Think back to when you were 18. Statistics indicate that if you are reading this in hard copy, you're well over 18! Did you live at home with a parent or guardian, or maybe at a college? How independent were you? Were you a tenant, as opposed to a family member or boarder? Did you have to negotiate a rental agreement? Did you know not to wash whites with colours? What about grocery shopping and planning nutritional meals? Did you have someone nearby whom you could ask for advice and support?
Starting out on the road to independent living is never easy, whatever your age. How much more challenging if you have, for whatever reason, lived in an Out of Home Care (sometimes called Foster Care) situation, and at 18 you are required to become independent? Even if this happens a few years later, it can still be daunting.
The reasons for young people being placed in Out of Home Care (OOHC) are many and every case is different but neglect, abuse or a family crisis may come into play. OOHC provides a safe and stable environment but this can’t always be maintained as the young person moves toward adulthood.
CatholicCare Social Services Hunter Manning youth caseworker, Matthew Hooey, is well versed in such scenarios. Matt admits that social work was not his first career choice – the IT path he had mapped out suddenly took a wrong turn and he all but fell into a TAFE course in youth work. He finds the work challenging but rewarding, and says with confidence that is justified by client feedback, “I get results.”
“I come from a family of tradies and no one else in my family has completed the HSC. I was the only male in Year 12 at St Francis Xavier’s College doing Community and Family Studies. I’ve always been interested in decision-making and different living situations.
“My parents taught me respect, courage and all of those types of qualities and family is a big part of my life, absolutely.”
Matt’s now studying psychology through distance learning at the University of New England, and hopes eventually, with added experience and maturity, to work in the OOHC field. Currently, Matt is a caseworker in two CatholicCare programs: Supported Independent Living (SIL) which assists young people 16-18 years to make a smooth, supported transition from foster care to independence, and the After Care program for those aged 18-25. This program assists young people who have left OOHC and need assistance to access services and their leaving care plans. Caseworkers in these programs help with finding accommodation, teach skills such as budgeting, housekeeping and personal care and safety, support financial self-sufficiency and make a real contribution to preventing homelessness.
Perhaps the greatest attribute Matt brings to the programs is his awareness of what he doesn’t know. “As much as we think we understand, we don’t – and you don’t. No one understands. I’ve been called some pretty awful names but if I step back I realise they’re not angry at me, they’re angry at the situation – at life. And I understand that.
“I was oblivious to child abuse, neglect and sexual assault when I was growing up, but my role as a case worker isn’t to feel sorry for my clients, my role is to support them and assist them in reaching their goals. As much as I can try to understand what they have been through, realistically every individual is different and I haven’t felt what they have felt.”
He does find the bureaucracy involved in, for example, finding suitable low cost accommodation, frustrating, and there is always a demand for such rental properties. Can you help? If so, please contact the editor.
CatholicCare’s Youth Services was a key participant in the recent Homeless Connect Day. “The interaction of our staff with young people who need assistance was really significant. The Night Care Van was constantly busy, serving more than a thousand sausages, and ‘Elmo and Ernie’ were there brightening up everyone’s day. The vibe around the day was extremely positive,” said Matt.
Other than food, clothing and shelter, what are the greatest needs of young people? “Friends” is the unequivocal response. “For the SIL kids or the kids from OOHC, their friends are their family.” Matt says that only about half of his clients have contact with their family of origin, and many carry the legacy of poor, or non-existent, parenting.
Matt Hooey’s not a parent and he wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but he is a young man who has supported and mentored enough young people to know the importance of effective parenting. Hopefully one of the legacies of his and his colleagues’ work is that the young men and women who are their clients will be optimistic and confident about all that the future holds.
You may wish to visit www.catholiccare.org.au