Desiree Donaldson is a Family Works Social Worker in Schools (SWiS) in Manurewa. Witnessing the need in her own community as a youth and into her adult life led her to become a social worker.
“I came out of a violent relationship and was exposed to the reality of accessing systems that can be quite intimidating. Sometimes having someone to support and advocate for you when you are not strong enough can mean the world of difference to your journey.”
Desiree wanted to help others who don’t necessarily have the same support network she had. She wanted to help guide them through the government’s various social support systems.
Her days are made up of everything from spending time with children (and just being there should they want to talk about what is happening for them) to meeting with parents to help identify their needs. She says there is a lot of paperwork.
She might attend a meeting with specialists such as psychologists, nurses, and speech language therapists or meet with other services like WINZ. She also conducts home visits with an average of one a day and requests food parcels for families on her case load who are in severe financial hardship.
In a process called ‘Strengthening Families’, all the agencies involved with a family get together to discuss their issues and needs and find a way forward.
“This process helps us to find collaborative solutions for the family and we all go away with tasks including the family. It doesn’t mean the family gets placed at the top of the list, but it does mean that they have been heard and we are all working toward a solution with them,” says Desiree.
Desiree says that lack of housing is an escalating social issue in Manurewa. “I worked with a pregnant mum who was sleeping in the car with her two children. We did manage to find a temporary place for her and helped her get a home,” she says.
“Families are forced to live in overcrowded situations because they cannot afford to pay high rent; bad credit history has left them out of the selection for private rentals and they are not a priority for Housing New Zealand. This way of living adds more stresses including families living apart, strains on relationships, extra financial burdens, poor health conditions and illnesses. The effects of these living conditions are reflected in the children’s’ behaviours, health and emotional wellbeing at school.”
Another critical issue Desiree has identified during her three and a half years as a social worker is families’ lack of transport which puts severe constraints on their ability to attend appointments and achieve their goals. More recently, entire families have been seeking therapeutic counselling.
In addition to Desiree’s current case load, the team at Family Works is discussing how to respond to Auckland’s increasing population of new immigrants and refugees. They are aware they will need more translators and more social workers.
“We do need to develop an action plan to address the forthcoming challenges of non-English speakers and to learn more about their culture,” she says.
Desiree believes the need for social workers will only continue to rise. She says it is a role that will always be there. “The need is growing and the issues are becoming more complex.”
Family Works’ social workers in schools use a strength-based approach to work with children and families. They address issues such as family violence, housing, health, poverty, youth, cyber-bullying, working through divorce, and separation.
Desiree says their work can prevent problems from escalating, but everyone – whether groups, individuals or businesses – can do something to make a difference for families.
“Start small, don’t judge or marginalise others. Keep an eye out for neighbours and look out for each other. Volunteer if you can or donate to the food bank. Donate warm clothes, shoes and housing resources. Donate toys especially around Christmas time. The small things make a difference.”
Social workers change peoples’ lives and empower families to build a better New Zealand. If you or a loved one needs support, click here.