Angela Wilcox is a hands-on person. Living in the United Sates in the 1990s,
she and her partner ran their own restaurant. Back in New Zealand they are in the process of carefully restoring an early 1900’s villa and its gardens. The need to see practical results led Angela to train as a social worker five years ago.
“I spent four years volunteering for Lifeline,” she recalls. “Listening to people’s stories, hearing their need for practical support
and not being able to offer that at the end of a phone was difficult,” she recalls. After working at Child Youth and Family and then Pillars Angela came to work as a Social Worker in Schools for Presbyterian Support. With a degree in psychology and a
Masters in Education Angela says the role is a perfect fit. “It combines everything I love to do,” she says. And importantly, it gives Angela a sense of practical contribution. Social Workers in Schools, are based in low decile schools. They work with children and their families who may self-refer or be referred by other agencies or school staff.
The reason for referral can be varied – social and behavioural concerns, risk of isolation (for immigrant families for example).
“My role differs from client to client,” says Angela. “I may work with the entire family, a parent or a child one on one. A lot of the
time it’s about linking-in families to services that they might not know about, applying for funding for things like after school
activities and advocating for them when they do seek support. Very often, my job is about supporting people to make change. Change is so often frightening and it’s difficult to make when you are afraid or depressed.”
Angela’s focus is on creating an atmosphere of trust. From there she can begin to break down the misperceptions that lead to
some of the anxiety her clients’ experience. “Many clients are fearful of agencies, they may see asking for help as evidence of
failure. I spend a lot of time encouraging them to change their world view, to see that attending a parenting course or taking
some budgeting advice is actually adding to their toolkit, and not an indication that they have failed in some way.
Angela also runs boys’ and girls’ groups at each of the schools with the aim of building resilience for participants. The first sessions focus on building group cohesion and developing self awareness and then we move on to other topics such as bullying, how to work as a team, how to make good decisions and managing our emotions. Angela believes that learning
runs both ways: “One parent explained she uses putting macaroni in a jar as a reward system. It’s now a tool that I share with other families. A young boy I worked with showed me how he’d scribbled figure eights around and around when he was angry. Around he’d go until his touch got lighter and he had calmed himself down.”
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