When working with families, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the problems they face, says Catholic Social Services social worker, Cathy Agnew.
Usually there are a number of factors which tip families over the edge.
Cathy is part of a CSS initiative which has a social worker at three Wellington schools—Holy Cross, Miramar, St Anne’s, Newtown, and St Anthony’s, Seatoun, although Cathy spends most of her time in Miramar.
She says the children might be a bit tearful about being bullied, or may be bullying other kids or misbehaving in class. Often this is to gain attention and some investigation might reveal difficulties in the family or the family’s struggle to simply make ends meet.
The parents might be working several jobs so that the children hardly see them and this can be damaging for family relationships.
Watching a televised, pre-election debate among leaders of the minor political parties, Cathy heard many of them talking about working with families while the children are young—“gotta get in there and make changes”.
‘Absolutely we do but how do you do that? There’s no magic solution, no one reason why things break down.’
If there is violence in a family directed towards the children, it is likely that the parents grew up in violent homes.
‘It’s all very well for the politicians to say that’s a great idea—let’s get in there and support the families. But, at the end of the day, who’s going to pay to do that?
‘I get the feeling that a lot of people think it’s really simple and you should be able to do a, b and c and you’ll get d.’
Cathy says one of her clients is a child who has been exposed to a lot of violence at home.
‘Yet that child has responded really well to behaviour charts at home and has suggested using them at school.
‘He understands what it’s all about. He realised the negative consequences of bad behaviour and doesn’t want to get into trouble.
‘It’s quite amazing to sit with a child who says, “We’re doing this at home, hey how about I do it at school”. That’s really nice to have that experience.’
Cathy’s work can encompass family budget advice, delivering food parcels from St Vincent de Paul, giving families grocery vouchers and helping at a practical level.
‘There’s one child that goes to an after-school programme – I take her there and her parents pick her up.’
A number of Cathy’s clients need help with approaching Work and Income for supplements to their benefits. Cathy sees this as an important part of her role.
‘I’ll usually go with them because in my limited experience it’s helpful to have someone with you who knows what questions to ask.
‘I’ve been in there where case officers have begun by saying “no” to every request and then you’ve managed to talk them around.’
She realises that if she hadn’t been there as advocate, the client would not have been able to get the help they needed.