Wrap-around support services and new software are helping whānau get out of debt, without taking yet another loan.
It’s hard not to feel chuffed for Jacquilin Tuatara. Six months ago, the former social worker was drowning in debt and preparing to leave Auckland. A year of unsuccessful job hunting and “chasing contracts” had pushed her to the edge, she says softly.
“I have a lot of experience because I’ve worked in high-risk [areas] for 25 years. I’ve been a whānau support worker, a family support worker. I worked as a women’s crisis advocate for domestic violence. I’ve had roles with a lot of major companies.”
However, after two years out of the workforce following the deaths of her mother and sister, Jacquilin struggled to get her career back on track.
A bad credit rating made it difficult to find employment suited to her senior experience level, she says. Some organisations turned her away because she was “over-experienced, over-qualified” for vacant positions.
Temping work and short-term contracts were her only options. Eventually, those dried up.
With her savings drained and debts owing, Jacquilin tried to get help at the Salvation Army.
After an unsuccessful three weeks of “being given the run-around”, she decided to visit the Waipareira Trust. The difficult decision to return to her former workplace for assistance was a significant turning point.
“This was not my first choice,”she says. “I was actually fed-up with the other organisations. I felt a bit whakamā because I used to work here, and had studied here and then I’d moved off to bigger organisations to work.
“It was my last straw to find a solution. I was actually ready to just move out of Auckland, try down the line. My girlfriend said she had something down in Rotorua… but I didn’t want to do that because it meant moving away from my children.”
She made an appointment with Keri Tangihaere, the organisation’s financial capability and budgeting mentor.
The pair’s first few sessions in April were invaluable, Jacquilin says. “When I came to Keri, I was overwhelmed. I was in huge debt. I was trying to make it work and it just seemed like I was hitting my head against a wall. I was doing all this stuff, but it was all over the place.
“In the first two session, Keri gave me this book to map it all out – my Financial Plan of Action.”
Since then, her finances have improved significantly.
Jacquilin has stuck to the financial “agreement” and refrained from taking on new debt. There have been no more hire purchase deals, which led to her bad credit rating and spiralling debt. She is gradually paying off debts and working towards long-term savings goals.
Importantly, development of her own business, a pop-up store named XJ-Shed, is underway.
“I just love fashion,” she says excitedly. “I always have, and I’ve done a lot of voluntary fashion shows for different organisations like Dress for Success.
“I sell pre-loved, vintage and high-end labels. I collect and on-sell, but I specialise in plus-size clothing.”
XJ-Shed is a regular at the Henderson, Avondale, Browns Bay and Grey Lynn markets. Since working with Keri, the pop-up has also appeared at two new events, including the Titirangi Village Market.
“At Titirangi, I sold out half my rack. And they’re high-end buyers. It was awesome.”
Things are a bit more stable now, Jacquilin says. “My confidence has returned, and my health is better. Even my partner and my kids have noticed.
“You know, I really didn’t want to come to Waipareira because I knew I was going to run into ex-colleagues, but I’ve actually enjoyed the fact that I came here and decided not to get another loan. That I was able to work through it myself, and learn that I just needed time and patience.”
Keri was among the former colleagues Jacquilin was afraid of seeing. She also has a social work background and has been with the Waipareira Trust for 18 years. Working with whānau members like Jacquilin, who need guidance in tough financial circumstances, is her speciality.
“This is my community and I know a lot of these people,” Keri says with a grin.
“A lot of my clients that come in, I’ve worked with their parents in social work. I’ve had parents that have come in and they’re telling me what to do with their kids.”
As the sole staff member working with whānau around financial capability, she has a busy schedule. Currently, she is expected to keep 624 appointments with whānau members in 12 months. The “output measure” must be kept to ensure funding for the trust’s financial capability service.
Whānau Tahi, the trust’s specialist IT programme, helps Keri stay on top of the numbers. Designed to link all services and programmes a whānau member is involved with, Whānau Tahi effectively removes a lot of the administrative tasks from frontline staff like Keri.
More time is then available to work directly with whānau, she says.
The software programme’s holistic approach has also been recognised overseas. Two years ago, an Alaskan First Nations company bought the software for use in its own health services.
Keri’s colleague, Anupama Wijesundara, who is part of the data and performance team, explains how it works.
“For someone like Keri, she is the only kaimahi, so it’s a lot of work. Previously, she’d have to do all the planning, keep all the appointments, write up her notes and look at the data. It can get really stressful which can take away from actually working with whānau,” Anupama says.
“With Whānau Tahi, she can load everything into the database, and then we [my team] will do the analysis and see how she is going. Then, I’ll meet with Keri and talk about the numbers.”
The programme shows whether staff are on-track to achieve targets. If they are not, then extra help can be brought it to ensure someone does not become overloaded, he says.
Keri, who admits to not being particularly computer-savvy, says it has helped identify whānau members who have not been in contact. “Often, they can fall off,” she says. “I won’t hear from them because they can’t get in or the kids are sick. If I see my numbers are down, I know that I should be going to do home visits for a few people.”
Anupama says the programme helps staff with the “reality” of working with whānau members. “Often, we and the targets just measure face to face contact with whānau. In reality, Keri needs to do a lot more in order to actually achieve goals for whānau. For example, she might need to ring the creditors, go to WINZ, offer other kinds of support.
“That’s not counted towards [the target], but that’s what has to be done.”
Whānau Tahi enables early identification when things aren’t going well so they can be fixed, he says.
To that, Keri adds with a chuckle, “Otherwise, it all gets a bit stressful in the last month or so.”
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