The trip to Sydney for APAC Forum 2016 packed an emotional punch for Diana Dowdle.
The Ko Awatea delivery manager was checking in to her flight ahead of the three-day Forum in Sydney when she was reminded of her role years ago as a social worker, by a grateful former client and Air New Zealand employee.
“Jane* [the former client] noticed the whole team from Counties and Ko Awatea and must have seen my name on the list and was looking out for me. She wanted me to know she remembered me as a social worker and she was having a happy life,” Ms Dowdle says.
Jane was one of many vulnerable children whom Ms Dowdle worked with upon graduating from university and becoming a care and protection social worker for Child, Youth and Family – a job she did for 16 years.
“She was a state ward who had been removed permanently from her parents and family,” Ms Dowdle explains.
“My role in those days was either to place them in foster care with other family members that would be capable of looking after them and to try to find some sort of stable environment and loving nurturing home for them,” she says.
The preferred option, Ms Dowdle says, was to place children with extended family, but this was not always possible and sometimes foster carers would become guardians or adoptive parents – as was the case with Jane.
Jane, who later contacted Diana through social media, said she had remained close to her adoptive family. She has been married for 29 years and has four adult children.
Ms Dowdle says it was rewarding to hear her work had made a positive difference in a vulnerable child’s life, as sometimes the process was extremely challenging.
“You had to go to court a lot to have children removed from their families and that is a pretty hard decision. No families want that to happen. All parents want their children. It is weighing up what is right for the children, and that’s really difficult to know.”
After serving for so long in South Auckland as a social worker, becoming a delivery manager at Ko Awatea was a natural career progression, Ms Dowdle says. She has been with Ko Awatea since its inception in 2011.
“In social work you are working with a lot of families hopefully in a more preventative way. Social work is all about improving things at a systems level.”
*Not her real name