I think that parenting is the most important job on the planet, so supporting people to set up the best future for their little ones is something I’m very passionate about. Working as a Young Parent Case Worker has presented many moments where I have been amazed and impressed by the focus and commitment that younger people bring to parenting. It’s really inspiring to witness.
The unfortunate reality for some people, however, is that parenting can entrench and increase problems like mental health issues, educational underachievement and low socioeconomic status. Major life disruptions caused by COVID-19 and recent devastating weather events have compounded these kinds of problems for many of the younger parents I support.
I service the New South Wales Central Coast, where the proportion of mums aged 19 and under is higher than the national average. Most of the young parents (25 years and younger) I support are experiencing pregnancy and parenting for the first time. The necessary COVID-19 restrictions not only reduced their ability to receive support from their loved ones, but it also stripped away the opportunity for them to participate in vitally important social connection opportunities, like new parent groups and playgroups. Increased isolation also led to an increase in domestic violence and mental health issues for some of our clients.
As an organisation, we knew it was essential to adapt and find ways to maintain our high-quality service delivery during a time where business as usual no longer existed.
Before the lockdowns, my working day was typically spent behind the wheel, travelling all over the Central Coast to meet clients at their home or at a community space. When this became no longer possible, we turned to a virtual service delivery model. We assisted clients to set up the necessary technology on their phone or computer to ensure we could still meet. While not being able to meet in person took some getting used to, most of my clients adapted well to this new way. And that didn’t come as a surprise to me: in my experience, younger parents engage with my support best when our time together is less structured and more flexible to fit within their competing priorities. Connecting virtually or over the phone benefited this because, without physical travel involved, I could speak to them from anywhere, at any time that suited them.
FaceTime or Zoom calls also gave us the benefits of face-to-face contact, without the pressure some may feel of having a visitor at their home. This helped me build rapport with new clients and enabled me to see their home environment, to some extent, and identify supports that may be needed. It also increased my capacity to engage with more clients over the course of a day because I wasn’t losing time on the road.
Above everything else, what’s been so important during this extremely challenging and disrupted period is having strong community connections and working with people who have a shared focus on supporting young parents. Trusted relationships with colleagues and other local support services have enabled me to continue to generate great outcomes for the families I support. I feel very privileged that families allow me into their lives and trust me to have something of value to offer them.