The demanding and challenging days of a social worker

Lydia Rae, Taranaki District Health Board's social work professional lead, sees traumatic events on a daily basis but ...
SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF

Lydia Rae, Taranaki District Health Board's social work professional lead, sees traumatic events on a daily basis but knows her job is vital to the community.

In Lydia Rae's job, she bears witness to some of the most traumatic, life-changing events a person can experience. 

Tumours found in children, premature babies whisked away from their mothers for life-saving treatment, and toddlers with unexplained bruises and broken bones are just a portion of what the social worker sees day to day.

"It sometimes feels like you're being asked to solve an impossible situation," said Rae, the social work professional lead at the Taranaki District Hospital Board.

Artist Paul Rangiwahia has been invited to speak at Taranaki Base Hospital in conjunction with Social Workers Day.
Jane Matthews/STUFF

Artist Paul Rangiwahia has been invited to speak at Taranaki Base Hospital in conjunction with Social Workers Day.

"But it's not about me, it's about that child and that family and making sure they are going to be OK."

Rae's role includes supporting families of deceased, sick or injured children admitted to hospital. It can take an emotional toll - but it's also meaningful work she holds dear.

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Wednesday is New Zealand Social Worker Day. To celebrate social workers and their efforts Rae has invited artist Paul Rangiwahia to present his piece - A Mental WOF, a daily dose of wellbeing - at Taranaki Base Hospital.

"It really resonates with us, with self-care," Rae said of the artwork. 

Rae said she and her colleagues work within a multi-disciplinary team including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and dieticians, primarily receiving inpatient referrals that can come from any department in the hospital.

When a child goes to the Emergency Department with an unexplained bruise or fracture, the hospital's social workers become involved, Rae said, working alongside the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Tamariki Ora and police.

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"We do unfortunately deal with a significant amount of family violence and child protection," she said.

During her 20-year career Rae has been in a number of situations  where a child has died and she needs to discuss practical information like funeral arrangements with grieving parents.

"And to support them to come up with a plan to cope with the next few days, or few hours really."

Another fraught situation is when children are unexpectedly rushed to Starship Hospital in Auckland.

"Sometimes when that transfer happens, families may only get two hours' notice.

"So you can imagine what it's like to come in here thinking you have a routine appointment or your child's not well and you've been told it's 'something they need to rule out' and they're needing to transfer out of area."

And Rae has watched tiny babies be plucked straight from delivery and urgently flown to Waikato Hospital.

"It's not an uncommon circumstance, unfortunately, say mum might become unwell after delivery so is not able to travel straight away."

While she admits social work is challenging, Rae applauds those families and her colleagues for surviving it all.

"Social work, in an acute setting, is very demanding and is not for everyone," she said.

"Some of those things really stick with you but it's about trying to remember what your focus is, and that's to support that family in that moment." 

 - Stuff

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