Help from the Family Works SWiS (social workers in schools) service has transformed Kara Walker’s family. “Family Works has given us a new life,” she says. “It’s connected us to things we’re passionate abou, and given us hope.”

Help from the Family Works SWiS (social workers in schools) service has transformed Kara Walker’s family. “Family Works has given us a new life,” she says. “It’s connected us to things we’re passionate abou, and given us hope.”

Kara Walker is a busy and devoted mother to not only her own five children but also her 11-year-old nephew. Although committed to giving all six children the best start possible, Kara is a solo mother with very little supporting family or whanau in Christchurch, and each of her children has different needs and challenges–some greater than she can address on her own. So some years ago Kara realised she needed help—from someone she could trust and who wanted the best for her family.

Kara found that help when her eldest son, Arquead, who was 9 years old, began working with SWiS at Bishopdale school. The programme was so beneficial that the family re-engaged with SWiS in 2015, when Arquead, now age 11, was becoming socially isolated.

Angela Wilcox, the SWiS worker at Bishopdale, straight away recognized Arquead’s keen interest in tikanga Maori, a passion that Kara supports one hundred percent. “It’s important to me that my kids are connected with their culture,” she says. “I want them to know their identity.” Arquead was already involved in kapa haka at school, but Angela supported him further with connection to wananga (learning forums) held at local marae. Learning about his culture more deeply at the wananga, where he would stay overnight away from his family, strengthened Arquead’s self identity. “Since taking up kapa haka Arquead is much more confident,” says Kara. “He has a skill that no one else around him has. The effect of that is amazing!” Arquead’s proficiency at kapa haka was recognized at the wananga, and he was presented with a taiaha (a traditional spear). Arquead is now a cultural leader at Bishopdale school.

Angela also worked with Kara’s nephew, Devontay, who lives with her and who was struggling to concentrate at school and to find his place. “The first thing she asked Devontay was what he enjoyed doing.” says Kara. “Instead of focusing on his problems, she gave him a place to talk about his strengths.” Devontay attended individual and group counselling sessions, where he learnt to better communicate his wants and needs. “We discovered Devontay was interested in tennis,” says Angela. “So with financial assistance from the local Blogg Charitable Trustnd second-hand equipment from my sister, Devontay joined a tennis club.” Recently Devonte made the finals in his club’s tennis championship.

Putting his new communication skills to good use, Devontay also expressed a desire to participate in tikanga Maori through hangi, not performance. “I wanted all my children to go to kapa haka,” says Kara. “I didn’t understand they might want to connect with their culture in other ways. Even though she’s pakeha, Angela acknowledged our family value, but helped meet individual needs at the same time.”

Kara’s 6-year-old son Hampshire is working with another SWiS worker to learn how to express himself and manage his emotions—to make school and home life much easier. The social worker acts as a positive male role model for Hampshire too.

Angela is also supporting Kara to transition Devontay to living with his birth mother. “I feel like I’m stronger and more confident,” says Kara.  “Before, I would walk away from things that were difficult, but now I have the tools to face hard things like Devontay’s transition.”

Family Works services collaborate with other agencies to provide support, so through SWiS Kara accesses food parcels and budget advice. “My problem before was that I never asked for help,” says Kara. “But since I’ve started asking, it’s been amazing.”

With Family Works support, Kara now has a plan for her whanau to keep them safe, strong, and connected—a plan that values her tamariki, their education, and their connection to te ao Maori.

 

About Family Works SWiS

 

The Family Works SWiS service helps children feel safe, strong and connected. If a child at a decile 1-3 school is struggling to learn or fit in, a parent or caregiver can ask for help from SWiS. A social worker will then work alongside the child’s family, whanau and school staff to help the child develop a sense of belonging and an interest in school and learning.

SWiS workers explore family and whanau strengths and work with those alongside parents and caregivers, and teachers, to help the child understand his/her identity and sense of belonging, to create a safe and healthy environment for the child, to encourage engagement with learning, and to identify ways to improve behaviours and relationships. SWiS also provides group programmes to increase confidence and provide skills to manage situations.

To people like Kara, the help of SWiS is life changing. “School’s need these programmes because there’s people like us who don’t have family support,” she says. “They need someone they can trust.”

Last year, Family Works had … professionals (including SWiS) work with  … people across… lower decile schools in the Upper South Island.

Angela’s Take

“My relationship with Kara is a reciprocal one,” says Angela Wilcox of Family Works SWiS. “I’ve learnt a lot from her.” Angela feels she’s blessed in her job to form long-term relationships with people and families. It means she witnesses the real change that takes place in their lives. “In essence, we give them hope.”

Angela also understands the importance of community and culture to a growing young person. And she’s grateful for generous donors, who give Family Works families the means to change the path they’re on. “It really does take the whole village to raise a child,” says Angela. “I really believe that.”

Blogg Charitable Trust in Christchurch, Canterbury empowers and brings hope to disadvantaged children, underprivileged families and people with disabilities. The Trust assists community organisations by financially supporting those in need.

“It’s important to me that my kids are connected with their culture,”