Monash University
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"The help I need is more than the help they can give me" : a study of the life circumstances of emergency relief clients

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posted on 2017-09-22, 07:12 authored by Frederick, John
The aim of this study was to achieve greater knowledge and understanding of the life circumstances of emergency relief clients to help in determining suitable policy and service responses. In-depth interviews were conducted with a sample of people who had received emergency relief in Shepparton, Victoria to help achieve this aim.
Many people in Australia need to approach welfare and community organisations to receive emergency relief in the form of food, supermarket food vouchers, clothing, household goods or assistance with bills. The need for emergency relief is a significant and growing problem in Australian society.
The study found that the majority of interviewees reported multiple risks to their
development during childhood and adolescence, including abuse and violence, being placed in care, and major grief and loss experiences. Most had left home by the age of 16. All interviewees experienced a variety of difficulties at school and most left early with minimal achievement levels. None of the interviewees were in paid employment. A range of physical and mental health problems, unstable relationships often involving violence, short-term accommodation and financial problems combined and compounded to place them in the position of needing to seek emergency relief.
An important issue was that the interviewees' range of complex needs were not being addressed. They had virtually no assistance from family, friends or the wider community.
As a result of this study, the main recommendation is that a comprehensive approach to service provision is required. A key principle is that this needs to take place as early in the chain of adverse events as possible. Well-designed early childhood services are a particularly appropriate means of preventing many problems developing to the extent that they did for many of the interviewees. Specific recommendations include: adequate resourcing of multidisciplinary child and family services; improved resourcing and
support for student welfare professionals in schools; provision of effective support and therapeutic services for children who have been abused and suffered grief and loss; greatly improved support for young people leaving out of home care; substantially increased funding for mental health services; improved access to health services for people on low incomes; provision of employment services which have the capacity to understand and address the effects of mental illness on the ability to locate and maintain employment; significant strengthening of services which address family violence; better
access to stable, low-cost housing; and a review of the adequacy of government income support payments.
In terms of the provision of emergency relief services, more comprehensive and proactive approaches are required. To assist in this process, the Federal Government needs to provide sufficient resources to agencies to enable them to deliver such services.
The social work profession needs to advocate for and help develop approaches to clients which can contribute to a more positive approach to service provision and lead to better outcomes for clients and agencies.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Chris Goddard

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Social Work


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education