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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

15 March 2023

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Supporting young people in Townsville

After working as a high-school teacher for eight years, Raechelle Rauwerda decided to change course and study a Master of Social Work at JCU. Across two different placements, she learned how to better help children plan their future careers and how to get their parents on board as well.

Raechelle Rauwerda graduated from JCU’s Master of Social Work course in February 2022. “I used to be a high school teacher. I still wanted to work with the same high school age group and with young adults, so I decided to complete my first social work placement in youth support,” she says.

During her first 500-hour (three months) placement, Raechelle worked in the The Lighthouse initiative, which is a part of the Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service (TAIHS).  “I was working with young people and focusing on why there is so much hardship for them, and particularly for Indigenous youth," she says.

The Lighthouse program addresses young people who may not feel safe at home and need a place to go, or feel they are in trouble and need someone to talk to. “The Lighthouse is essentially looking at how to help protect young people, how to help them feel safe and feel part of a family,” Raechelle says. “The young people said that at the Lighthouse they actually felt accepted, like they were part of something.

“Working with TAIHS, I was also part of a research project my supervisors Sara O’Reilly and Nikkola Savuro from The Lighthouse run in collaboration with Susan Gair, Ines Zuchowski from JCU and several others,” Raechelle says. The research project asked young people about their experiences with The Lighthouse initiative. Dr Ines Zuchowski, who headed the research project, adds that, "Raechelle’s work in this placement also led to a publication about what youth peer researchers from TAIHS wanted from service delivery to them.”

Raechelle Rauwerda (Image supplied by Raechelle Rauwerda)

Supporting adults at JCU Health General Practice

Working at TAIHS gave Raechelle a strong set of skills that she could rely on when she embarked on her second Master of Social Work placement in Townsville. Dr Ines Zuchowski, with the help of Simoane McLennan, was undertaking a research project that aimed at developing social work student placements in GP practices.

“Ines suggested they were looking at putting social work students in GP clinics. She asked me if that was something I'd consider,” Raechelle says. “The idea made a lot of sense to me, as there's many social problems and barriers that patients would come across all the time, and a doctor only has 15 minutes for you. They can't always give you that one-on-one attention time.”

So, Raechelle did her second Master of Social Work placement at the JCU Health General Practice in Townsville. As a teacher with several years of experience, Raechelle found working with adult patients in a GP clinic a very rewarding experience. “Having that life experience really supported my placement. I understood what I needed to do to be successful. I just took the initiative,” she says.

Helping people access the support they needed

Raechelle decided to approach those that she thought would welcome her support. “Every morning I would come in and I would start looking at the appointment book for the day,” she says. “Sometimes I could see from the doctor’s notes that they seemed to be going through a hard time, or had just had surgery.”

Within the clinic, Raechelle assisted a range of patients from all walks of life. “I was able to work with a woman who was trying to leave her abusive husband and needed help making plans for herself and her teenage daughter,” Raechelle says, and adds that she helped connect the mother with the social services that are available for her in Townsville.

Raechelle also worked with aged care recipients who needed support, and with their carers, who often needed support as well. “It was a wonderful experience in the sense that I got to see so many different avenues of what social work could be. I got to experience it all at once,” she says. “I got in touch with different age groups and different levels of skills and disabilities. It was also a great team to be a part of. If they had offered me a job, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.”

The project’s lead researcher, Dr Ines Zuchowski, says this pilot placement project and the students that participated in it helped develop the GP clinic’s understanding of social work, contributed to patient outcomes and allowed for social work student learning and growth. “It was wonderful to see how Raechelle embraced the learning opportunity and took proactive steps to be involved with patients and projects.”

Raechelle Rauwerda.
Social Worker.
Left: Raechelle in her office at Calvary Christian College in Townsville (image supplied by Raechelle Rauwerda), right: social worker providing support to aged care recipient.

From teacher to coach

After completing her studies, Raechelle decided to go back to her roots working at a school. But this time, she had new skills and experiences to draw from. So, she decided to become a careers advisor for Calvary Christian College in Townsville.

“My official title is 'pathways advisor’,” Raechelle says. She adds that she can now draw on the skills that she obtained during her first placement. “I was working with young people there, helping them get back on their feet or make plans and look at their future,” she says. This also included finding out how one has to apply to get into TAFE, or how to apply for apprenticeships.

Raechelle says one of the things she loves about her work is having one-on-one time with her students. “When you're a teacher, you're often managing twenty to thirty students,” she says. “Now, I meet a child in a one-on-one interview session — that's basically 45 minutes — in grade 10, and then again in grade 11 and grade 12. They are given the time to open up about what they want to do after they graduate from school.

“We talk about their grades, what their interests are and what their hobbies are. I get a sense of who they are, and we have the time to discuss the things that they need to know to get there.”

However, working as a student career advisor is not only about the students, but also about the parents. “It's really cool to have parents come in, and parents have a say in the process as well. Nine times out of ten, the parents are incredibly supportive,” Raechelle says.

In rare cases, however, parents and guardians may be less supportive . “Sometimes, Mum and Dad want them to be a doctor or a lawyer, and the kid doesn't want to do that. Then it's up to me to navigate that conversation with them as well,” Raechelle says. “I think, especially that second placement working at the GP clinic was very helpful when it comes to these conversations. At the clinic, I worked with adults of all different ages. I learned to talk to other adults as an adult, not just as their kid’s teacher.”

Why become a social worker?

Raechelle is passionate about being a social worker. “Working as a pathways advisor, I'm making a huge difference for these young people, helping them to find their very own path in life. But aside from that, as a social worker, you get to meet some amazing people.

“Being a social worker can also help you to understand who you are, solidify those values and maybe even challenge some of the values you held previously. It helps you to become a more complete person, which will in turn assist with making better choices for your clients.”

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Featured researcher

Dr Ines Zuchowski

Head, Social Work

Dr Ines Zuchowski has extensive work experience as a social worker in social welfare practice, exposing her to a broad range of interventions and fields of practice. Research has been an integral part of her professional social work practice. Ines is now employed as a senior lecturer in Social Work and Humans Services at JCU. Ines social work practice experience and research interests are particularly centred around child and youth welfare, violence prevention, professional development of supervision, social justice and human rights, women’s issues and field education for social work students. Her latest research project explored social work placements in GP settings.