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Social Work at Porirua Hospital

A paper presented by Judith Edmonds in 2000.


Social Workers were a relatively recent addition to the staff at Porirua Hospital.  In 1952 the first qualified Social Worker, Monica Taylor, was appointed.  At that time some Psychiatrists at the Hospital had experienced working with Social Workers in England and were interested in Dr Hart, Medical Superintendent, making the appointment.  They made referrals, in the main, for work with people and their families.  However, this sole Social Worker also worked 2 days every week at the Psychiatric Ward at Wellington Hospital.  Apart from the Psychiatrists’ referrals, she could not instigate a wider range of work for the many residents of Porirua Hospital.

Gradually, over the years, the number of Social Workers increased.  By the 1970’s there were 10 Social Workers.  By the mid 1980’s there were 20 Social Workers.  However, in the 1990’s numbers decreased. As many patients moved into Community Care, Social Workers took up positions in the Community Mental Health Teams.  In the year 2000 there were 8 Social Workers at Porirua Hospital in the remaining services – Forensic, Rehabilitation & Maori Mental Health.

Work Focuses

Social Histories – In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, at every new admission a Social Worker saw any accompanying family to obtain and write up a Social History.  This covered as much relevant background as could be gathered about the person’s life – family of origin, childhood and adolescent years, education, interests, employment, relationships, marital situation etc – particularly identifying problem areas and factors contributing to illness.

Social Workers Allocated to Wards  (& Hostels – Hart & Connor House) – this occurred as soon as numbers increased sufficiently (1960’s) to provide service to all patients in the Hospital’s care.  In the 1970’s Social Workers commenced taking Group Work in some Wards (viewed with suspicion by some other staff at first).  In the 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s, Social Workers played their part in the increasingly strong Multi-disciplinary Team approach.  This ensured each profession’s work was utilised for a patient when needed.  Social factors received Social Work professional expertise.

Working Out of Hospital – In the 1970’s this was often people’s first step towards living in the community.  Daily newspapers were available to patients at the Social Work Department.  They could look for jobs and get help to apply for them. When work was well established, Social Workers assisted people to find accommodation in the community.

Community Housing – In the mid 1970’s the first Supported Group Homes commenced – in Porirua East (Baptist Church & Rev Trayton Wickens), in Wellington and the Hutt (Stepping Stones).  Also, a Therapeutic Community Hostel for 18 people in Berhampore (Richmond Fellowship).  Porirua Hospital Social Workers were very active in working with and for these organisations.

Placements & Follow Up – Social Workers constantly worked on assisting people to return to their own life situations or, when needed, supported placements in the community.  Follow up home visits were undertaken as long as required. The 1990’s brought a change of pace in the movement of patients to the community.  Special Project Teams were employed to bring about a quick closure of all medium and long term wards.  Social Workers at Porirua Hospital, having always been highly supportive of the patients’ movement to the community, found professional dissatisfaction with the lack of attention given to an individual’s wide ranging social needs – requirements beyond the supported housing.

Community Care from the mid 1990’s – Social Workers felt that, for people with psychiatric disability, living in the world in the way that everyone else lives – joining in ordinary employment, interest groups, sport & recreation, having relationships & social activity, like everyone else – sounds absolutely wonderful.  It is certainly wonderful for those that can do it.  However, full ability and confidence to undertake these things is lacking for many people with Psychiatric Disability.  They are acutely aware of this and they avoid situations in which they feel they cannot participate in the way everyone else does.  This results in social isolation.

Social Workers were extremely disappointed money was not put into creating, in the community, a sufficient range of occupational, recreational and social activity (and the means of easily getting to it all) specifically for those with Psychiatric Disability.  A meaningful and important part of life, which existed for patients at Porirua Hospital, is still missing in the community care provisions in 2000.

Judith Edmonds, Dip. Soc. Wk (VUW 1975)  Social Worker, Senior Social Worker, Supervising Social Worker & Professional Advisor for Social Work, Mental Health Service – at Porirua Hospital, Psychiatric Unit Wellington Hospital, Porirua Hospital – between 1970 and 1995.


Social Work at Porirua Hospital

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