Meet the Team: Sarah

Meet Sarah our Head of Community Recovery Services at Royal Far West

Describe what you do at RFW: 
As Clinical Manager, Client Care, my role includes managing a dedicated team of Social Workers, an Intake Office and Care Co-ordinators in the Client Care team.

Each day is different. For example, our Social Work team may be helping families prepare for their visit to Sydney by letting them know the financial support available, or sending a pictorial social story to help their child(ren) understand a bit more about what will happen when they visit us in Manly. Leaving home to travel all the way to Sydney can be very daunting for families, particularly those who have never been far from home, and we try very hard to let them know what to expect when they stay with us.

Once a family arrives, the Social Work team members are keen to know what’s working well at home and what’s challenging. The parents and carers are the experts on their child, and it’s important that the wider team takes into account the needs of the whole family.

It can be hard to describe what Social Workers do to help as it varies depending on what the child and their family need. We may support a parent to get the help they want for their own mental health, for example by supporting a referral to the Black Dog Clinic in Sydney, or we may work with local services to advocate for more practical help, family support or therapy. Sometimes parents simply want to be listened to, and to know that we are working alongside them to help their child.

Parents are often so focused on helping their children that they haven’t had a second to think about themselves. Our Social Work team encourages parents to think about what they need too. We try to help families with this by referring them to local family support services or offering a place on our Tuning in to Kids program.

I joined RFW’s Paediatric Developmental Program (PDP) in 2012 and share the passion of the team to support family resilience and emotional wellbeing.

Our team continues to support Social Work education by supervising final year students from rural or local Universities. We particularly value the enthusiasm, skills and “fresh eyes” that students bring to the team.

Tell us about your journey to RFW
I grew up in rural Wales, and after touring the entire Australian coast in a campervan in 1994 we decided to migrate permanently in 2002.

We are so lucky to live and work by the ocean, and I “enjoy” braving the water for ocean swims all year. Our family loves venturing inland too and have enjoyed many camping and cycling adventures together.

I qualified with a Masters in Social Work in 1992, and before joining RFW I had experience in the UK working in the fields of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Child Protection. I am particularly interested in Social Work education and enjoyed lecturing on a Social Work Degree program before moving to Australia.

Before joining RFW I worked with Autism Spectrum Australia for five years and continue to have a special interest in supporting children with ASD.

Highlights of my work
I am very proud of the Tuning in to Kids parent group program we deliver. The course teaches emotion coaching skills to parents so they can help their children to be aware of, understand, and successfully manage their emotions.

We often talk to the parents about the plane safety advice of “fixing your own oxygen mask first” – meaning that before they can help their child, they need to tune into their needs.

It can be hard for rural families to attend a course in their local region, so last year we offered 11 group sessions, with more than 130 parents, grandparents and foster carers attending. The feedback has been very positive, and here are some I’d like to share with you:

“I loved talking with the other parents, sharing experiences. Recognising and normalising parenting challenges. “

“Learning how to get in touch with my own emotions before dealing with the kids’ emotions”

“Being able to tune into our children and support them before they had a melt-down, not after.”

“Beautifully explained, the language used was easy to understand, and the delivery using visuals and role play was effective.”

“The group has made me a better parent and a better person.”

“Emotions are behind everything!”

Parents and carers are amazing
One of the best things about working with the families that visit us from rural and remote Australia is their incredible dedication to help their children. They often make incredibly long journeys to get here – which can be tricky with the “are we nearly there?” questions starting as soon as they leave home!

At the moment the PDP program is in an exciting period of redesign and we are improving the quality of support we can offer families. This means we are now able to “meet” children and carers via Telecare before they make the journey to see us. This really helps the family and our team to plan for the best visit possible.

Adding TV acting to my Resume
In 2017 I was surprised and delighted to be asked to be the face of Royal Far West in our ground breaking Tin Can Advertisement, when the mother of a boy in rural Australia rings me in our office in Manly. Check out Sarah’s RFW acting debut here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyJSCt7VjqQ