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Articles by Family Help Trust Staff Members

The Christchurch Housing Crisis & FHT Clients: A social workers experience...

by Dawn Jefferies, 11th June 2012


There are still numerous issues facing Family Help Trust (FHT) clients regarding rental housing even though it is more than 15 months since the February 2011 earthquake. In many ways this issue has reached a crisis point.

After the February 2011 earthquake many of our clients, just like many other families in Christchurch, had to move out of their homes due to safety and repair concerns. Now more clients are having accommodation issues with earthquake repairs beginning on rental homes combining with the severe lack of affordable safe housing.

The following are four examples of the type of housing issues that FHT families from my case load are currently facing.

Feb 2011: A young family with a three and a half year old who were renting in Dallington had to leave their home immediately after the earthquake as the home was uninhabitable due to structural damage, liquefaction and flooding. The family’s only option was to pitch a tent in a family member’s garden. Although they received excellent financial support from the Red Cross it still took three months for the family to find alternative accommodation, and moving their belongings out of their damaged property was another challenge as many household items were damaged and unsalvageable. They had no insurance.

Jan 2012: A client and her four year old temporarily left Christchurch after the quake and then returned eleven months later. She struggled to find accommodation as she had bad credit and no entitlements through Work and Income. In the end desperation forced her to take up a tenancy in a green stickered home in a red zone area of Avonside. Unfortunately when the client went to Work and Income for bond she was told that Work and Income will not pay bond or rent in advance on homes in the red zone. Luckily the client was able to negotiate with the landlord to pay extra on her rent until the two weeks bond was paid off.

Feb 2012: A client on home detention with a one year old was given notice by her land agent so earthquake repairs could be completed on her rental property, she was told if she wanted to move back in her rent would be going up. Because the client could not find alternative accommodation and did not have a fixed address which was a condition of her sentence, she was recalled to prison. Fortunately because of the FHT mothers and babies in prison project the client was able to take her one year old inside with her into a self-care unit for one month until Housing New Zealand found her a home.

May 2012: A client with her eighteen month old and three and a half year old had to leave her rental home in Parklands after being there for three years so earthquake repairs could be completed. The landlord then gave the client notice to end the tenancy because a family member was going to move into the property. The only option she had after not being able to find alternative accommodation was to stay at a friend’s home and pitch a tent in the back garden as the home was already overcrowded. Frustrated and worried about her young children sleeping in a tent in winter she went to the media and a business man sponsored the family to stay in a motel temporarily. After six weeks she found a lovely private rental home in St Albans but the rent was $450 per week. She was required to pay nearly $2500 rent and bond in advance so went to Work and Income for help with the outstanding costs but they refused to advance her the money as the rent was too high. She managed to borrow part of the money from family, but also made the hard decision to return to work as an escort to pay for the rest and to also afford the rent each week.

Social Workers across Christchurch are struggling to support clients to find accommodation and it is reaching a crisis point with few options and minimal resources to deal with this predicament. I know I personally feel powerless to find appropriate solutions for clients, even for the short term.

In the media we hear the City Mission is turning men away from their night shelter because they are full, Christchurch residents are displaced, and thousands of workers are due to relocate to Christchurch to help with the rebuild. I am perplexed, how can we accommodate all of those in need of urgent accommodation?

With fewer rental properties, higher rents, no family supports, no financial means, bad credit, no references and limited options to access the large amounts of money required for rent in advance and bond, our clients are finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We are now in the grip of winter and social workers have a responsibility to ensure clients and their children are safe and well cared for, but we also must acknowledge that families are doing their best in really difficult circumstances, and that their living situations may be less than ideal. The challenge for social workers is to decide if these housing issues are putting children at risk of harm or neglect as basic needs are often not being met, often through no fault of the parents but because of the terrible natural disaster families are still struggling to recover from.

(Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, 1943)

Five years on ...

by Maggie Riddell, 14th July 2008

Recently Family Help Trust has cause for celebration as a young mother successfully graduated from our program after being with our service for five years.

The young mother who I will call Anne initially presented with an assortment of issues. She had two children, one aged three and a new born. Anne was on the methadone programme; however she continued to seek illegal drugs. This placed pressure on her financially and she appeared unable to prioritise the care and needs of her children.

To supplement her income she stole from friends and family members, selling or pawning stolen items so that she could fund her addiction. Working on the streets was another way that Anne funded her addiction. This choice of employment placed her at risk of emotional and physical harm.

