COVID 19 poses many challenges for financial counsellors in Victoria. ‘Working from Home’ isolates workers and expands their needs for support and risks to wellbeing, and FCVic has an important role to play in supporting our members and responding to those needs. We are holding regular zoom meetings of networks and working groups to reduce isolation and provide avenues of support.
At the same time, proper welfare assistance from the Commonwealth has shown how quickly a difference can be made to poverty and hardship where there is political leadership. There has been a clear reduction in need for financial counselling assistance in many areas. Yet an air of unreality pervades. We can anticipate a looming hardship crisis, as relatively generous jobseeker and jobkeeper allowances are reduced or ceased, but unemployment remains at high levels and the economy struggles. There is a small window at present to prepare for what is likely to be an unprecedented wave of demand. The Federal government has put funding into the sector to help it expand and prepare, and we are urging the State Government to partner with us in planning for this in Victoria.
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.
EO’s report – October 2019
As this issue of Devil’s Advocate goes to press, we see the end of a significant month for FCRC. At our Annual General Meeting on 9 October, the organisation resolved to adopt a new constitution, and a new name to go with it. From 2020 we will be known as Financial Counselling Victoria (FCVic). Watch out for more information about our rebranding and launch, probably to take place in March 2020. In the meantime, the fact of the change has triggered many to ask why we had the old name for so long, and why it seemed not to describe us very well. Our old name referred to the fact that in the late 1990s when it was adopted our organisation also represented Consumer Rights Advocates (positions that were defunded back in 2005). Also, there was a service organisation in SE Melbourne that had the name Financial Counselling Vic (Inc) that was only wound up last year, freeing the name up. It was a happy coincidence that these events all coincided with a constitutional review process that enabled the adoption of the new name.
The adoption of a new constitution, was the culmination of a long consultative process of development, guided by a constitutional review committee established by the FCRC Board. Members of that committee did an enormous amount of work scoping out issues, surveying members on constitutional options, then drafting and reworking and consulting further. The new constitution is not perfect (such documents never are), but it is an improvement on the old document, with more clarity and transparency over important principles and the role of the Board in establishing policies to guide our functioning. There are new member categories – including students as a separate category for the first time; the clauses on professional conduct have been substantially revised, along with greater clarity about the role of the Board.
In the meantime, the world keeps turning, and advocacy for improved hardship practices continues to be important. The State Government is running a review of Council rates at present, and FCRC will be making a submission, alongside WEstjustice, advocating for significant improvements in council practices via establishing more rigorous requirements for councils on how they treat citizens in hardship. Our submission will be on our website once it is finalised, and we are hopeful that the many councils with poor practices will (be required to) lift their game substantially as a result.
EO’s report – August 2019
As the winter months slip by, the preparations for our conference and Annual General Meeting continue apace. We now have a draft new constitution out for comment, after a lot of committed work from our constitutional review committee. I want to acknowledge the work of David Balcombe, Maria Turnbull and Patrick White who volunteered to join the committee and who have attended meetings, read drafts, emailed and engaged with a range of drafting issues. Our Board members do enormous amounts of voluntary work for FCRC in their roles, and those who have been on the constitutional review committee should also be acknowledged, in particular Norm McMurray who has chaired the committee for the last 14 months, as well as Cathy Clark and Colin Harte. Last year Heather Barclay and Jenny Elvey also made valuable contributions.
Over the last two months we have also begun engaging with State Trustees, and we are working to develop stronger links between that organisation and the financial counselling sector. We welcome State Trustees’ constructive engagement with the Victorian Ombudsman’s review of their organisation, and genuine desire to work with and learn from our sector as part of a stronger focus on their clients’ interests. A lot of our training has potential relevance to State Trustees; one good example relates to elder abuse. Thanks to funding from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, Bernadette Pasco has developed a two day training course for financial counsellors working with older persons at risk of or experiencing elder abuse. This training has been run twice now in July and August, with great feedback from participants. Bernadette is continuing to work with Elder Abuse Prevention Networks on including financial counselling as part of the service framework for older persons at risk of elder abuse.
You can find out more about this and other work at our conference in Ballarat in October.
Executive Officer’s message – June 2019
This month, the FCRC Board adopted its new Strategic Plan for 2019-2021, which has been the result of a consultative process with our members. The plan acknowledges the need for sector expansion, while ensuring the wellbeing of our financial counsellors.
Through the development process, we were able to identify areas of priority such as achieving reliable and sustainable funding, and establishing value and respect for financial counsellors and the profession. These are not new areas in the organisation’s goals – having formed part of our expiring Strategic Plan of the past three years – they are indicative of the level of ongoing work that still exists for FCRC to address these points. It is worth noting that the plan was drafted with a tone of optimism ahead of the federal election outcome, and that we maintain a positive outlook for the capacity and recognition of the sector in the future.
FCRC will be focused on developing new collaborations with other sectors. We are currently drafting our submission into the Mental Health Royal Commission to highlight the mental health co-morbidities of financial stress and vulnerability, and the need for financial counselling to form part of a holistic response to mental health treatment and prevention. We will continue our work in the Aged Care and Health Care sectors, through Bernadette Pasco’s work on Elder Abuse Prevention and Integrated Models of Care (IMOC).
Sector standards is an area where FCRC will carry on its leadership role under the new plan. Having adopted the National Standards for Membership & Accreditation under our previous Strategic Plan, our focus will now shift to maintaining that high level of professionalism, with adequate supports in place to ensure quality and consistency of service delivery as we head towards expansion. Sector standards will also provide practitioners with safeguards against the risks of stress and burnout.
FCRC’s next major piece of work will be its report on sector wellbeing, in regards to worker stress and workloads. This is an area of vital importance to our members – who made detailed submissions to our survey – so we are taking our time to ensure that the information and recommendations we deliver are thoughtful and effective. Drafting of the report is now in its final stages.
All of this work, and the organisation’s strategic direction, ties in well with our conference theme for this year: Expanding Horizons. We are excited to share with you all of the new opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for the sector. Registrations are now open, and we hope you can all join us in Ballarat in October.