1 September 2023

Supporting the people who support us

| Lynton Sheehan
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Lynton Sheehan and community sector workers.

Woden Community Service director of housing and community services Lynton Sheehan shares his thoughts around the need to support community sector workers. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

With our community facing challenges in seemingly every aspect of our lives, staff in the community sector are being turned to for support now more than ever. But who supports the people who support us?

To work in caring industries is to choose more than a job. Community sector staff are driven to support those who are struggling. They possess a passion to help make our systems accountable and provide those genuinely doing it tough with somewhere to turn.

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As a community, we have a shared opportunity to help the helpers. It is natural that when people seek help, they might become frustrated when those “there to help” cannot provide the right solution straight away.

Sometimes it’s easy to blame the worker for a system they have no control over. As we all work to overcome our challenges, it’s important to remember those on the other end of the phone are genuinely trying to find the best options possible.

Woden Community Service working closely with a Big Issue vendor

Woden Community Service works closely with Big Issue vendors such as Peter. Photo: Woden Community Service.

Woden Community Service (WCS) has 500 staff, most of whom are on the frontline supporting people in the community. We operate programs across the span of life from childhood education through to aged care support and OneLink, the central intake line for homelessness support.

In all our programs, more people are finding it hard to rent a house, or pay the mortgage, or feed themselves and their family. It is also tough for many community workers who are paid less than many other industries, and often struggle with the cost of living and housing pressures themselves.

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Community sector staff work long hours, with many people, to keep up with the demand. In a world that needs their passion and skills, supporting our staff is as important as their work in supporting the community.

WCS invests in a range of activities to provide support to our staff, including promoting a good work/life balance, providing strong support and ensuring effective employee assistance programs. WCS and other for-purpose organisations also work to ensure staff have the knowledge of services they need when they are struggling themselves.

Woden Youth Centre working bee

Woden Community Service staff and volunteers come together for a working bee at Woden Youth Centre. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

In the 2023/2024 ACT Budget, the government announced a $256,000 investment into training and professional development for workers in the homelessness sector. For-purpose organisations often run programs at or beyond the limits of available funding, thus training budgets are usually low.

Unfortunately, the single agency approach misses an opportunity for a whole-of-sector method to increase the “purchasing power” of individual organisations. The provision of shared, consistent sector training creates more benefits for staff to gain shared knowledge with colleagues from all organisations working in a sector.

With our ongoing commitment to our staff, supported by a clear, ongoing investment in training, we can provide a pathway for skill and resilience development. These commitments will and do help, and community organisations are deeply committed to the wellbeing of our people, but we cannot support them alone.


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