Anne knew and acknowledged her situation was dire and that she could lose her children. Nevertheless she continued to place the children at risk by placing them in unsafe situations. She would often leave the children alone in the car for hours on end while she purchased her drugs and partied with other addicts. My priority was to begin the process of ensuring the children were safe and we were able to do that by working closely with extended family members.

With family members unable to find a solution and friends quickly disappearing, she found herself isolated from any sense of normality and her social life consisted of tenuous relationships with others suffering from addiction. Family members did however continue to care for the children and ensure that a daily routine was maintained. Family Help Trust worked with family and the day-to-day care removed from Anne until she had completed the necessary work on herself.

What Anne did do well was to be at home for our weekly appointments and this combined with her honesty enabled me to be aware of what was occurring, which meant that I was aware of what was happening in the home. I monitored the risk factor for the children by ensuring they received medical treatment when required. Regular visits to the preschool to check on the children's development was also part of my role.

After a time Anne began to listen and take small steps to put her life back together. Weekly visits continued and our relationship was sustained by honest communication and awareness on her part that my concern for both her and the children was genuine.

Four years later and she was no longer on the methadone programme and is completely drug free. Anne no longer uses alchol or tobacco. A savings account was opened and she is now saving to buy her own home.

Five years on and at the time of her graduation Anne is attending an education facility and training to be a social worker. While the older child continues to struggle in the school system, it is likely that this could be a result of early parenting. The younger child is developing well.

The staff at Family Help Trust are proud of Anne's accomplishment and we all wish her and the children well.

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Little Miss 3½

by Dawn Jefferies, 26th March 2008

I know Christmas has its "ups" and "downs" and in our line of work a lot of our focus as social workers is on assisting families with the "downs". However I am reminded of a truly inspiring story that lifted my spirits and reminded me there are also stories of great courage and I believe this is one of those stories.

Little Miss 3½ is an only child, bright bubbly and very smart. She was attending an end of year function, and Mums and Dads were there mingling and chatting with each other. It was a hot summer day and a paddling pool had been put up for the children to play in.

No one except Little Miss 3½ noticed that a little 15 monther had crawled to the side of the paddling pool and fallen in. Little Miss 3½ without hesitation ran to the pool and pulled the baby out of the water saving it from drowning. This incident happened in a blink of an eye. It was then that the adults realised what had just occurred (and what could have potentially happened).

Little Miss 3½ received a special bravery award from her pre-school just before Christmas. 2007 could have potentially been a bleak Christmas for the family of the 15 month old if it hadn't been for Little Miss 3½'s quick actions and her inherent/instinctive concern/regard for another human life.

I have to say I am extremely proud of this young lady, her story really touched my heart, and that is why I thought I would share this little gem with you!

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Christmas 2007

by Maggie Riddell, 5th December 2007

Welcome to the social workers page on Family Help Trust website.

Christmas has arrived and everywhere I go I hear festive music. Family and friends are talking about what to buy for loved ones (or not). While I too am looking forward to what this time of the year offers in regard to a holiday and quality time with family, I am reminded of the families who do not enjoy this time of the year.

A variety of reasons contribute to the lack of enthusiasm for our clients at this time of the year. The ones that come to mind are those on limited income, with no close extended family and childhood memories of their own dysfunctional experiences.

What our clients achieve through the year is a credit to them, making a commitment to lifestyle change so that their children will have advantages that they did not have while growing up. Working with the families around this time of the year inspires me as I talk with them about putting their own traditional stamp on the festive season.

A mother with two young children has decided to make pancakes for breakfast on the day. This might sound like a simple thing to do but for this mother it is about changing the only pattern she has ever known. Many of our caregivers make choices that take courage and strength and they do this because they want something better for their children.

As I reflect on the past year and the work we do I cannot help but be reminded of the purpose of Christmas. It is a celebration of birth and the lesson for all of us must be to care and celebrate children and what they add to our lives. If caregivers are encouraged and supported to address issues in their lives that have a negative affect on children then I want to celebrate their courage, commitment and success.

I hope that all readers have a wonderful time over the Christmas break and appreciate what it is that enables them to do so.

For all the families I have worked alongside I congratulate you on your success and look forward to catching up with you in the New Year.

For those of you who have contributed to the running if the agency I would like to say thank you and for you to know that the achievements we have are made possible through your generosity.

Happy Christmas to you all.

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