Tania Johnson is a proud Indigenous woman who works as a Family Services Practitioner by day and an on-call Family Violence Support worker by night. Reflecting on her career journey she traces a path back to her teens.
By the time Tania was 18 she had a baby and had experienced family violence. She also knew from a young age that she wanted to work helping families who found themselves in the same situation.
“I was something of a wayward teenager. I ended up having a baby when I was very young and I experienced family violence. I knew helping families was what I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure how to get there,” she says.
After trying to do a Diploma of Community Services online she decided on-campus learning would suit her better. She attended TAFE and later graduated.
“It was a great experience and the people there were very supportive. It was the best thing I could have done and has enabled me to do what I do now.”
Working in a women’s refuge was her second student placement in TAFE and one she remembers fondly.
“It was a fantastic experience and I’m very grateful – that’s probably why I never left!"
Working at a refuge wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would be chaotic and fast-paced; maybe something I wouldn’t be able to handle. But it wasn’t, it was a really calm environment with lots of kind people around to answer my questions. As a student I learned so much.
Although Tania is a full time Family Services Practitioner, she continues her after-hours work as a Family Violence Support worker at the women’s refuge.
“When I’m on-call after hours, I don’t always get called out and I can choose which evenings I work. When I get a call, I go to the office to pick up the work car and drive to where I’m needed. It might be dropping off clothes to a woman at a hotel, or picking up a woman to take her to a hotel or bring her back to the refuge".
“I do the after-hours work because I like the environment and the people. I get most satisfaction from knowing that we are helping save lives by getting women the help they need.”
In both of her roles she stresses the importance of having supportive colleagues around for dealing with the challenges of working in the family violence sector.
“There are organisational structures to support worker wellbeing, but for me, good support is about having someone there if I need them. Although I love working on my own, I’m lucky that I have people I can talk to any time in both my jobs.”
Tania feels that although her qualifications are important for her role, personal qualities are just as important to be a great family violence worker.
TAFE taught me how to do the job; university taught me the history of the job. You do need certain skills to work in this area, but maybe more importantly, you need to be a kind person who understands trauma. You need to be a calm soul.
As an Indigenous woman she is cautiously optimistic that the sector is evolving to reflect change and accommodate difference in Victorian communities.
“Cultural sensitivity in the sector is improving but we’ve still got a long way to go. Indigenous workers still sometimes experience judgement from co-workers. Similarly, I have Indigenous clients who are reluctant to approach Indigenous organisations in their town. More cultural training is needed because Indigenous culture is complex and can be very different from place to place".
“I also think the sector needs more men – more kind, gentle men – that can relate to the many struggling young men we have in our communities.”
For people considering a career in the family violence sector, she recommends some research and perhaps a period of volunteering to sample the work.
“Some aspects of this job can’t be taught. I think volunteering is just as important because you get real world experience and studying the history of social work is not for everyone".
“Sometimes jobs in family violence are very different to what you are shown in TAFE. I’ve found that people who are educated above diploma level are not necessarily better workers. This is a job where you really have to want to get out there and do it".
“The learning doesn’t stop when you get your diploma and there are lots of opportunities in this sector to develop your skills. Even for experienced workers the learning continues, and I think that’s a good thing.”
How to become a specialist family violence response practitioner
If you are interested in working in a specialist response role like Tania, 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.
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.
Reviewed 13 December 2020