Where learning can build a sense of community

Growing up in Australia, a country isolated from the rest of the world, I have felt a desire to travel and explore other countries. Ever since I can remember, I have felt a connection with the Italian way of life and it has been a dream of mine to one day travel to Italy. When I was younger my mother taught me to cook and from her I gained an appreciation of fresh, quality food. Family has also always been important to me. This is why I was so excited when I found out I would be undertaking my final social work placement at the Bene Italian Village. To immerse myself in the culture of food, music, family and fun. Oh, and what an amazing experience it has been!

I spent the longest part of my placement joining in on lifestyle activities, trying to get to know some of the residents and find a way to use and develop my social work skills to benefit the people involved with the Village.  Social work is a profession that requires communication and connection with people.  In a place where Italian is the primary language, this proved to be quite a challenge.  As time went on I settled into a rhythm. The staff were very welcoming and helpful, even teaching me some of the common Italian words. The smell of Italian food wafted through the Village at lunchtime every day and it was lovely to see the residents enjoying activities such as bingo, while listening to Italian songs.

After some time, another student (Changxi) and I decided to consult with the relatives of residents at the Italian Village to see how Bene could better support families during the initial stage of moving a loved one into residential care.  This became the main focus of my placement.  Through listening to the unique stories of families I have learnt a lot about the different issues that influence how families perceive the experience of moving their loved ones into permanent residential care. Sometimes the challenges are emotional and sometimes the issues are systemic or a mixture of both.  One of the main factors that seems to be of importance is establishing clear communication between staff and families with the goal to build this working relationship, and maintain the relationships between families and their loved ones. With all this in mind, Changxi and I wanted to draw upon the strengths of family members themselves, the knowledge and experience of Bene staff and the use of social work theory that we learnt from university, to develop a plan of action to support families.

Looking forward, this project is in the stage of putting together a plan for a regular ‘get together’ for families to build on the sense of community and provide a space for support for families, at least in the initial period of moving a loved one into residential care at Bene. There will also be opportunity in this ‘get together’ for staff to build relationships with families and to help families work through some of the challenges that might come with moving a relative into care.

In terms of my placement, I feel I am meeting my goals.  I have grown professionally as I have worked with families and staff on the support project. I feel I have a broader knowledge of the aged care system in a residential aged care context and it has been a wonderful experience being immersed in the Italian culture here at Bene. I am grateful and extend my thanks to the families, residents and staff of Bene Aged Care who have been involved in my placement experience.

Sarah Mains

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