Taking flight…

Sunday Blog 4 19 September 2021

I have a habit of taking notes while listening to people speaking, which means I can end up with scraps of paper with random scribblings which no-one but myself can decipher. I found just such a scrap this week while cleaning my work desk.

It was from the keynote address at the February 2021 WA Council of Social Service conference by Hilary Cottam who said about social services “We catch people as they fall, but we don’t help them take flight”. I wrote it down because it had the absolute ring of truth to it.

Hilary Cottam is the author of the book Radical Help which sets out how to create services which help people thrive. Spoiler alert, the biggest factor is in working with people, co-designing the support they require. I have never forgotten one of the scenarios she summarised in the book where a woman had more than 80 agencies (think of the money…) offering her various services, all of which were set into the concrete of what their funding streams allowed, rather than what she really needed.

This woman had a separate mobile phone just to field calls from all the services. She had another phone for calls she actually wanted to answer. The concretised funding models of those 80+ services meant she had to tell different things to different agencies to access their “help.”

In a radical re-think, the funding for these 80+ services were channeled into a fund, and she got to choose the team of people to help her. The emphasis was on what her ultimate goal was – how she would “take flight” rather than controlling, corralling, chastising and keeping her stuck where she was.

The next thing I scrawled on my notebook was Hilary’s assertion that we need to see welfare systems as an investment, not a cost. Welfare systems represent an investment in people, and nothing is more valuable than people.

Imagine that. Seeing people as an asset rather than a burden. Being excited at the possibility of helping people take flight…

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