Social welfare good news stories

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'Good Welfare Stories' by Chris JohnstonThe new Jesuit Social Services study Moving from the Edge is not a welfare tale of woe. It is a celebration of lives that have 'come good'. Individuals and families have spoken in a basically human way about their transition from being 'outsiders' to social 'insiders'. In the process we gain some important leads on different influences that have supported that journey.

But there is another fundamental lesson to be learned. We are witnessing the revival of an old, recurring criticism called welfare dependency. It goes something like this: there is a morally lax group of people who, given half a chance and in the absence of stern social controls, would happily sponge on society.

The predecessor report to this one, Dropping off the Edge, threw light on the real circumstances of many people needing help; it showed how within a small number of Australian communities people get caught in a web of disadvantage. Blaming these neighbourhoods, these people, for their entrapment achieves nothing. It is far more productive to build up the communities, provide opportunities for advancement and help demonstrate what it's possible to achieve.

The stories in Moving from the Edge are about individuals and families whose plight matches in severity that depicted in Dropping off the Edge. Despite overwhelming challenges these people have made their way to more satisfying and productive lives. Their stories are a reminder of the fact that with human courage and the support of others it is possible for people to 'turn around' ill-starred lives.

Frankly, I was deeply moved by the stories and I hope that reading them will have a similar affect on a wider audience, especially those who make social policy.

Overcoming the odds has in every instance involved external encouragement (from professionals in the field, partners, relatives, teachers, community groups) cultivating and supporting positive aspirations that lay within the people assisted, helping them to chart a path to the attainment of their goals and conveying confidence that the goals can and will be achieved.

Nothing that I heard moved me more than Candice and Louis's efforts to regain custody of their child Priscilla from the care of the state. Prior to that action being taken the lives of the parents had been directionless; their health was undermined by drug and alcohol dependence.

Sheer determination, the partners' affection for each other and their child, the help received with social housing, their trust in and appreciation of the service of the majority of the professionals from whom they obtained help, all contributed to their becoming a settled, functioning family. Resisting what they saw as the overwhelming discouragement of the child welfare authorities actually helped motivate their efforts.

The story of Kyleen's progressively greater inclusion in mainstream society is the story of her moving up the education ladder greatly supported by her fellow Aboriginal students and mentors.

Brian described his early life as being hopeless. He went on to say: 'I had nothing and not much to look forward to. I didn't know where my life was going. It was reckless. The stuff I was doing; (like) high speed chases. I had no real regard for life at that stage. That's a common feeling with criminals; like they're dangerous mate ... they've got nothing to live for.'

Yet today he is a fully qualified tradesman, settled with a partner and linked socially with upright people and relatives who have always conveyed trust in his ability to succeed. He might not have done that but for human service staff who have gently but purposefully helped him chart his way to the achievement of his goals — the latest of which is the planned purchase of a home.

Then there is June and her kids, who had the stuffing knocked out of them by the gruesome suicide at home of the children's father. From the depths of despair, and drawing upon the support of her worker and an inner-picture of the mother she needed to be, June has managed the admittedly shaky social integration of her children. Only time will tell whether she manages the same for herself.

And so the stories go. There has been a kind of social chemistry present in these lives that has encouraged success: relationships, both natural and professional, that have brought into play positive aspirations to be a 'social insider' and the devising of a road map leading to that goal; the encourager's shared conviction that the outsider's goals can and will be achieved; the availability of the material wherewithal to underwrite the change effort.

We should be profoundly grateful to those who have shared their stories with us. I hope that the lessons we learn from them will help ground social inclusion policy in the advantages of encouragement, guided reflection and careful planning instead of the compliance and income management measures that currently hold sway at the national level. 

Read Brian's Story


Tony VinsonTony Vinson is
Emeritus Professor at UNSW and Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney. His extensive experience researching social disadvantage culminated in the study Dropping Off the Edge in 2007. This article is an edited version of his speech at the launch of the follow-up volume, Moving From the Edge, which is available now from Jesuit Social Services. 


 

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Brian's story

Topic tags: Tony Vinson, Dropping Off the Edge, Moving From the Edge


 

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Existing comments

Thanks for the article. Success stories are not written up. We need to help those whose lives get off track. Good stories help us to continue.
Kathleen Anderson | 30 October 2010


Most definitely we need positive true stories of goodness triumphing in this mad world.

When we are bombarded with negative, even hopeless situations, I feel our level of optimism dwindles, and may even die.

The evidence of the the action of grace, needs to be constantly re-inforced,to make bearable the incessant reporting of desperate situations, which do exist.

Only with this hope, can we continue to reach out to those suffering
.
Thank you for sharing success stories.

Thank you for trying to alleviate some pain in our society....It will assuredly be contagious.

Bernie Introna | 06 November 2010


I saw this woman, Tracy Harvey on YouTube and purchased her book, Goodbye Welfare. As a social worker I was very excited by it. It’s an Australian woman but is in U.S version. It is inspiring because she was a single mother with a lifetime on welfare who not only changed her life financially (millionaire) but has taught so many around the world with very basic no nonsense (in your face) strategies.

This book is different because it targets people on generational welfare people and those less likely to succeed because they haven't had the mentors or education in life (neither did her). Since her book came out in '06 people from around the world who have been homeless, drowning in debt etc have not only turned their lives around by following her strategies, but have excelled in other life ways beyond belief. She predicted so many financial events that have since occurred and warns that unless we introduce financial education into schools as a core subject then we will never eradicate hardship.


We are using the info in our social services group work and having some remarkable results , because for the first time many of our clients can see 'hope' that they too can achieve regardless of the adversity which is something that is missing in many lives .
With the hard times we are experiencing in the US I believe we need something 'real' that is motivating and gives hope by someone who tells it how it is and doesn't color it up with difficult dialogue that the layman can't understand. She's lived it (one child with a disability).


Edie Leetham | 27 November 2010


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