65. Barb Collard

15 May

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Barb’s journey to where she is today

Barb Collard has always had a strong inclination to help and support others, which eventually lead to social work. Barb is now a passionate, seasoned veteran in her profession, with next year marking 31 years of doing social work.

“As a uni student, I worked in aged care doing dishes and that sort of thing, so I was heading towards a helping profession. Social work seemed to fit the bill,” Barb says.

In the early days, Barb says she was unsure about which pathway was right for her. After tossing up between a career in teaching and work in the Allied Health Field, Barb says she decided to chat with some social workers, who were working alongside her mother in local government.

“I actually went in Year 10 to talk with them about the work they were doing. That was really useful,” says Barb.

Around this time, Barb also became involved with voluntary youth work with some weekly youth groups and state-wide camps, which helped seal the deal when it came to social work.

After completing her HSC, Barb went to Monash to do a Bachelor of Arts and then a Bachelor of Social Work. She says she finished university at quite a young age, around 23, deciding not to take any gap years.

Now, Barb is “a trained social worker and family therapist”.

“For the last 15 years (and I’ve had some other jobs alongside this), my main job has been the Mental Health Promotion Officer at the Austin, in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS),” says Barb.

“It’s a role that is based around community development principles, but the Austin CAMHS, as we are known as, work with young people under the age of 18 who have mental health issues,” Barb says.

Barb’s role involves strengthening referral pathways and working with families, carers, schools and young people to connect them with the supportive services offered by the Austin CAMHS.

“Often we do a lot of work directly with schools and wellbeing staff … So in some ways I am doing a lot more community engagement work than, say, counselling. I also do education around child and mental health issues to schools and agencies.

 “It’s a great job because it’s really broad. Because I’ve been at the Austin for around 20 years now, I have a long history and I also know a lot of people in the networks these days,” says Barb.

Barb’s career highlights

“I always loved working with children and teenagers. I have sort of specialised in working with children, adolescents and their families throughout [my career],” says Barb.

“What I like about [this] is you can see change. I am quite passionate about trying to assist with change and giving opportunities or [providing] support. You get a lot of satisfaction or feedback when you are connecting with children, young people and their families.

“Having children myself now, you realise how challenging it is to be a parent and bring up kids. Not that I think I would change anything I would have done in my twenties or thirties before I had kids, but there is another level of empathy that I see with my middle age,” Barb says.

When I ask Barb about her achievements, the first topic that Barb mentions is how proud she is of the young people she has worked with throughout her many years in the field, as this is clearly where her priorities lie.

“When I was doing case management, there were a few stories around individual young people that would really touch you and you see change through the work that you’ve been doing with the young person and the family.

“There have been a number of stories of young people throughout the years [that have stood out],” says Barb.

 Barb is also particularly proud of the work being done by the new youth advisory group called the ‘Super Hornets’. The group of young mental health consumers (who have previously been treated by the team at the Austin and have now taken on the role of advisors) provides feedback that is used to improve the services offered.

“They have been through mental health issues and got support from our service, but they want to give back. They keep us honest really, to make sure we are relevant and doing what we should be doing. They’re a great group of young people.

 “The other side is the young people that are currently clients,” Barb adds.

“I run a group on the adolescent unit once a month for feedback with the young people that are admitted into the unit. It’s a great group.

“They give us really honest feedback about what it’s like to be there, how we can improve things and it’s just a real privilege to be able to get direct voice from young people. They’re great fun, on the whole!” Barb says.

Barb then tells me about some of the most moving work in her career.

“I think one of my significant career experiences has been the bushfires. I had the bushfire portfolio for the Austin CAMHS and so for five years I did a lot of work with the communities and schools that were affected by the bushfires. So that was a career highlight and I think that was really significant,” says Barb.

“There was a lot of trauma, but also a lot of hope. Just seeing how resilient people are was a real privilege, particularly in areas like Strathewen and King Lake West.”

Barb also notes when “you are involved so closely with people’s lives, you do take on some of the stress of that”.

“I think to be a social worker in whatever field, it can take its toll so you need to be careful to also look after yourself. To last this long in a helping profession, you really do need to make sure you’ve got good support… That’s one of the very solid things about working at the Austin,” says Barb.

The SAFEMinds initiative

Thanks to her expertise with mental health and young people, Barb was given the opportunity to be involved in setting up the SAFEMinds initiative. SAFEMinds is a learning and resource package that caters to schools and families, in order to help improve early intervention efforts and enhance mental health support through the engagement of schools, parents and carers.

“It’s Department of Education funded,” says Barb. “They contacted headspace National to get a team together to work on a project that assisted schools looking at anxiety, depression and self-harm.

“We delivered around Victoria. So I was doing a lot of travelling. That was amazing – particularly with wellbeing teams and schools,” Barb says.

“And long ago, I always thought either teaching or social work, so it sort of met both needs. I was working with schools and teachers, which I really enjoyed.”

“We’ve really picked up some of the gaps – as well as working alongside children and young people, it’s parents and carers,” Barb says.

Barb is also very committed to ensuring schools are supporting their students.

“I think schools play a huge role in making sure that they have a relationship with their students. And that’s not just around academic goals, it’s also around wellbeing. Schools are in such a privileged position to really build relationships,” Barb says.

“When a young person isn’t going so well, all sorts of things can happen – and, I mean, just adolescence is hard enough! But schools should be watching out and noticing when someone is not travelling well. They should know where to go and where to get help.

“That’s really what SAFEMinds is promoting as well, which fits well with my approach,” says Barb.

Barb’s outlook on mental health

Barb’s suggests that for anyone who is struggling with mental health issues, “make sure you are letting others know, if you can, that things are tough for you”.

On this note, Barb stresses the importance of “making sure there are opportunities for kids to know where to go for help”.

A well-versed authority on young people and mental health, Barb is as passionate as ever about seeing services in this area continue to improve.

“There are lots of gaps still in supporting young people with mental health issues – kids slip through and don’t get the assistance they should,” Barb says.

“A lot of that is to do with funding and priority of Government. I worry about the under twelves because of the lack of resources for under twelves and their families. If we can support children and young people as early as possible, [I] hope that once they hit adulthood, they can get back on track.”

In terms of her career, Barb still has a lot lying in store for her, saying “I’ve still got challenges and I’m not bored. I really like the system’s work”.

“Even though I’ve been at the Austin for many years, I’ve done different roles and had the opportunity for that,” says Barb.

Besides, Barb says, “passing on your knowledge and experience is really satisfying, when you realise you actually know something after all these years!”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

 

 

 

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