Zoe - refuge support worker

"What I enjoy most is being able to help our women and children envision and plan for a better future that’s full of hope and happiness."

Zoe, after-hours Family Violence Support Worker, Women's Refuge Zoe, after-hours Family Violence Support Worker
Women's Refuge, Annie North Inc

When Zoe tells someone what she does in her job, one of the most common reactions is ‘oh, that must be really dangerous’. It’s an established myth she’s keen to dispel.

“When I tell someone I’m an after-hours Family Violence Support Worker at Annie North, there’s often this misconception that we do very dangerous work. Another reaction that I hear a lot is: ‘I don’t know how you do that’. I tell people I do it because everyone has the right to live a life free of violence – that’s the future we’re all working towards,” she says.

Zoe’s first taste of working in family violence was her diploma placement at Annie North, a Women’s Refuge, where she was able to experience many different aspects of being an effective support worker.

“As a student I got to do so many things I didn’t think would be possible in a placement role: I was shadowing intake workers and case managers, helping women and children to plan, helping women with housing applications, accessing healthcare and navigating the legal system. I got to see the full scope of what a support worker does.”

Through her placement she quickly realised that this was a role she wanted, and after interviewing for a job got to stay on as a member of staff. She considers herself lucky because she didn’t want to leave the organisation.

“If you make a good impression during your placement, many family violence organisations will be keen to keep you on as staff. Many organisations will take on people who are still working towards their qualifications and have the key personal qualities needed to work in this sector.

Zoe’s after-hours role is not a typical 9-to-5 job. Starting at 4pm her shift runs until 11pm, but the phone could ring at any point during the night or early hours of the morning when she’ll rouse herself to respond to calls through safe steps (Victoria’s statewide first response service for women) or to referrals from the Police.

She acknowledges the challenges that are an intrinsic part of her work but her love for what she does is undeniable.

“There’s lots of small and big wins as part of my job. What I enjoy most is being able to help our women and children envision and plan for a better future that’s full of hope and happiness. Helping them achieve different kinds of goals, like housing, education and employment."

“One of the challenges of the after-hours role is working by myself – that can be a bit isolating and you don’t always have the chance to bounce ideas off co-workers until handover at the end of your shift."

“With clients, the hardest thing is seeing how they are sometimes negatively impacted by the shortcomings of the service system or the legal system.”

Before she got her diploma in Community Services, Zoe’s educational background was psychology and criminology. Starting off in family violence she was concerned that she might be less capable because she didn’t have a social work background.

“When I started I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the work that my social-work trained colleagues could do. But that fear was short lived because the training is there and you learn so much on the job, with mentors and supervisors to support you".

“People in this sector come from diverse backgrounds. Many of my co-workers are trained as social workers but I also work with people with backgrounds in education, international relations – all from different walks of life and with different skill sets. Sharing that knowledge is one of the best ways we can support each other.”

For Zoe, qualifications are only half of the equation and she believes that empathy and a deep personal commitment to understanding and helping others are just as important for succeeding in this field.

“Working in family violence is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. But before the qualification you need to have empathy and a strong interest in doing social work. You also need to be able to set boundaries between work and other areas of your life. Because no two workdays are the same, being flexible and able to adapt quickly are important qualities so you can respond to the situation you find yourself in".

“Having a range of communication styles is also really important. What suits one client might not suit another. You must be able to adapt the way you present information so that the person understands and accepts what you’re saying. In the end it comes back to having a real drive and a desire to end family violence in Australia.”

Career Insights panel discussion

Zoe was a member of the panel of experts for the Family Violence Career Insights event where she shared her thoughts on what it’s like to work in the family violence sector. The panel answered a range of questions about career paths, roles and opportunities in a growing sector.

In this excerpt of the event, the panel talk about starting a career in the family violence sector and how meaningful, challenging and rewarding their roles are.

Watch full recording of Family Violence Career Insights (1:17)(opens in a new window)

How to become a specialist family violence response practitioner

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

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