For Jane, social work stands for representation. It is a calling that has driven the 46 year old her entire life. She wants to change policies for people who are vulnerable. Provide advocacy. Walk alongside them.
“Social work is in the statistics. It’s Māori, it’s Pacifica," she says. "To address the statistics you need workers who’ve been there.”
Born in Auckland, Jane and her family moved to Greymouth when she was six years old. At the age of 24 she shifted to Nelson where she has lived since. Throughout her adolescence and adult life she found herself surrounded by whānau struggling in some aspects of their life and wanted to help.
“I felt there was a lot of anger, lots of issues,” she says. “I helped them but I could only get to a certain point and then I was stuck so I couldn’t help them further. I wanted to do social work so I could help my whānau get past their barriers.”
Before study, Jane facilitated an under 5 music and movement programme. She was also a part time teacher for preschoolers. While she did have a certificate in adult teaching Jane says people saw her talent and enthusiasm and subsequently she “just got jobs”.
“It’s what’s got me through my life really, I didn’t have any qualifications.”
She says she had planned to study social work for years, but had five children of her own to care for.
“Every time I went to go and do it I got pregnant,” she says. “I’ve always believed to stay home and look after the child until they’re five, at least, until they go to school. I think babies need their mum and it’s the most vulnerable time when they’re little, so yeah. I did work part time but it was mainly while they were sleeping.”
As soon as her daughter turned four and a half, Jane decided it was time. In 2014 she embarked on a six month certificate at NMIT in preparation for the Bachelor of Social Work Level 7.
While studying, she completed three work placements. The first was at Victory Community Centre, then Whānau Ora at Whakatū Marae and Addiction Advice and Assessment Services. Jane says she learnt a great deal from each placement, the people and wider communities. She says her tutors encouraged her to pinpoint where she wanted to work early on. This was easy for Jane. Her main goal from the outset has been to work for Oranga Tamariki.
She was able to choose specific modules geared toward her chosen area of interest. She learnt about the Oranga Tamariki Act. She absorbed the department’s policies. She also deepened her understanding of child centred practice and Youth Justice family group conferences.
Study was quite challenging for Jane at the start. “I didn’t even know how to check an email, she says. “I didn’t know much about computers and I didn’t read. I read children’s books, so I wasn’t academic at all.”
She is grateful for the help she received from the Learner Support Service team. “Those guys rock, I mean they were amazing. They helped me with lots.”
There was also a lot of content that “really triggered” Jane as a Māori woman. Ongoing changes within the programme itself didn't help either. Jane credits Aroha Gilling, her tutor at the time, for her full support during these tough times. It was also Aroha who suggested to Jane that she take advantage of the free counselling available on campus.
Four years on, Jane feels understandably weary but confident and prepared for what lies ahead. “I feel exhausted!” she laughs, “but I’m rapt. I’m going to have a massive party.”
Her staying power hasn't gone unrecognised by NMIT staff.
“Jane has been an inspiring and respected member of the first class of graduates,” says Programme Coordinator Dr Sarah Fraser.
“Whilst Jane faced many challenges over the course of her study, both in her own life and in the programme, she overcame these with grace and dignity and showed real integrity and leadership.”
In the future, Jane hopes to use what she has learnt to address lack of representation of Māori at Oranga Tamariki.
“I really believe one hundred percent that Māori should be in there because that’s where a lot of Māori families go and they need someone who’s been there, has empathy and who can work with that community. I’ve done it most of my life so I think I’m the right person.”