“The middle-man”

By Christine @ MSF

Christine is an assistant senior social worker at MSF. She works with the ‘systems’ side of social service, as the liaison between those in need and the various agencies. She empowers the families by navigating the systems with the families, attaining holistic and coordinated assistance to support these families with multiple needs, advocate for the families through social reports and inter-agency case conferences.

Acting as the middle-man is never easy

As a social worker for close to 13 years, Christine acts as a bridge between families and the various agencies. One part of her role involves supporting families in-need cope by assessing their needs and helping them find the best way to overcome the challenges they face at home.

These see her juggling between conducting site visits – such as to homes, hospitals, and the prison – and going down to various organisations together with the families to handle the legislative and administrative work.

Christine recalls a family of eight (a single mother with five young children living with the maternal grandparents) that she has worked with for more than a year.

Like many of the cases she has worked on, the case involved multiple needs – family conflict, financial difficulty, medical needs, unemployment and a history of family violence.

The complex family dynamics often saw her caught in-between family members, such that every home visit felt like a “settlement talk” between several parties.

Harsh words were frequently thrown around; and doing what she could to defuse the tension in the air as a mediator often saw Christine at the receiving end of much of the verbal torrent.

One particular issue the family struggled with was being able to meet the educational needs of their eight-year-old son. Afflicted with special needs, Derrick (not his real name) required support services in school – where having a support teacher shadow him at school for 1.5 hour a day would cost upwards of $1500 per month.

Trouble brew when a sense of entitlement set in and assistance was not streaming in as the family would like.

Yet weaving through the legislative web on the “systems” side often proved complex for Christine as well.

For example, her efforts to seek funding for Derrick from the agencies came out flat, as assistance for the shadow support teacher was deemed beyond the organisation’s purview or beyond ‘basic funding’.

“The ‘Systems’ would often ask me too – “Why? Why should we do this? Are the families doing anything to help themselves?”” Christine said.

It is situations like these that often puts Christine in a tight spot. As an individual, there are many decisions that she is not able to make by herself. Instead, various agencies come together to arrive at a compromise to help the families be self-reliant and have their basic needs met.

When asked what keeps her going, Christine said:

“It is the sense of satisfaction I get with every little progress the families have made. It is also amazing to see how the different systems have shifted in their response towards helping the family – from one that has minimal involvement, to one that works collaboratively to help the families.”

Christine is also working on the Strengthening Families Together (SFT) pilot, that enables vulnerable families to access resources that will help them be more resilient, while raising the developmental prospects of their children. The pilot, which started in April 2016, also facilitates inter-agency collaboration to provide holistic and coordinated assistance to families with multiple needs.

It is through celebrating each small milestone, maintaining an opened mind and taking things in her stride that has helped her power through the day-to-day challenges in social work.

And softly, Christine added, “I tell myself: you are only there for a year, but for them (the family in-need) – it has become part of their everyday life.”