This World Social Work Day we'd like to get you to know two Redkite social workers, Linda and Vanessa.
Get to know one of Redkite’s earliest hospital based social workers, Linda Brown, who recently retired after many years supporting children and young people with cancer and their families.
When and where did you start as a Redkite hospital based social worker?
I started in 2001 at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane (now known as Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital) as the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children Social Worker in the Banksia Ward. I shared a very small office that we called the ‘cupboard’ with another social worker. We both had a desk, phone and computer. I vividly remember us tactfully removing ourselves from our ‘cupboard’ if a parent ventured from their child’s bed to come and talk to one of us, so that the conversation could be kept confidential. This was easy, as it was so conveniently close to all the children’s rooms and we could stay in touch with how treatment was progressing just by chatting at the end of the bed (if it was a conversation that could be had in the presence of the child of course). It was also very close to the parent’s lounge where a lot of informal support work could be done with parents in small groups.
What did you do after that, and where are you now?
I left the hospital in 2006 and started working at Redkite directly, where I helped to develop community support programs for parents and young people and provided email and telephone support and counselling. Later I also worked to develop Redkite telegroup programs, group work in collaboration with Camp Quality, grandparent support and then bereavement programs.
After ten and a half years of contributing to the huge growth of Redkite’s community based support programs and being able to see the social work team going from just myself to now six, I have finally retired to spend time with my family and grandchildren and to relax and travel with my husband.
What are the main changes you've seen during your time working in this sector?
One thing I have found very gratifying is seeing the development of bereavement support for the smaller group of families who were very isolated in their experience of their child passing away and who had such scarcity of support available to them throughout their pain and healing. It was wonderful to be able to connect them with each other through our bereavement telegroups both to validate their sense of isolation and pain and to also normalise their experience. Further to that, Redkite resources such as the ‘By my Side’ book that was released last year, which focuses on parents helping other parents, are the types of resources and programs that have been significant in Redkite’s facilitation of families helping each other.
And on a personal note, I am very grateful for the ‘cupboard’ that I had at the hospital all those years ago, as social workers in hospitals these days are usually working in a department on a floor that is removed from parents and children, so the practical challenges are far greater than they used to be.
Can you think of a highlight during your time as a hospital based social worker?
Highlights for me over the five years at the hospital were always when I would receive a message on my pager to come to outpatients for a farewell hug when a family was leaving from their final treatment procedure. It was a kind of “thank you” for the support throughout the hospital treatment journey, and it was always very rewarding to see the smiles on their faces. At the same time though, I was very aware that the next part of their journey was only just beginning, which was facing the challenges of transition. That was where the next phase of my support work began.
Why is social work important to families experiencing a child's cancer?
There are so many financial, practical and emotional challenges for families going through childhood cancer. Social work is so important to families who are open to the opportunity to unload, debrief, help clarify thinking, and plan strategies for coping, and it can generally help them take a little pressure off the rollercoaster ride of stress and relief, success and crisis. It can be a shared journey for those who invite it. Helping families tap into their own resilience is an essential part of surviving the process.
Get to know one of our current Redkite funded hospital based social worker, Vanessa Seeger.
How long have you been a Redkite hospital-based social worker?
I have been working at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick for just under a year and a half.
What does an 'average day' look like?
That’s a tricky question as each day brings something new and you never know what to expect!
Generally, an average day consists of following up with both inpatients and their families on the ward and then outpatients and their families - whether this be in clinic or over the phone. My day is usually shaped by what families’ identify they need or their experience on the day. This can be providing crisis intervention, counselling to patients and their families, psycho education, providing appropriate referrals and practical assistance.
Every day I get to work within a large multi-disciplinary team including doctors, nurses, CNCs, child life therapists, music therapists, clinical psychologists and teachers to name a few. There is always something going on!
Can you think of a highlight during your time in this role?
A definite highlight is the opportunity to work with children, young people and their families, especially from such diverse backgrounds. It is a real privilege to hear their stories. Despite the hardships that they are facing, families can demonstrate such strength during an incredibly challenging time.
One of the other highlights in this role is working within a strong and supportive team. I am one of 3 social workers in the Kids Cancer Centre and together we work cohesively to provide holistic psychosocial support.
Why is social work important to families experiencing a child's cancer?
I feel that families would be the best people to answer this! But I hope that they might say something like: social workers are present, and provide psycho-social support throughout a family’s experience with cancer. ‘Being present’ may look different to each family but I hope that we are guided by families and their needs.
We meet families at diagnosis and provide support throughout their treatment at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, until coming off treatment, and then beyond with follow up. Initially social work is there to support children and families adjusting to the new diagnosis and the treatment, and assist them with navigating the hospital system. Social workers also provide counselling to families as the cancer diagnosis can impact family functioning and relationships. Families are often separated from each other with treatment. They may be remembering past losses that impact their current experience of treatment. We are also involved in bereavement support, both from a practical and therapeutic perspective.
To find out more about Redkite's social workers, click here.