Social workers play a vital role in the Department of Human Services’ response during an emergency.
After floods left most of Queensland in devastation five years ago, Social Work Program Manager Judy Hitchcock was on the front line making sure those affected could get the help they needed.
“It was an enormous logistical challenge to cover such a large area,” Judy said.
“Staff came from around the country to relieve the usual service centre staff so they could travel out to the badly affected areas to help out. Social workers were on hand at recovery centres and service centres to offer counselling and support.
“People needed emergency payments as soon as possible so they could keep themselves going until they got back on their feet again, as many of them had lost everything.”
Judy says social workers helped people through the claim process from start to finish.
“People were in crisis. They really needed that extra support to get through the claim, from filling in paperwork to obtaining any extra documents,” she said.
“Social workers also made sure those affected were connected with emergency relief services and mental health services like Lifeline.”
With so many people displaced, social workers and staff worked tirelessly, often long into the evening.
“Recovery centres were open 7 days a week for 12 hours or more per day. As a team, people were working as much as they could to support those who needed it.
“It’s easy to forget a lot of these staff were themselves impacted. Some had lost their own homes or had them badly damaged. They needed support too.”
Despite the devastation, the resilience people showed stands out in Judy’s memory.
“Everyone was so brave in the face of such hardship. There was overcrowding, people were financially affected, people suffering relationship breakdowns, and of course there were those who suffered physical injury or had lost loved ones,” Judy said.
“Despite all this, there was still an overwhelming sense of community support. That’s what I’ll always remember.
“There was such a strong sense of cooperation and support from people all over the state. People were staying in each other’s houses so they could still go to work. People rallied together and there was a spirit of ‘we can get through this’.”