Executive Officer’s message

Executive Officer’s message

On 4 February 2020, Dr Grant Blashki, chief clinical advisor for Beyond Blue, launched FCVic’s report Counting the Costs. The report draws on comprehensive research identifying just how widespread the levels of stress are for financial counsellors in Victoria, and identifies recommendations to the various system stakeholders to help manage the risks posed by heavy and unrelenting demand from crisis casework. FCVic is sending the report to agencies and funding bodies with correspondence inviting their consideration of its recommendations, and we look forward to further dialogue about these issues. They are complex and the demand drivers are not going away, but this just emphasises how important it is to protect financial counsellors from the risks posed by the situation.

Our colleagues in other states have been very interested to see the work we have done in this space, and the Financial Counsellors’ Association of NSW (FCAN) last year undertook a survey, adapted from our instrument and using the same researcher to ensure it would be possible to compare the data.  They will be publishing this work soon.

Speaking of launches, on 16 March we will be formally launching our new name, along with a 40 year history of the organisation. All members and associated stakeholders are welcome to attend, and you can register to attend here.

We are also excited to announce that we have been awarded a Statewide Carers partnership grant, through Department of Health and Human Services. The grant is for $730,000 over three years, and will involve developing financial counselling and financial literacy awareness and service delivery models with carer groups in Victoria, in collaboration with Carers Victoria as their peak body. This is an exciting opportunity to develop not only a wider awareness of financial counselling, and also training and development that will help FCs to work effectively with carer clients, but to develop an evidence base about the impacts from a boosted financial counselling engagement with the carers sector.

Alongside these developments, we have continued to work on supporting the sector in responding to the bushfire devastation in the East Gippsland and Upper Murray regions. Bev Kliger (along with her colleague Meredith Carter) and Annette Lumsden have been doing the leg work in this area for FCVic over the last month, but it is important to acknowledge the hard work and demands on front line financial counsellors and their agencies, which will only be increasing as demand for assistance picks up in the affected areas.

Lastly, I want to thank Kate Meakin, my executive assistant for the last 6 months. Kate has an opportunity to undertake a masters in her field, along with teaching work so is leaving us. She has been a valued member of our team, and it would have been great to have her for longer, but sometimes when opportunity knocks people have to go to the next thing. We wish her all the best in her future endeavours.

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Interview with Sarah Brown-Shaw, Consumer Action Law Centre

Please tell us about your background.

I am currently employed by Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) as a Senior Financial Counsellor , where I have been working on the National Debt Helpline (NDH, previously MoneyHelp) for the past 8 years. Prior to this I worked as an Enquiries Officer at Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) – where I would answer questions relating to various pieces of legislation including Residential Tenancies, Fair Trading (Now ACL), Owners Corporation, Motor Car Traders & Domestic Building amongst others. My background is  actually in Youth & Community Development. I worked as a Youth Worker for about 15 years both here and in the UK – but not long after moving permanently to Australia (in 2002) decided that I’d like to do something completely different so I settled for a nice comfortable part time government job which suited me perfectly when my children were little.

What motivated you to pursue financial counselling?

I first found out about financial counselling when I was working at CAV. The enquiries team would often refer people to financial counsellors and I became curious about what FCs do. Once I found out I thought it sounded amazing! With my background in Youth/Community work as well as my knowledge of legislation, I thought it sounded like a great fit for me. The timing was perfect too as there were limited opportunities for career progression at CAV – especially for those needing/wanting to work part-time and I was getting restless. I remember emailing FCRC back in 2010/11 to ask about becoming an FC and was informed about the Diploma of Financial Counselling that was about to start at Vic Uni (2011) so I signed up pretty much on the spot & haven’t looked back!

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

I absolutely love my role at CALC/NDH. It’s funny because I never really imagined staying in this role for this long! I was initially taken on as a trainee as I was still completing the diploma. I think I imagined staying for a couple of years and using it as a bit of a stepping stone but 8 years on I’m still here. What I love about my role is the variety, my day is never boring. As well as working on the advice line, I’m regularly involved in training and supporting new staff, working with policy, speaking to external groups about our service and the work of FCs, hosting various VIPs for ‘A Day in the Life’ and I also get to work at the Federal Court every second week as a financial counsellor which I particularly enjoy. There’s always something going on in the office – late last year we hosted Scott Pape and his entire film crew!

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

We often focus on the ‘big ticket’ wins and obviously there is a strong focus on systemic issues for good reason, but for me I think some of my proudest achievements have been the impact I have had on an individual. Knowing that I’ve made a difference to that one person, being able to give them hope, to listen & not judge, to show them care & compassion, to relieve some of their immediate stress, offer some practical support (e.g. referral to a food bank) get them linked in with a local FC service for ongoing support and advocacy – that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. The impact that we have on peoples lives cannot be underestimated. It can literally be lifesaving.

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

The biggest challenge I feel in the current political climate is definitely funding. For such a critical service that FCs provide, it’s outrageous that many have to practically fight to keep their jobs at the end of each funding cycle. There needs to be stability and certainty that the funding will be there, it should not be dependent on who’s in power at any given time and what their particular views/priorities are. I do feel that as a sector we need to be far more creative about where we obtain funding and not rely so heavily on the Government (both State & Federal).

What has been the most valuable resource or advice you’ve received?

I feel that I have been extremely fortunate coming into the Financial Counselling sector. The year I did my diploma was the first year that the diploma had been offered by Victoria University and coincided with the requirement that existing FCs needed to have the diploma. As a result, I found myself studying alongside a fantastic group of talented and experienced people – most of whom were working as FCs and had been doing so for quite some time. The expertise of the student group was invaluable to someone like myself who was brand new. I was also fortunate to have Bernadette Pasco as my tutor, as well as my supervisor for several years after qualifying.

My colleagues and co-workers at CALC, including my manager Penelope, have also been and continue to be an amazing resource. When I started as a trainee I felt so fortunate to be working alongside FC’s who had 10, 20+ years of experience. That’s a lot of knowledge to be passed on.

What book are you reading at the moment?

I love reading. I probably read 1-2 novels a week. I can’t get enough of reading – it’s definitely one of the main ways I unwind. I recently read The Tattooist of Auschwitz which I really enjoyed – so I ordered the sequel Cilka’s Journey from the library which I just finished on the weekend. I seem to have developed a particular passion for historical fiction lately – another book I absolutely loved was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.

What TV show are you currently watching?

The vast range of shows available on Netflix is a little overwhelming at times – there’s just so many great shows to watch. I recently finished watching The Crown . I’m not a royalist at all and really surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. Other shows I’ve enjoyed recently have been Years & Years (UK post Brexit – scary stuff) and have just this week started watching The Stranger (British thriller) not sure I should be watching these shows in bed just before falling asleep though!