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No two days are ever the same – the joys and challenges of working in residential care.

Looking out for people’s welfare comes easily to Theressa Nero, who has been a Residential Care worker for the past eight years. For more than 20 years before that, Theressa worked as a full-time high needs carer for the city of Greater Geelong, initially looking after the elderly before moving on to caring for children with disabilities.

It was during this time that Theressa discovered her true vocation and the pathway that led to her current role as a Residential Care Worker with MacKillop Family Services. Theressa had started to do voluntary work at a homeless shelter and before long, she became the Day Coordinator of the shelter, spending a lot of time getting to know those who used the facility. While talking to many of the people there, Theressa realised that a significant number of them had spent time in residential care in their youth or had children in the out of home care system.

This insight had a huge impact on Theressa,

It made me think about how some people never had the chance to get their lives together and had gone from one type of residential care to another and it made me very emotional to think that this is the path for many young people. I felt that I had the compassion, experience and emotional maturity to make a difference.

– Theressa

Being part of a team who is passionate about achieving a great end result for the young people they work with drives Theressa,

“Our young people leave care at 18, so often, we only have a couple of years to concentrate on the therapeutic work we do with them as they usually come to the house at age 15 or 16. Really, it’s not a lot of time to help them deal with the trauma that they can bring with them. We are helping them prepare for their adult lives.”

Theressa says she always wanted a large family, telling her future husband shortly after they met that she wanted 10 kids,

“As it happened, I could only have one child of my own, but I feel blessed that I can nurture all the kids that come through these doors. For me it feels like a miracle that I am in this perfect position to give love and support to kids who really need it. I want to do everything I can to give the young people in our care the best opportunity. It’s important to do the ground work with them and let them know that people genuinely care about their well-being.”

Theressa adds,

“What the kids get from me in the house is exactly how I am at home with my family. They begin to understand that the reason we don’t want them outside late at night is because we genuinely worry about their safety and well-being, in the same way I’d worry for my own child. It makes a huge difference to a young person to know someone really cares about what happens to them.”

Part of a team that works within a therapeutic setting, Theressa believes it’s important that all staff are on the same page and work together to deliver consistency of care,

“Some kids have had exposure to trauma and it’s very hard not to wrap them up in cotton wool, because you want to do everything you can to protect them and equip them for a better outcome. We all work together and good communication between the team, the case manager and other therapeutic professionals means we do everything we can to achieve a positive result for the young person.”

One of the best parts of Theressa’s role is that no two days are the same,

“There’s no such thing as a typical day – sometimes it can feel like the team runs 50 steps forward and then about 20 back – but we are still moving forward with that young person. The best things are a good day, or a good moment or even a good five minutes with a child that gives you a great response and you just know that they’ve understood that you care and that they are important.”

Theressa believes that the ability to stay calm under pressure is key to the role,

“The dynamic can change in five minutes. You think everyone is settled and in a great headspace, relaxing and watching TV together. Then, within moments of leaving the room or getting up for a glass of water, the dynamic can suddenly change because they might have received an unexpected text message or something that we’ve just watched on TV has triggered an emotional response in the young person.”

Theressa adds,

“When there is an incident in the house or a child has escalated to the highest level, you have to be aware of your own physical and emotional response. That’s when training strategies kick in, you remember to breathe, and remember to appear calm, even when your own anxiety levels are rising. It’s your job to keep them safe and help them learn how to cope.”

Theressa believes her job is so rewarding because it is clear her work makes a difference to the lives of the young people she works with,

“I run into people in my local area who have moved on from care and they’ll often ask how we put up with them and their behaviour. But they tell us how much they learned and how they felt safe with us and it is great to see how many young people are making good lives for themselves and successfully parenting in the community. “I still get goose bumps at those moments. We all feel we’ve got butterflies when we get that feedback and we know we’ve made a difference, it’s the best feeling in the world.”