We spoke to Madeleine from Annie North, a women’s refuge and family violence service in Victoria's Loddon region, on her role as Client Services Practice Coordinator.
Can you tell me a little bit about your role?
Being from a small organisation, I wear a few different hats. My current role is Client Services Practice Coordinator, which means I am a Team Leader for our client services staff. Within that, we have three small teams: the Case Management, After-Hours, and Therapeutic teams.
I am responsible for recruitment, training, day-to-day oversight of the staff, staff reviews, and providing clinical supervision. I am also part of the management team, which encompasses strategic operations to work towards the strategic plan, and quality-related duties. I look at client feedback to determine how we can improve the services, making sure that we are meeting accreditation standards and updating procedures. So, I cover a broad range of roles.
What led you on to a career path in family violence?
When I finished my university degree, I had originally pictured myself in child protection services. And then I realised that might not be for me, but I wanted to support children. That was one of the things that attracted me to a position in refuge.
“At Annie North, we have always seen the children as clients in their own right and brought out their voices. As a refuge, we get to see kids in a way that a lot of other organisations may not get to. We are part of their day-to-day life.”
I applied for a job at Annie North back in 2008, as a Case Manager. Since then, I have had different roles including case management, intake, and team leader. My current role focuses on practice leadership rather than direct client work.
Over that time, I have seen the organisation really grow and develop new programs. We have taken on the regional After-Hours Crisis Response service for Loddon region and built a secure core and cluster facility. That has been exciting, there is always something new.
Can you describe a day in the life of a Client Services Practice Coordinator at Annie North?
Our team starts the day off with a morning check-in with the after-hours worker. The after-hours worker responds to family violence incidents in the local region overnight. This may involve bringing in an on-call support worker, advocating with police, or finding accommodation.
Then we plan our day. We respond to any crisis or client need that has arisen overnight. My day is often full of other meetings, such as case management or therapeutic team meetings – to plan, review client feedback, identify any gaps and ways to improve things. I provide supervision for staff, meet with external services over Zoom, or arrange guest speakers to come and talk to the team. I am often called upon to provide guidance to team members. I have to be pretty adaptable in my role.
What have been some of the highlights and challenges of your role?
A highlight has been moving into management. I have had the opportunity to have a look behind the scenes at the work involved with meeting accreditation standards and implementing different reforms. Keeping procedures and practice up to date is time consuming and a lot of work goes into supporting the work of the Client Services team.
Transitioning from a team member to being a leader has been a massive area of growth for me. It is not something I would have pictured myself doing earlier, but it’s been great and it’s definitely where I see myself now.
“I quite enjoy having the big picture and seeing how our different teams fit together and where our organisation fits within the sector. When I review files and write up case studies, I can step back and have a look at the work that we are doing and see that it is meaningful.”
Working in a small organisation is rewarding, because we all know each other well, and it is really supportive. There is a great energy at Annie North.
Are there any highlights or challenges working in a regional setting?
The advantage of working in a regional setting is that the services collaborate well. It’s helpful for our clients that we can do case management and have other local services come to the refuge to support them. Even prior to the MARAM reforms, because of the size of Bendigo, some of the cross-organisational partnerships have been in place for a long time and have been working brilliantly.
Some of the challenges of supporting women from regional and rural areas can be around being on our guard for potential conflicts of interest working with women from our local area. When a woman comes into the refuge that we know from school or through childcare, we must be aware of the impact that has on their privacy. We also need to be mindful that women might know each other as they come into refuge, the community is closely linked. So that’s something that we’re regularly navigating.
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on your team and your clients?
Like everyone, it has been really hard here. One of the impacts for our refuge clients was that most services moved to remote delivery. So, the wraparound support services pulled back, and we saw many clients’ mental health really, really struggle. Especially, seeing Aboriginal people disconnected from their community, from Sorry Business and other events. It was heartbreaking.
We have experienced staff shortages with people caring for children at home or taking sick leave when they have a cold. Becoming short staffed can happen quickly and can be quite disruptive for clients. That’s an ongoing impact.
We noticed that the referrals to the after-hours service picked up as well. Due to the shift to remote service delivery, there were system gaps and clients were not feeling supported by services in the same way. It was a challenging time and it has been an emotional drain for clients and for workers.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a career in the family violence sector?
I always recommend studying social work. I didn’t realise how beneficial it would be until I’d worked in the field. Looking back on so many of the subjects I studied, I can see how it all fits together. When social work students come through and share what they’re learning, it’s an exciting time.
When I started in the family violence sector over a decade ago, the word “feminist” was not a very familiar label for me. There can be misconceptions about what it means to be a feminist. I am proud to call myself a feminist and work in a feminist organisation.
But this is a time when family violence and women’s experiences are talked about openly, intelligently. There are new programs and new funding to support our work. There’s a lot of energy in the sector- it’s a great time to join the field.