Financial Counselling and Elder Abuse – Update

Financial Counselling and Elder Abuse – Update

Financial counsellors play a vital role in the prevention of financial elder abuse. Our elder abuse project is funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and aims to strengthen the links between financial counsellors and Victoria’s elder abuse prevention networks.


Throughout June, we held 21 webinars that aimed to strengthen the links between financial counsellors and other community services working with older Victorians. An incredible 600 participants registered for the webinars, which resulted in a great geographic coverage of Victoria – represented on the map below (click to enlarge the image).



Julie Watson of Merri Health, lead of both the North and West Metro Elder Abuse Prevention Networks, said “the relevance of this topic was demonstrated in the terrific response we had to the four webinars held over the last couple of weeks. In total the two Networks had around 100 community sector staff participate in the webinars. A useful and productive collaboration is possible even in the middle of a pandemic!”


Our delivery partners have included the ten Victorian Elder Abuse Prevention Networks, the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria and Australian Multicultural Community Services.


“Great to know that there are experienced & willing financial counsellors out there to help our vulnerable clients! Thanks.”



“I feel that I have more confidence in asking those difficult questions to our clients knowing that I have the resources to assist them. Thank you again, the webinar was very informative.”


Focused on the theme – How can financial counsellors help? – these interactive webinars have provided valuable insights from practising financial counsellors. Mike Kirkness of Latrobe Community Health Services gave a rich account of how he works with older people and their other support workers. A cast of willing FCVic members were kind enough to volunteer their time for the live Q&A in each webinar.


“Good to learn more about the scope and breadth of financial counsellors’ role.”


FCVic’s project on elder abuse is continuing for the next three months – working on closing service gaps we have identified to date and broader community messaging around elder abuse prevention.


Contact: Project Lead Dr Suzy Goldsmith sgoldsmith@fcvic.org.au 0413 587 486 for more information.

Interview with Mona Mrad, Uniting

Interview with Mona Mrad, Uniting

Please tell us about your background.

I have been a Financial Counsellor for over 20 years, and during that time I have worked in many programs and with many funders.  I started as a generalist Financial Counsellor, a Family Violence Financial Counsellor (yes, 20 years ago we had family violence funding and CALD funding), and Gambling Financial Counsellor. I have worked with CALD communities, and been involved with community education, financial literacy, microfinance, energy and community housing.

Positions I have held include Program Manager for Financial Counselling and Community Housing for over 10 years, and a Team Leader Financial Inclusion as well as being a Professional Supervisor.

During that time I have had the opportunity to mentor, supervise, manage, recruit, work with, and support many new and highly experienced financial counsellors, whilst keeping a close connection with community and clients.

I am particularly proud of our work during the Black Saturday Kinglake Bushfires in 2009, as I was one of the first financial counselling responders, followed closely by the whole financial counselling team at Uniting Kildonan working seven days a week, taking it in turns to support the communities of Kinglake and surrounds.


What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I first heard about financial counselling whilst completing my BA Degree in Community Development, which was surprising as I was working with and supporting CALD communities, was on the board of the Migrant Resource Centre and had worked with Women’s Health in the North. I enrolled in the financial counselling as an elective subject and thought this is where we can make a real difference to clients. I was amongst the first group to complete the newly developed two year Diploma Community Services (Financial Counselling), and graduated in 1999. I completed my first placement with Peter Gartlan at Coburg Brunswick Legal Service and Financial Counselling in 1997.


What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?

I work with an organisation that has provided many opportunities to work on innovative programs that support clients and the community, including energy, financial literacy, micro-finance, community housing and many outreach services, Credit Helpline (now NDH) and to hospitals.

I have enjoyed working with a great team, a highly committed, experienced, caring, supporting team, who make a great positive difference to their clients every day. Getting great outcomes and making a difference to client’s health and wellbeing. We constantly get positive feedback from clients and other agencies to thank the financial counsellors for the positive difference they have had on their lives.

Amongst the many opportunities provided, I have appreciated the opportunity to consistently be involved with community education especially to Aboriginal and CALD communities, to empower communities, by providing them information about their consumer rights, and the availability of financial counselling and other services.

Some client feedback for the FCs: “I will never be able to thank you for all that you have done for me.”

“You truly are an incredible lady. Your kindness, caring and compassion you have shown me is second to none.”

“Just want to say thank you and your team for all the support I got in a difficult time of my life and for the overwhelming result which I would’ve never been able to achieve myself, such a wonderful result. Once again thank you very much.”

The work is rewarding to know we are making a difference.


What has been your proudest achievement to date?

There have been many achievements as there have been many firsts, but working at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) stands out. I was the first financial counsellor to work at the RCH in 2003, which started off on the oncology ward, and supporting those families. Providing them with support, and advocating on their behalf to allow them to care for their child and spend precious time with their loved ones.

That work resulted in receiving funding for five other hospitals, which I coordinated. We had a financial counsellor at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Monash Hospital, Mildura, Horsham, Newcastle and Brisbane Hospitals. That is a great achievement, and a service that is greatly needed.

As I always say, I believe that there should be a financial counsellor at every hospital. A financial counsellor to advocate for clients who are under great stress, and often experiencing trauma, to provide information and explain options, and to make a difference to clients who are not in a position to advocate for themselves at that time.


What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?

Ongoing funding is always an issue for financial counselling, and financial counsellors need to have the security of knowing that they will always have funding.

