Overcoming a Damaged Childhood

28th of November, 2017

Jo Corr joined Aviva just over one year ago in a new role of part-time Child Support Worker. She specialises in working with young children who have experienced family violence, and who have been named on a Protection Order. Working with children who have experienced trauma, and supporting them past their experiences, is a passion for Jo. As a Forensic Psychologist in the UK she worked men in prison serving life sentences. It was there that she saw how many of those men had been significantly affected into adulthood by troubled childhoods. “That motivated me to pursue work with families and children in order to contribute to the early interventions that can make a huge difference to children’s future outcomes” says Jo.

Jo

Understanding how children think and process things is critical in Jo’s work as children who’ve experienced family violence are often scared to talk about it. “Any discussion around family violence is always taken at the child’s pace. One of the most important things is to reassure the children that they are not responsible for the problems that their families have experienced.” says Jo. “From there, I tailor sessions to suit each child’s needs and personality. The sessions are educational to a certain extent but they are framed in a supportive way. I always let the children know that there are no wrong answers in our sessions, and no tests! There is a lot of play and games as that helps makes them feel comfortable.”

The most important thing in Jo’s work is the children’s safety – “checking that they are safe in their homes and with their families. Beyond this I aim to increase their understanding of what they have experienced, raise their awareness of their own emotional responses and help them to recognise their own strengths and talents. It’s so great when I get a breakthrough with a child, when they demonstrate what they have learnt or when a parent messages me and lets me know I have made a difference.”

It can be challenging work, Jo admits, but the challenges are not from the children. “The scale of family violence in New Zealand can feel quite overwhelming” she says. “Also time constraints can be challenging. I am allocated a certain number of sessions with them (by the Ministry of Justice funding model) and sometimes it’s just not enough.

The limited resources of the social sector are a frustration too. “Unfortunately there are limited options within the community for onward referrals for the children once I have come to the end of my time with them. Most services for children in Christchurch seem to be overstretched.  Many of the children I work with have supportive families or someone in their wider whanau who is a great role model and will make a really positive difference to their future well-being, but many - especially the boys - don’t. They demonstrate such vulnerability, kindness and empathy - these qualities should be celebrated as strengths by male role models in their lives.”

Despite the challenges and frustrations, Jo loves the work she does and names the best part of her job without hesitation - the children. “Every week I meet children who amaze me; it’s a privilege to spend time getting to know them. They all have great qualities and huge potential, and they make me feel very hopeful for the future.”