While life feels like it is somewhat back to normal, for many in our community, normal was not a good place to begin with.
But Covid-19 and the lockdown has added another layer of complexity, with job losses, an increase in domestic violence, and negative impacts on mental health.
One charity helping to address these issues at the deeper level is Families Achieving Balance (FAB). FAB provides a free social service to vulnerable families in our community dealing with issues such as trauma, financial stress, homelessness, and relationship break downs.
Their team of qualified social workers do this through advocacy and mentoring, family meetings, individual and group support, youth programmes, parenting courses, and telephone support during working hours.
The charity receives referrals through a wide range of community groups and services. The police are the major referrers, but enquiries also come from a variety of other service providers working in collaboration to strengthen the family. They also take self-referrals through their website and 0800 number.
Families Achieving Balance have no specific criteria on who their services are provided to, helping anyone who asks for it – no matter their age or ethnicity. Families Achieving balance will act as a navigator to the appropriate services if they cannot provide the supports and specialities needed.
Since Covid-19 and the lockdown, the charity has experienced increasing demand, with need up by 80%.
Heather Johnston, Families Achieving Balance Manager, says the charity is dealing with greater and more complex needs.
“We are busier than ever and can hardly keep up with the demand. We are also seeing more complex needs. While a referral may come through for misbehaving teenagers or relationship issues, after we do a thorough assessment, more often than not we’re finding significant underlying issues that need to be addressed such as poverty and family violence.
“We’re seeing a lot more of these deeper issues coming through since Covid-19. But people can’t progress in their journey if they are only addressing one of these issues. Someone could be in therapy, attending specialist programmes elsewhere but if they are worried about housing, have no income, no food, and their teenagers acting out, they cannot move forward.”
Heather says the charity has been working in new ways since the lockdown to address all these issues and help people progress on their journey.
“We’ve developed strong collaborative partnerships with other agencies and are seeing a real difference for our clients. We refer out to the specialist services such as Tauranga Living Without Violence or Tautoko Mai Sexual Harm Support, and then we do all the systems work that falls under that. This includes support at lawyers and court, investigation into finding finances for counselling, or helping with applications for specialist health options when services have turned them down – anything that falls within a family’s needs, which are all unique.
“A Kaumātua offered me this proverb as a way of work many years ago that perfectly explains the model that we want to work under. ‘Me Uru Kahikatea’ – it relates to the kahikatea tree which outgrows any other tree in New Zealand. It only grows like that when it is supported in the unseen world, in the swamps, by its neighbour with their root systems intertwined. This is just like our work – everybody is supporting everybody else. How do we grow our families taller and stronger? By supporting them in the unseen world, picking up on all the issues and walking beside them to achieve goals they set for themselves.”
Families Achieving Balance applied for funding through the WBOP COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help meet their growing demand by increasing their staffing hours until the end of the year.
The fund, established by funders TECT, Acorn Foundation, BayTrust and Tauranga City Council, aims to help key Western Bay of Plenty community groups survive the medium-term impact of Covid-19.
Heather says the $14,000 they received is most certainly doing that.
“This Recovery funding has been absolutely vital. We are so grateful to our local funders – we couldn’t have survived financially without it. The funding has allowed us to increase our senior social worker’s hours by one extra day a week, which makes such a huge difference during this time.
“We have over 50 clients, and only two social workers, so we are extremely busy and working beyond capacity at the moment. But we do what we do because we are passionate about it – we are helping individuals and families heal and create a brighter and new future for themselves. This funding is allowing us to do that.”
To learn more about Families Achieving Balance or to self-refer, visit www.fabct.co.nz or call 0800 322487.