Principle 9: Services will have well-supported, skilled staff

Caravan park

(Photo: Antranias)

The final part of a series of posts based on nine principles for supporting permanent residents of caravan parks which are relevant to a range of other contexts. The first post introduces the context and lists the nine principles.

Each service has two staff, one an Early Childhood Specialist, and the other a Community Worker with social work/welfare expertise. In this way, we serve dual purposes. The Early Childhood Worker’s focus is to ensure that appropriate play and craft activities are available, that give children and their carers input that is educational, challenging and above all fun! The Community Worker has a particular focus on engaging carers and working with them informally on a range of issues including parenting information, education and support, self-concept, relationship and health issues. [1]

The ability of services to support residents will ultimately depend on having skilled staff who are able to work within the context of caravan parks. Working with caravan park residents can be quite demanding and challenging, and some staff find the nature of the work very difficult. Amongst other things, staff need to be able to respond to a wide range of issues, build relationships with marginalised residents, cope with change and uncertainty, keep on side with managers whilst meeting the needs of residents, and use relevant legislation to support residents. Generally two workers are needed to run children’s programs safely and to allow them to respond to critical incidents while maintaining the safety of participants.

Implications for practice include the following:

Staff will be provided with adequate supervision and debriefing

Because of the demanding nature of the work, staff need to be well-supported through supervision, debriefing and training. Staff can also be supported through peer debriefing and developing reflective practice. Teams can be creative in the use of the time spent travelling to and from parks for team building, debriefing and reflection.

Staff will have the resources they need to undertake their work

Without adequate resources, staff will be hampered in their ability to undertake their work. For some services, the nature of outreach and going to park communities means they need equipment such as vehicles, play equipment, laptops and mobiles. Some parks have no community facilities so activities need to be run in the open, sometimes with no shade, and services need to be self-contained. For children’s services in particular, fully equipped vans to carry equipment and shelter onto the parks are important. Due to the transient nature of some residents, opportunities may be missed if there is a delay in obtaining services. Service providers that have access to brokerage funds are more likely to ensure services or resources are provided quickly and easily.

Services will encourage diversity within their staff

At the forum a workshop on working with Indigenous communities identified the importance of having Indigenous workers, and a workshop on working with men identified the advantages of having male workers. Having staff from diverse backgrounds can enhance the skill and experience base of the service.

At one of our playgroups a number of fathers were attending the group, but were not very involved. We had a male staff member who only worked one day a week, but we arranged for him to start coming to the park for a while. The sight of him sitting on the mat playing with the children encouraged other fathers to join in more. Children’s worker

Staff will regularly reflect upon their practice

Reflective practice needs to be an important component of a service’s work culture and staff need to be assisted in finding practices that encourage continual improvement. Although a number of services adopt action research as part of their model of practice, there are a variety of other processes that can assist workers to think about what works, how they can improve their practice and the evidence base for their practices.

Services will have policies in place to protect the health and safety of workers

As with any work, services have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of workers. Staff can be exposed to volatile or potentially violent situations, burnout, extreme weather conditions, communicable diseases and emotional stress. While occupational health and safety issues need to be a priority, staff also need to be able to undertake their work without restrictive bureaucratic requirements. While some services appear to be fearful of working on parks, where services have built positive relationships with residents and managers, workers’ safety can be enhanced because there are usually other people around who can provide some protection.

An emergency relief agency, which only provided emergency relief through home visits, would not come to a particular park because they had experienced problems in that park. This meant that residents were in a catch 22: they couldn’t go to the agency to get assistance but the agency was unwilling to come to them. Attempts to find a compromise (e.g. agency staff come when a playgroup was being run in the park) were unsuccessful.

Strategies such as working in pairs, going to a park when another service will be there, informing park management when entering the park, chatting with residents outside their van or in clearly visible areas, and carrying mobile phones can all reduce the risk of harm.

Staff will share the responsibility for caring for themselves

Staff also have a responsibility to care for themselves: they need to recognise their limits, seek support when needed, balance their home and work life, set boundaries for themselves and maintain a sense of hope. Services can encourage this self-care through recognising the demands of the work, providing professional supervision and debriefing, ensuring staff have time for reflection and promoting a culture that is supportive and encourages a balance between work and home. If you liked this post please follow my blog (top right-hand corner of the blog), and you might like to look at:

  1. 9 principles for supporting families and communities
  2. Principle 1: Services will make building strong relationships with residents a high priority
  3. Playgroups as a foundation for working with hard to reach families
  4. “I try and make it feel more like a home” – families living in caravan parks
  5. Building relationship between caravan park (trailer park) residents and school
  6. Families with children living in caravan parks

References

  1. Mobile Playscheme Team, Save the Children Qld, Working with children on caravan parks, in Supporting residents of caravan parks: Principles of promising practice, G. Stuart, Editor. 2007, Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle: Newcastle.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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