation of the Gospel in the wider Wellington community.

‘Jesus was really on about teaching the apostles to go out and be a sign of love and hope to the community and the kinds of programmes we are running are hopefully doing just that.’

These programmes include counselling and therapy for individuals, couples, families, school children and teenagers; self-esteem and confidence-building; anger management and violence prevention for individuals and groups; stress management; depression; grief and loss support related to death and relationship issues; victim support; sexual abuse; communication and relationship difficulties; support for women who have been in violent relationships; parenting issues; conflict resolution; addiction recovery.

Grief counselling is a major part of the agency’s work. There are huge amounts of loss – loss of relationships, loss of people from death, loss of health – which cause varying degrees of grief and stop people getting on with their lives.

‘People need to realise that grief is a process that we all go through at various stages of our lives and sometimes it needs an intervention to stop us going around in circles.’

Such an intervention often includes providing a safe place in which people can explore their options. With all sorts of difficulties there is no universal answer.

‘Every individual has their own answer but sometimes it needs someone to unhook it and that’s what counselling is about.’

Physical, emotional or sexual abuse often brings people to CSS.

‘People need a safe place to explore how to move on from sometimes excruciating pain around these sorts of issues.’

Partnership with St Vinnies

Catholic Social Services has appointed a social worker to work with people who use St Vincent de Paul’s food bank. This gives people an opportunity to look at their finances.

‘Sometimes it’s purely that people don’t have enough money. We can usually do something about that. We can take them to WINZ [Work and Income NZ] and ensure that they are getting all they’re entitled to.’

John Consedine says Work and Income has tried to improve beneficiaries’ access to a range of benefits that are in place to meet peoples’ different circumstances. But sometimes frontline workers may not have all the information their need to ensure the beneficiary gains better access to their entitlements.

There are a range of reasons why people find they need the supplement to their weekly food allowance that a food bank gives. Usually there is more than one complication like domestic violence, or problems with alcohol, or with gambling which is becoming more prevalent.

‘People with young families, particularly where the relationship between the adults is not convivial, may spend money on what some would term “frivolous” things instead of the essentials.’

There is also a lot of peer pressure at school. Children then pressure their parents to help them keep up with their peers.

Social work in schools

Another project Catholic Social Services has recently undertaken involves employing a social worker in some schools in the eastern suburbs. The initiative came from the principals of the schools who found they were spending time trying to re-house families or deal with a range of other needs which arise when people are struggling to cope with a new society and different language.

‘Often the parents don’t know where to go but they may have established a relationship with a teacher or principal at their child’s school. Or a child may turn up to school without lunch and the teacher contacts the family and finds chaos of one degree or another.’

A programme that has proved popular in schools is CSS’s violence prevention and self-development programme. Schools bring together small groups of young people who are showing some signs of unacceptable behaviour and the social workers work with them on to build self-esteem and engender positive feelings about themselves.

‘We try to give them alternatives to the kinds of attention-seek behaviour that they display – bullying or various degrees of violence which they may have learnt at home, or they may be feeling isolated and looking for attention to themselves which is often a sign of a more serious problem. So we try to follow this up with some family work.’

John Consedine says employing social workers has given Catholic Social Services a much broader approach to its work. Whereas counsellors tend to see people in their offices, social workers go out into the community and deal with people in their own surroundings. They also network with other agencies like Work and Income and Housing New Zealand or the city council ensuring that people are treated well.

A partnership with other social services agencies doing similar work has also broadened CSS’s approach. The seven or eight agencies which include Salvation Army, City Mission, Downtown Community Ministry, Wesley Social Services, The Home of Compassion, The Soup Kitchen and St Vincent de Paul meet monthly to avoid unnecessarily duplicating each others’ services.

‘Catholic Social Services doesn’t have a food bank so we refer people on to City Mission, St Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army who all have food banks in Newtown.’

But CSS does more counselling so other agencies refer people in need of counselling to CSS.

‘I think ultimately there needs to be more partnerships between like-valued organisations because we’re all dependent on the charitable dollar and it’s finite. But also the camaraderie and support for each other is important in terms of issues that emerge.’

A group of social services agencies are trustees of the men’s night shelter which is currently undergoing a complete revamp.

‘I think it’s one of the best examples of ecumenical activity that exists.’

Golden Wheels

It’s been in existence at Catholic Social Services for over 20 years and it’s a fruit and vegetable service to the elderly and housebound people around Wellington suburbs and one day a week in Lower Hutt.

Golden Wheels manager Richard Wharton is like a social worker visiting sometimes 150 people in a week.

‘Sometimes he’s the only social contact that some of these elderly people have in the week. I think this is one of the really visible signs of Catholic Social Services out there in the community and we get really positive feedback.’