Financial counsellors need to feel supported by their agencies, and their managers need to know and understand the complex work of financial counsellors, including working with:

  • The complex and ever-changing nature of legislation and policy related to financial counselling.
  • Clients with mental health issues.
  • Victims of family violence.
  • Perpetrators of family violence.
  • Clients suffering from addictions.
  • Clients in extreme financial hardship.
  • Clients impacted by the bushfires, and other natural disasters.
  • COVID-19.

What has been the most valuable advice you’ve given?

“We do the best we can, we don’t have a magic wand.”

”We have a great resource with a wealth of experienced financial counsellors. If not sure, always ask.”

“Listen to your client, build rapport, believe your client’s story, advocate, and show compassion.”

“Be passionate about making a difference”


What TV show are you currently watching?

I am watching Anne with an E on Netflix as I had in my younger years enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables and the set of books by the author Lucy Maud Montgomery.


What is your favourite app?

At the moment, with COVID-19, I like WhatsApp as it is free and I can video call my Mum, send and receive photos, videos, voice messages txt etc. even with no sim card in the phone.


Thanks to FCVic and FCA for the resources and CPD.

Integrated Services Project – Introducing our Family Violence Project Lawyer

Integrated Services Project – Introducing our Family Violence Project Lawyer

The partnership between FCVic and Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), the Integrated Services Project (ISP) aims to improve client outcomes through financial counsellors and social security lawyers working together more effectively. SSRV has two other specialist projects: The Family Violence Project and Disability Support Pension Project. This month, we’d like to tell you about the Family Violence Project.

The Family Violence Project explores family violence and social security issues. Community Lawyer, Anna Morrow, leads the work in this area which includes providing legal advice and casework services to people affected by family violence and workers assisting them, researching the intersection of family violence and social security law, exploring opportunities to engage with family violence specialist services, providing community legal education/professional development, and developing further resources for workers assisting vulnerable clients.

 

Case Study from the intersection of Social Security issues and Family Violence

Sasha* a lawyer at a Community Legal Centre contacted the project worker in relation to her client, Jill*, who had a $27 000 Centrelink debt. Sasha had been assisting Jill in relation to Family Violence Intervention Order proceedings as well as other legal matters related to the family violence. Sasha was looking to refer Jill to SSRV for assistance with the Centrelink debt.

The SSRV lawyer accepted the referral and took the matter on for representation. Jill had moved house multiple times and did not know where all her relevant paperwork was. At Jill’s request, the project worker liased with Sasha to obtain copies of evidence issued in her other legal matters. The CLC lawyer also provided a letter in relation to the assistance they were providing Jill to corroborate Jill’s evidence. While the project lawyer was in the process of preparing Jill’s appeal for debt waiver, Sasha contacted them regarding another issue that Jill had raised in relation to her child support. The project lawyer assisted Jill with this as well.

The collaborative relationship between SSRV and other community organisations is crucial to achieving the best outcomes for clients as it ensures access to crucial evidence and information and prevents other legal issues from falling through the cracks.

 

Intersection between family violence and social security

Family violence intersects with social security matters directly, where the social security system is used as a tool to perpetrate family violence, and indirectly, where social security issues arise out of the presence of family violence.

Social Security matters where family violence intersects include:

  1. Centrelink debts due to the ex-partner making false reports to Centrelink about the victim being in a relationship or having the care of their child;
  2. Family violence perpetrator threatens to ‘dob’ the victim into Centrelink. This impacts the victim’s capacity to leave the violent relationship;
  3. Where a family violence perpetrator withholds information about their income and this results in the victim receiving a debt;
  4. Where someone is unable to comply with their obligations to Centrelink due to trauma from family violence or having to flee a family violence situation;
  5. Residency or visa issues resulting in an inability to access income support and flee a family violence situation;
  6. The rate of payment is insufficient to secure safe accommodation;
  7. The person has difficulty establishing their entitlement due to not having access to their identity documents, or not meeting strict eligibility criteria.
 

Collaboration with Financial Counsellors

Social Security matters where family violence is a direct factor generally enter SSRV via a community support worker. Financial counsellors in particular, play a crucial role in the safety and wellbeing of someone who is experiencing family violence. Financial issues impact a person’s ability to flee a violent relationship and often it is financial counsellors who are the first to identify these issues and provide support or link the client to appropriate legal services.

The Family Violence Project aims to work closely with financial counsellors and other community workers to strengthen referral pathways and work collaboratively from the advice stage to the legal representation stage, so that victims of family violence receive wrap-around and trauma informed support.

 

Get in touch

Please contact Anna Morrow (anna@ssrv.org.au) at SSRV to discuss the Family Violence Project and related services and activities. We are keen to hear from financial counsellors about family violence issues impacting upon your clients and their social security entitlements and to discuss potential collaboration opportunities.

 

Advice lines

Worker Help Line – 0429 450 346* or 03 9481 0655

Financial counsellors are invited to call the SSRV Worker Help Line, Monday to Thursday, 9.00am- 5.00pm, for information and support in assisting clients with Centrelink matters and to make referrals to SSRV.

General Advice Line – 0419 793 652* or 03 9481 0355

Individuals can be referred the SSRV General Advice Line, which is operating between 9.30am -12.30pm, Monday to Thursday.

These are the primary pathways for intake and assessment for further legal casework and representation services.

 

*Direct mobile phone numbers to telephone advice services while SSRV delivers services remotely during the COVID-19 response period. Calls to the usual numbers will be diverted to these mobile numbers.