The director of Catholic Social Services leaves the service in good shape after a series of changes in the past decade which have aligned it more closely with community needs.
John Consedine has resigned his post after 10 years having instituted a number of new projects, including working with St Vincent de Paul and people who use foodbanks, and putting social workers into schools to work with families.
He has also consulted professional fundraisers to put the service on a firmer financial footing.
John Consedine joined Catholic Social Services in 1995 having spent 21 years as a social worker and manager at Wellington Public Hospital.
One of the first changes was to ensure that staff had professional qualifications, were members of the appropriate professional body and had regular supervision from outside the agency.
This has boosted the organisation’s reputation in the community. CSS has also moved from being involved in the 1970s and 1980s in work schemes, adoptions, institutional care and ‘huge financial debt’.
‘We are doing fundraising in a more professional manner. We also put a lot of energy into voluntary fundraising.’
John says when he started there were 150 people in the Thousand Club (donors give $100 a year), now there are 750.
In the past two years CSS has changed direction employing two social workers to work alongside its counsellors.
This has allowed it to form a partnership with St Vincent de Paul having its social workers working with users of the foodbank to find out why.
‘That has been a huge success. People have been given the confidence to acknowledge that they need help. Maybe they’re not getting enough money, or not getting their full entitlement, or there’s another issue – alcohol, drugs, or violence.’
The service also works with other community agencies such as Downtown Community Ministry, the Salvation Army, and the Soup Kitchen.
Another development has been to put a social worker into four schools to help develop a service to children and families out of those schools.
John says some teachers are spending large amounts of time trying to do what is really social work, such as rehousing people.
‘The pressures on families are huge, particularly young families and those in low socio-economic areas and where the changing cultural nature of our society is evident.’
Throughout his work John Consedine has been absolutely committed to social justice and to the gospel message of justice for all.
‘This is absolutely important in the development process. We must raise questions about the issues that people are facing rather than just work with individuals.’
John is particularly proud that CSS is a community-based organisation that does not ask questions about religion.
‘I would not know how many people who come to us are Catholic and it’s not an issue.
‘I believe that CSS in Wellington is the best manifestation of the gospel in the community because we’re out there to offer a service to the whole community and hopefully we are a sign of what the church is about. It seems to me if we do constantly ask what Jesus would do in this situation, that’s what it’s about.’
John says it has been a privilege to be part of so many people’s lives – people who bare their souls when they are most vulnerable.
He also counts himself blessed to have had such a dedicated staff who follow the same philosophy and are committed though many would be able to earn more money elsewhere.