My job: “an amazing privilege”
PSA delegate Amy Ross talks about her job and why she wants community social workers to come together.
What’s your job?
I’m a community social worker at St Vincent de Paul in the Wellington area.
What does it involve?
People primarily come to us because of poverty and hardship and all the complex issues that go with that. It’s an amazing role as I’m able to offer practical assistance in terms of food and clothing and furniture as well as emotional counselling and development planning.
What are the biggest challenges?
I think it’s seeing the level of desperation and hardship that people come with. They may be working 60 hours but they still can’t pay the power bill. Everyone wants an opportunity but the poverty trap is very real. Wages are so low and with rising prices, money is worth so much less. Working for Families is the saving grace for a lot of families, the only thing that keeps food on the table.
What do you like about your job?
The people. I feel deep respect for the people who I work with. I get to meet people from all different cultures and life experiences. I’m constantly learning from them and gaining an ability to see the world through other people’s eyes. It’s an amazing privilege. And I passionately believe social workers have an opportunity to make social change.
Tell me about the PSA network you’ve helped set up
In any meeting of community social workers you see a whole lot of tired faces. People are exhausted and often isolated in different agencies. We have lost the ability to support each other and respond collectively to issues. The Social Workers’ Action Network – we call it SWAN – is to bring community social workers together. As soon as I began talking about a network, everybody was: “Yes, that’s it!”. It’s begun to really take off.
We are starting it off for community public service workers, primarily because the sector is poorly unionised and we’re really behind in terms of pay and recognition. But ultimately we aim to include all social workers.
Why did you become a delegate?
Because I believe in the power of collective organising. In the community sector, people are often working in small teams and think the union can’t do anything for them because there are only three or four employees. I thought if I get involved I can bring issues to the attention of the union and try and make it work more effectively for people who find it difficult to access union support.
And is that working?
I’ve found the PSA has been really responsive and engaging. Everybody seems to be on board and we’ve had amazing support in getting SWAN off the ground.
What do you do in your spare time?
I’m doing a Masters so that’s taking up a huge amount of time. My thesis is examining social workers who graduated since 2000 and how they understand social justice and implement it in their practice. One of the big obstacles I’m hearing about is that they are getting directives from management that are in conflict with their practice standards or social work code of ethics. I hope the thesis when completed will provide some impetus for the social work community and the PSA to seek change.
What about recreation?
What spare time I have I like to spend with my partner and good friends. Reading is my true form of recreation. If ever I’m really stressed I sit down and read a book and it calms my mind.
This article is from the June 2011 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.