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Source: Massey University

Jessica Petrie is a functional family therapy therapist with Youth Horizons – Kia Puāwai.

Jessica Petrie never intended to be a social worker, but says 11 years into her career that helping young people to change their pathway is her “why”.

Her pathway to social work began while living in Australia and caring for her younger sister. She found she was often the one her sister and friends would turn to for support and advice, when she thought “I could be getting paid for this.”

What was meant to be a short holiday in Australia turned into eight years and while living there, Jessica studied a Diploma of Youth Work at Chisholm Institute.  In 2005 she moved back to New Zealand and worked for Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children as a youth justice social worker and youth justice coordinator, when she began investigating studying further.

Living in south Auckland, commuting to Massey’s Auckland campus was not an option for her, but she was drawn to the University’s international reputation and that a degree would be recognised around the world. So, in 2011 she began a Bachelor of Social Work with Massey, online.

The flexibility of learning online and with the support of her husband meant she could do it all: be a first-time mum, work full-time, design and building a new house, and study over nine years. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Social Work in November.

“Studying online meant I could still run my house, earn money and not be a poor student! It was a challenge but I had a very supportive husband who would take my daughter away for weekends so I could catch up.

“At no stage did I think, ‘I can’t do this,’ but if I was struggling, the support from contact courses, classmates and lecturers, was key. It wasn’t just my family that made it easy, it was also the people I was studying with.”

Working her dream job

Today, the bubbly 40-year-old says she has her dream job as a functional family therapy therapist with Youth Horizons – Kia Puāwai, whose mission is to provide evidence-based and biculturally focused programmes that create better futures for rangatahi who are impacted by conduct problems.

She was seconded there a year ago from Oranga Tamariki, where she had spent 10 years, to help the organisation navigate the youth justice system.

Functional family therapy is a pilot model focused on helping people aged between 13 and 24, and their whānau, get on the right track. Some are referred to the organisation by police, others have been in prison or are on home detention. She says the model is based on a belief system that whānau have the ability to help themselves. It is not focused on the “problem child” she says, rather it involves the whole family.

“We focus on how everyone will be supported and heard, from the parents to younger siblings. It is so exciting to work with a whole family because we are empowering them to do the work themselves. It’s not rocket science, sometimes simple things have the most impact.”

She says having 10 years’ experience working in the industry before she studied meant she could contribute a different perspective and credits Massey lecturers for “teaching the reasons why we do what we do.” She says Massey provided her with relevant and proven methods that help to effect change and get families to a better place.

In her role she receives Māori and Pasifika cultural supervision and says the amount she is learning and what she is learning, inspires her every day, as do the values of Youth Horizons.

“The experience of having fortnightly cultural supervision has been invaluable and my practice leaders have created a very supportive environment. There has been no time when I felt I was on my own.

“There is so much guidance and willingness to grow and support you when you ask for it. It’s been a great journey and for me, the most important part of my role is the impact I’m making for the next generation.”