Community - a web of support

I think we’d all agree that community connections are vital to a well-rounded life. Whether it’s family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, church, clubs or online groups, networks provide an enormous range of social opportunities. We make friends, we find jobs, and we learn. Most importantly, we share our lives, including its milestones and stumbling blocks.

Many of our job seekers with a disability don’t have this web of support.

What happens when we don’t have this safety net of other people?

In many cases, social isolation becomes self-perpetuating. When we are not participating, playing different roles and relating to others, it’s like a physical muscle: we start to lose confidence and capacity to communicate and to develop support networks. Anxiety and fear can get a grip. And so it goes on.

This is a cycle that’s worth fighting and breaking. At NOVA, alongside our efforts towards job seeking, our employment service staff help people with disability make connections in their local community.

We know these connections make for happier, higher-functioning people. We also know it’s a sound investment: job seekers are more likely to stay in work when they are supported by a strong group of family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

To this end, our current funding contract demands that we link our job seekers to parts of the community that can help meet their employment goals. This might involve ensuring they have stable housing. Or it can be introductions to sporting clubs, support groups, art classes or volunteer roles.

The aim is to engage, support and empower the job seeker through genuine community settings that we know work.

And yet, many disability employment services don’t offer this because it takes time away from more identifiable, quantitative key performance indicators. In all likelihood, these services will have selectively ‘creamed’ their clientele to cater for only the most able job candidates, who have low support needs. Unfortunately, the lesson learned here is not that additional supports will enable the placement of more challenging job seekers, but simply that such people should be avoided. This leads to diminished opportunities not just for people with significant disability but those from already marginalised groups such as recent migrants, people living in regional and remote areas and Indigenous Australians.

Is this what we want?

Job seekers’ support webs need nurturing. The stronger the web, the more likely a person can articulate their needs, seek appropriate support, and find and maintain suitable, long-term employment.

- Martin Wren

 For more on this topic, read The Ten Demandments, available here.