In my role as EO for Bonnie’s I spend a lot of time behind the desk but a few weeks ago I found myself being a case worker again for half a day. Quite a few years have passed since I last did casework but as many of the staff were sick and others were at training we had fewer hands on deck and for the sake of practicality, I put on the case worker hat.
We had received a request from another refuge – in a coastal country town, to support a woman and her little girl to make the move from Sydney to a safer location. Bonnie’s agreed to support the woman and made contact with her by phone. She had received some advice from a legal service about her rights and options and had managed to make contact with our sister service who fortunately had a vacancy.
I was struck by the woman’s openness when we spoke and how her situation meant she had few options but to put her faith in Bonnie’s… which she did.
I picked her up at the home of friends of friends, where she stood in the drive way with a small group of women who were crying and hugging her – they had only known her a very short time, but they presented as family. As she got into my car, one of them pressed a phone into her hand.
As we headed down the freeway towards the city, she sat quietly and watched the suburbs fly by. I wanted to chat but reminded myself that it was OK to sit with the silence and allow her the space she likely needed to process what was happening. When she first got into the car she told me a bit of her story and about the abuse she had experienced and how she had reached the decision that she was not going to put up with this anymore. I admired her strength and her determination – in a new country, unable to go “home” but still taking this leap for herself and her child.
By the time we reached the heart of the city, I could see that she was feeling overwhelmed. It was late afternoon and the plan was that I would leave her once she had checked into the hotel and I would return in the morning to take her to the station. It was all seeming pretty straightforward.
But soon I was remembering that for a caseworker, things are rarely ever straightforward! It turned out that she had never stayed in a hotel before and the little things that we take for granted came rushing back to me. For example, this woman had never used one of the smart cards that make the electricity come on and she had no idea about the snacks in the mini bar. Were they free? Did she have to pay?
I had taken a bag of snack foods and noodles with me, provided by one of our Family Workers, but I realised that of course, this Mum and her child would need something more substantial before I returned in the morning. The woman was in a strange city, with a small child and it would soon be night time. The last thing she wanted to do was leave the hotel so we found the menu and organised room service for dinner and breakfast. And then it was time for me to leave her.
She assured me all was well and I knew she was safe and comfortable. But still it was hard to say goodbye for the evening and leave her there, sitting up straight on that neat double bed in a sterile hotel room in the middle of a big, unknown city.
When I returned the next morning, they were waiting for me in the foyer: checked out and ready for the next leg of a long journey.
It was a surprisingly profound experience for me, putting that caseworker hat back on. The hat still fitted luckily but it did take a while for me to trust that.
It was a surprisingly profound experience for me, putting that caseworker hat back on. The hat still fitted luckily but it did take a while for me to trust that. I had forgotten how complex our client’s situations can be, how deeply a caseworker needs to see into their client’s needs and how resourceful we need to be. I appreciated anew the role a great caseworker plays in supporting our clients to their next big step.
My hat’s off to you… (until next time I need to put it on again!)
Written by Tracy.