Case manager Hamsa Kunaratnam works closely with women from refugee and migrant backgrounds in Victoria that have experienced family violence. She got her start after a successful student placement and has stayed with the same organisation for the last four years.
She came into the family violence sector as a mature student completing her Masters of Social Work, and like many of her work colleagues, had worked in an unrelated field before studying to join the sector.
“I work with people from a range of professional backgrounds. One of my colleagues was an engineer in her home country of Egypt; my background was in mass communication and media, when I worked in the UK. It’s really about having a passion for social justice and helping people, and then you can draw on your experience,” said Hamsa.
I was able to bring skills from my previous profession, such as the ability to communicate effectively, to listen, to speak clearly and make yourself understood. These are key skills in family violence work and in figuring out what the client wants and needs as they move from the point of crisis to a more stable future.
Flexible work hours are important to Hamsa as she has young children. Her current role gives her that flexibility, while the work engages her in helping people to make positive changes in their life.
“My job is never boring – I work with very diverse clients in different situations and with different issues. This diversity means you often have to think outside of the box to understand people’s situation and be able to help them.”
Hamsa works with clients during the crisis phase and beyond, to help them get out of a family violence situation and to support themselves. That might involve helping them with an intervention order or helping them access services. As migrants and refugees, her clients often face additional and complex barriers, so she must also help them navigate the service system in Australia. These barriers often call for a different kind of thinking and an intimate cultural awareness.
“In some communities, there can be a lot of shame and self-blame attached to family violence. A person could be experiencing family violence at home, but may still go to a temple and present as a nuclear family. They feel conflicted: they might want to leave the relationship, but at the same time don’t want to let go of the community they know. Even though they want to make a life for themselves in Australia, they still care about what relatives in their home country might say if they leave their partner.”
Hamsa proudly relates a recent case where she collaborated with multiple services to get the best outcome for a family who had arrived in Australia. The mother already had a young child and was pregnant with a second when she experienced family violence and ended the relationship, which left her with no access to income. When she gave birth, her child had a disability and the father did not acknowledge paternity.
“By working together with multiple agencies, we were able to connect the mother with a refugee legal service and help her get her own apartment, access some income and be able to look after her children and get on with her life.”
According to Hamsa, the family violence sector is changing, diversifying and becoming more aware of the need for culturally responsive services.
“Our organisation is proof the sector wants to provide better responses and support to culturally diverse communities. If a service provider doesn’t have that cultural understanding, or they are struggling with a client, they will consult us and we’ll work with them following a co-case management model. We also provide culturally responsive training and can help different organisations, such as government and the Police, work with clients from refugee and migrant backgrounds.
“In Victoria, there has been a shift towards working with perpetrators of violence as part of the prevention strategy. There’s also an increasing emphasis on the drivers of family violence, respectful relationships and gender equality.”
For people considering a career change or a start in the sector, Hamsa has this advice:
“Family violence work can be daunting, but the rewards are really high. When I started working in the sector, I didn’t have reservations because I immediately felt comfortable and knew that I could bring some life experience insights to the role.
“There are many layers and many opportunities in family violence. I recommend trying a placement as a way to see if the work suits you. Placements are often intense and give you a lot of insight and a realistic experience of working in that environment. You know what to expect.
When I tell people what I do they often say it must be hard, but I always respond by telling them how rewarding it is, because ultimately, my job is to empower people and help create real transformation in their lives.
How to become a specialist family violence response practitioner
If you are interested in working in a specialist response role like Hamsa, you may be expected to have completed a qualification in Social Work, Psychology, Counselling, Community Services or equivalent.
Some specialist family violence roles, such as case workers and case managers, may require formal qualifications such as a Bachelor of Social Work degree or equivalent. Other roles available within the sector would suit those people with broader skills and experiences.
Specialist family violence response workers can work in the following areas:
- victim support services (undertaking intake and assessment, crisis intervention and support, and case management work)
- refuge services
- perpetrator services (including Men's behaviour change or case management work)
- court advocacy and support
- therapeutic support and counselling
Reviewed 19 February 2021