A Day in the Life of a Social Worker: Jono Cotton
Last week (7-11 September 2020) I spoke to Jono Cotton, a Palmerston North based social worker. Jono works for Oranga Tamariki as a Services for Children and Family social worker and shared with me his social work journey so far. We spoke about what led him to the social work profession, his current role and what he believes the future of social work will look like.
Jono’s social work journey began at age 46. After being a single father and raising his children, Jono wondered what he would do once his children had become more independent and was consequently drawn to social work.
Six years later, after studying a Bachelor of Social Work part time, Jono graduated Massey University with first class honours in 2015. During his fourth year, Jono had completed a placement with Oranga Tamariki in Youth Justice, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. After graduating, he accepted a role with Manline, a counselling and education service run by men, for men. Unfortunately, he had to decline the position after the hours of work changed. After being unsuccessful in applying for two other positions in 2016, Jono decided to apply for every position advertised in 2017. The first role Jono applied for was as a youth worker at the youth justice residence in Palmerston North, for which he was successful. This led to later that year being offered and accepting the role of a youth justice coordinator on a fixed term contract.
When that role ended in 2018, Jono was offered a position with Oranga Tamariki in care and protection and saw it as an opportunity to work in an area he was hugely passionate about. Two and a half years later, he is carrying out incredible work with some of Aotearoa’s most vulnerable youth.
Jono’s caseload consists of 13 to 17 year old males who are in the custody of Oranga Tamariki. More than half of the young people he works with are also in the youth justice system.
Ensuring that he approaches his work in a highly collaborative manner, Jono spends a lot of time meeting with people and coordinating with different professionals and services, such as NGOs, police, disability services, lawyers and youth advocates. Jono emphasises the importance of collaboration between such services to ensure that the young person is kept as the central consideration at all stages of their care. He also prepares family court documents such as reviews and plans. When required, he also attends youth court when his clients have a youth court appearance.
A big focus for Jono and his colleagues this year has been the transition to independence programme. Following the legislation change in July last year, every young person who has been the in the care of Oranga Tamariki for more than three months from the age of 14 years nine months is eligible for the transition to independence programme and a family group conference. A plan is worked out around the young persons’ goals, aspirations and what they want to do and how they may be best supported. A transition support worker then provides support for this young person from the age of 18 through to 21. Continued support is also available to the young person up until they are 25 if they require it.
Jono explains the importance of programs such as this as they provide the support, knowledge, skills and resources to give these young people the best possible chance at life once they leave Oranga Tamariki’s care or custody.
Jono explains the sense of pride he feels seeing the young people he works with turn their lives around and become excellent young adults.
“For example, one of the boys I work with, by the time he was 13 had 70 offences and there were serious worries and concerns for his safety as well as the safety of others. This boy ended up in the youth justice system before the age of 14. We managed to get him onto a specialist one on one programme and he went and stayed with his great aunt. After a year on the programme he transitioned back to Palmerston North. This young man has now not offended for more than two years. He is doing really well, he is involved and engaged in education, his life is turned right around. He will be discharged from custody at the end of the year, however he will continue to have support available to him if he needs it as he transitions into adulthood.”
In another case Jono “was able to take two siblings and their father on a whānau trip, where they were able to strengthen their relationships. They also met their whānau, visited their mountain, and whānau burial sites. It was also the young persons’ first time they had visited their marae. It was so important for them to gain this understanding of who their ancestors were, where they come from and who they are as young Māori persons. Without these programmes, these boys would have likely never got the opportunity to experience this.”
Jono’s workload is hugely demanding. He explains that there is so much work that is required with his clients every week that it can be difficult to keep up. Additionally, the nature of the work is that circumstances are unpredictable and rapidly changing. Jono highlights the incredible individuals he works alongside, that are often, like himself challenged daily. Resources such as additional programmes that wrap around intensive services would be hugely beneficial.
I ask Jono about the future of social work and what he believes the role of social work will be in the coming years. He explains that he hopes that there will be lower caseloads on social workers and more collaboration and partnership with iwi. While he recognises that iwi partnership has improved over recent years, he highlights that the majority of young people he works with are māori and therefore there is a critical need for cultural education.
He believes social work will continue to play a critical role in how society best meet the needs of our vulnerable young people. He emphasises the need for social work to be a preventative service rather than an ambulance at the bottom of the hill.
Jono is currently part of a group working with police to develop a programme that will allow young people who come to the attention of police as being at potential risk, to access early intervention and support services of social workers, rather than once they have ended up in an emergency or crisis situation.
ANZASW would like to thank social workers, such as Jono, who continue to tirelessly provide care and support for Aotearoa’s youth.