Financial advocacy is helping alter the life course of vulnerable families in a state-first at Centacare.

Financial advocate Jacki Whittington has joined the multidisciplinary Targeted Intervention Service (TIS) on the frontline of child protection.

The unique service model pairs Jacki with families in which financial stress is a major contributing factor to placing child safety and wellbeing at risk.

Working in partnership with a senior practitioner, clinical nurse, and case manager, the financial advocate provides in-home, trauma-informed support to families facing complex challenges, such as intergenerational poverty, financial abuse and rising debt.

A large part of Jacki’s role is to help caregivers to understand their psychological relationship with money – and why they make certain choices that contribute to their financial hardship.

For example, overspending on and hoarding food because of their own experience of childhood neglect.

“You cannot underestimate how much people who have walked a life of trauma, abandonment and deprivation, are at the mercy of government departments and the incomes they receive,’’ Jacki said.

“The over-compensating for children’s birthdays as part of their own sadness; The binging when they get paid because they just want to feel normal; The self-harm that follows when they’re left with nothing.

“The choices they make around finances are just another reactive behaviour, except, with money, it’s make or break.’’

Jacki has been awarded an Energy Australia scholarship to undertake a Diploma of Financial Counselling which will allow her to increase the level of support available to families.

“You can’t make someone change just by saying `this is what you need to do’ because their relationship with money is not the same; you need the context behind their decisions,’’ she said. “This is their walk.’’

Through TIS, familes are empowered to identify and `awaken’ their strengths in order to build financial literacy and competency. In addition, they are supported to develop tools to track and achieve financial goals.

Currently, Jacki is working with 12 families within TIS which supported 150 clients in 2017/18.

Recently she started a weekly financial support group for young women engaged with Centacare’s Young Family Support Program at Malvern Place. The service provides support and accommodation for young pregnant or parenting women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

TIS Manager Michelle Warner said the introduction of financial advocacy had closed a gap in accessible financial counselling for vulnerable and socially isolated families.

“I remember one family where there were six attempts to support them to a community-based financial counsellor,’’ Michelle said.

“Even if they do get to there, it’s an hour-long appointment talking about what’s in front of them – not why they got here or how this has happened.

“We are learning that, just like with families who will share with nurses things that they might not share with case managers, the permission of this role has enabled families to really focus on income and expenditure and explore the why.’’

Centacare will soon replicate the model across Reunification Services.

Case Study

A young family is evicted from their home due to unpaid rent.

They move into a relative’s house but continue to overspend which places significant stress on their relationship.

The children display challenging behaviours at school and appear to have no food.

The mother feels shame.

Jacki begins working in partnership with the family.

She recognises that the mother is spending her entire fortnightly income on groceries.

Jacki supports the mother to understand why she is hoarding food.

This is traced to the mother’s own experience of neglect as a child.

Her way of feeling safe as an adult is to buy more food than the family needs.

Jacki works with the mother to identify her strengths.

Together they develop some simple tools to shift the mother’s relationship from hoarding food to buying less and saving more.

Gradually the mother begins to achieve small financial goals.

She experiences the pride of being able to pay outstanding debts.

This encourages her to keep saving and, in less than two months, she is able to reduce her food bill by more than half.

By understanding her relationship with money, the mother is empowered to make positive change.