Please tell us about your background.
I worked as an accountancy assistant in local government after leaving school at 18 in the UK, but after 4 years of this I decided the community sector was for me as it fitted with my values. After 3 years of uni and a year backpacking around Australia I returned to the UK and started work in the homelessness sector in 1995. Then in 2001 I moved to Melbourne and started working at the St Kilda Crisis Service in their homelessness refuge. This was an interesting experience at the crisis end of the homelessness service sector.
Since then I have worked in transitional housing as a Tenancy Manager for VincentCare and Housing Outreach Worker in the Social Housing Advocacy and Support Service of HomeGround Services. Working in homelessness is a very tough gig as there are so few affordable housing options for the most vulnerable people and public housing estates can be a very challenging place to live.
Around 2010 I decided it was time to move away from homelessness and enrolled at Victoria University in the Financial Counselling Diploma.
What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?
The opportunity to advocate for vulnerable people at an individual and systemic level. A mix of systemic advocacy and individual case work.
What are the unique aspects of your role or the area you work in?
I work with a wonderful team of AoD clinicians at Uniting ReGen in the day rehabilitation programs. The majority of my clients are engaged in some form of AoD treatment, but the nature of addiction is that it is rarely a smooth transition to abstinence. Indeed, abstinence may not be an achievable goal. I provide financial education sessions to the clients in the day rehabilitation programs and offer face-to-face financial counselling as well.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
I am in the privileged position to be flexible with clients, being able to ‘hang in there’ with people experiencing very challenging times, especially when they are in the chaos of addiction which can lead to poor physical health, homelessness and entanglement in the criminal justice system.
ReGen recently received this email from a client we have not seen since 2014, “Hi I’m writing to see how I could contact Jo Parkin. I would like to thank her for her financial advice that turned my life around. I’m eternally grateful for all she did and would love to be able to let her know.” This is what makes it all worthwhile.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the financial counselling sector?
Financial counsellors are just seeing he tip of the iceberg. We need more financial counsellors as the level of poverty and indebtedness in Australia is extreme for such a rich country. I feel financial counsellors have the experience and passion to be great advocates for systemic change to alleviate the extreme poverty facing people on Centrelink incomes, the working poor, refugees, asylum seekers, to name a few.
The challenge I face as a financial counsellor is balancing time-hungry complex caseloads with the need to collaborate for systemic change.
What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?
My most valuable resource is the wisdom, support and knowledge of a great group of financial counsellors. As a new FC in 2012, I was employed at Uniting ReGen and was lucky enough to be mentored by Garry Rothman. He continues to be my supervisor. It is sometimes hard being a sole financial counsellor but the ability to call on the ‘brains trust’ of experienced FCs at other agencies makes it all possible.
And now the easy questions…
What is your favourite book?
What TV show are you currently watching?
The Handmaids Tale and Big Little Lies are my current favorites but 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown is good for a laugh.
What artist are you listening to at the moment?
Difficult to narrow down a favourite, but 90s Brit Pop is the genre! with Manic Street Preachers, Blur, Suede, Pulp, Oasis with a sprinkling of Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, The Killers and of course Queen and the Foo Fighters.
What is your favourite podcast?
I love the BBC Radio 4 Friday Night News Quiz, I listen as soon as it is available. Makes me laugh every week.