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When Sarah* turned 48 a change in her life meant she was unable to keep working as a practice manager in the medical field, a role she had enjoyed for more than 26 years. After deciding to do volunteer work at Women’s Information Referral Exchange (WIRE), she realised she had found a new calling. 

“WIRE was my first introduction to family violence. I found the work very fulfilling and I loved the vision of helping to empower women. I could hear a change in their voice at the moment they realised they were not alone and that there are options,” she said. 

Sarah discovered that many of the skills she learned in her previous role were transferable and she decided to return to university full time for 2 years while continuing to build her professional experience and confidence working to support women at WIRE. 

“Being paid to work at WIRE while I was studying was an opportunity to put what I was studying into practice. After I finished studying, I knew I wanted to work in family violence so I applied for lots of jobs, just trying to get my foot in the door,” she said. 

For the past year she has worked 4 days a week at EMERGE Women and Children Support Network as a family violence crisis case manager and picked up casual work with another organisation doing response work after hours. This allows her to support women by building trust over time in her case manager role and to provide immediate support in her casual role.  

“My after-hours work gives me a different kind of exposure because I’m working at the coalface, responding to a woman’s needs right then and there. For example, we might hear from a woman in a motel room with her children: they might need nappies; they might need emotional support or they might need a plan to keep themselves safe. You address their needs and you don’t see them again, whereas my case management work is more long-term and focused on building relationships and empowering women,” she said. 

Although every day in case management is different, Sarah sums up her role as a relationship builder with the aim of supporting women to take the lead and move forward with their lives. 

“It’s all about listening and talking with someone, being transparent, validating their experience and offering choices. When they come to you their needs will vary. Sometimes what I think they should do right now might be different to what they expected to hear. That’s why trust is so important and why I really enjoy advocating for women as part of my job". 

“The sector offers a lot of opportunities for professional development and not all roles involve working directly with the woman. When I considered a mid-career change I didn’t realise how many of the skills I already had were relevant to being a case manager.”

*Not her real name, name changed to protect privacy 

How to become a specialist family violence response practitioner 

If you are interested in working in a specialist response role like Sarah, 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

If you are interested in volunteering in a specialist family violence agency to decide if the sector is right for you, you can contact service providers directly to see if they have any opportunities. 

For more information on working in a specialist family violence role, please look under types of roleson the Family violence jobs hub.

Reviewed 13 December 2020

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