11 May Fire in the belly – A mother and daughter’s passion for supporting their community
Supporting victims is more than a job for Rita Harris and daughter Ashley Field. For both women, it’s become a cause, fuelled by a passionate drive to do what’s right.
Rita, a social worker for Wellington Women’s Refuge and Ashley, a front-line call taker at Victim Support Contact Service, have personal experience of what it takes to advocate for those in need.
Ashley’s older sister Kasey was born severely disabled and needing round-the-clock care from Mum Rita.
“I have had to fight for Kasey all her life. Through caring for her, Ashley and I both naturally became advocates along the way. Ashley and I are alike in that we both get the fire in our belly when we see that something’s not right.” says Rita.
Rita began studying for a Bachelor of Social Work once her children were grown. As someone who has been personally affected by family harm, she was drawn to a part-time role with Porirua Women’s Refuge while working towards her qualification.
She says, “I loved it. I was someone who was able to do the work but not take it home with me.”
Ten years later, Rita wears three hats as Team Leader, Women’s Programme Co-ordinator, and Specialist Services Social Worker at the Wellington Women’s Refuge serving the Wellington region.
“Most of the women I engage with want their life to be better, so it’s great for me to see them find themselves again and become more empowered – as well as safe. I find working with women to help them live a life without violence incredibly rewarding,” says Rita.
Rita’s chosen path played a crucial part in daughter Ashley’s decision to leave her job as a receptionist and take up her role with Victim Support. The tightknit Contact Service team take calls 24/7 from the public as well as managing Police referrals to provide support to victims of crime, trauma, suicide and family harm.
“When mum started doing social work, I became interested in what she did. I could see how important that work is, and that’s what enticed me to make the change in my career. Now, at Victim Support, I feel I’m where I was meant to be,” says Ashley.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, incidences of family harm have been front and centre for the Victim Support team. For the first time in March and April, the number of referrals for family harm was higher than all other referral types combined.
“We have seen a lot more self-referrals as well as calls from concerned family members and friends during the lockdown. It’s been a very scary thing for people. This situation adds so much fear for people already at risk from family harm,” says Ashley.
By contrast, Rita hasn’t noticed a similar increase at Wellington Women’s Refuge and fears this may be because women haven’t been able to reach out while in lockdown.
“I’m wondering if we will see an increase after this is over,” she says.
Recent weeks have presented challenges, but Ashley and Rita have both been able to continue to provide much-needed support for clients, and each other via regular Zoom chats, throughout the lockdown period.
“Everyone at National Office and the wider team has been running at full capacity from home. Even when we’re not together, the support is always there for us. Victim Support is such a cool organisation to be a part of.” says Ashley.
Inspired by shared experiences, both Rita and Ashley admire each other’s dedication to supporting those in the community who need it most.
“Ashley doesn’t judge anybody. It doesn’t matter who she’s helping, she will always try and get the best outcome for them. I admire that about her”
“Seeing mum’s work made me even more passionate about helping people”