December: Sheena and Fiona
Sheena Burrows is a Caledonian Women's Worker and Fiona Tough is a Caledonian Children’s Worker, part of the Criminal Justice Social Work Team in Aberdeen. The Caledonian System in Scotland is a behaviour programme for men convicted of domestic abuse offences, and support, safety planning and advocacy services for their partners and children.
What made you decide to work in this sector?
Sheena: I had been working in Children’s Services for 10 years and was becoming increasingly aware of the difficulties women experiencing domestic abuse were facing, not only when in an abusive relationship but after separation. I noticed a vacancy for a secondment as a Caledonian Woman’s Worker and applied as I felt this would be a new challenge in a field I wanted to learn more about and make a difference for woman and children. Eight years later I am still here and have continued job satisfaction in my role.
Fiona: I always knew I wanted to work with children from a young age. I completed my Nursery Nurse College Course when I was 19. All my previous employment was supporting children with disabilities. This entailed a Specialised Nursery, then I worked as a nanny for a child with complex disabilities in London. My next job was supporting adults with mental health diagnosis, but I missed working with children so pursued a career within The Children with Disabilities Social Work Team for five years. I was beginning to become aware of children who were affected by domestic abuse but I didn’t fully understand this issue. I was beginning to seek a new challenge and a friend, and now colleague, who works within the Caledonian Team as a Woman’s Worker encouraged me to apply my skills and knowledge in this area. I have currently been a Children’s Worker within the Caledonian Team in Aberdeen for two years and thoroughly enjoy it.
What do you find your clients need the most support with?
Sheena: The court process, both criminal and civil, can be extremely daunting for women. Also lack of affordable housing following separation, especially for working women causes difficulties.
Fiona: My role consists of supporting children and young people on a 1-1 basis, where they can discuss any issues in a safe and confidential environment. Some of the children want to discuss the domestic abuse they have experienced, and some want support with experiences such as moving to a new school or home. The children have suffered trauma, and to help the children work through this I have been carrying out drawing and talking therapies, which has seen positive feedback from the parents. I also support mothers to understand their children’s behaviour as a result of the domestic abuse, and support fathers to make positive parenting choices. My role is to also support parents to rebuild their relationships with their children. As a Children’s Worker I facilitate the Children and Fathering Module alongside the Men’s Social Worker as part of the Caledonian Programme.
My job is challenging but very rewarding also. The children and young people I support want their views to be heard and taken seriously. They want to know what and why things are happening in their families lives, and that they are not alone. They want and need to know they can trust someone to share their worries with and to know they will have consistent support. The young people like to know the processes that they may be involved in and how this will affect them e.g Child Protection Meetings.
What keeps you going when the work gets tough?
Sheena: I work with a great bunch of people. I am lucky to have a very supportive team and we are there for each other when work gets hard. Also seeing women moving on, feeling safe, and achieving their goals still makes the hard days worthwhile.
Fiona: Having a very supportive team is key. My colleagues help me with any advice I require or to listen to any worries or frustrations I have, they are an amazing bunch.
What are you most proud of so far?
Sheena: I am most proud of the part I have played in supporting women to feel safer, grow in confidence, and live the lives they choose.
Fiona: I am most proud of being nominated for this award, and certainly makes all the hard work worth it.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering this career, what would it be?
Sheena: There are tough days but very rewarding days too. The rewarding days make the tough days easier!
Fiona: If anyone is looking to join this line of work, I’d let them know it is fun, every day is different, challenging, emotional at times but well worth it when you see positive changes in the children and adults.
Sheena and Fiona were nominated by a survivor they had supported through their work. She said “Sheena has had regular contact with me ever since and I would not have coped without her. She is an amazingly, compassionate and supportive person and a true angel in every sense.”
She also nominated Fiona. “She has been an amazing support for [my daughter]. It gave [her] someone to confide in who wasn't directly involved and it gave [her] someone she could trust.”
“Without both of them, I don't know how we would have got through the last few years.”
Do you know a professional who has gone above and beyond to change the response to domestic abuse and keep survivors and their families safe? Nominate someone for Star of the Month by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Star of the Month’ as the subject line.