Elva Richards hasn’t looked back since she enrolled in Melbourne Polytechnic’s dual qualification Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs and Certificate IV in Community Services Work. Her placement turned into a dream job and she’s been able to work while finishing her studies.
After working as a receptionist and enduring the loss of a child, Elva and her partner decided it was time to follow their dreams. She now works at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), providing support for children living in out of home care, with extended family of the same kinship.
“It was the first time I studied since school and actually did something for myself. I was working in reception, not doing what I wanted to do, not living. Now I’m looking forward to the future.”
“I enquired about student placements and came in and the rest of history. They’re very supportive with study. I started the placement in July and then it turned into a 4 day a week position.”
VACCA is a community service organisation that case manages Aboriginal children who are placed in out-of-home care. They provide support for the children and families and work alongside child protection and DHS officers.
It’s a really good service because there’s always someone in the family who’s willing to care for children, which is great and it keeps them in touch with their culture as well.”
Elva has first-hand experience as a kinship carer, after caring for her niece and watching her parents care for other children while she was growing up.
“I think that was what made me want to work with families. You don’t really question it you just take it on. It’s not a conscious thing. If you can do it, you just step in.”
Some days Elva is in the office, but most of the time tends to be out, meeting with families.
“We find that it’s a lot easier for aboriginal families when they’re working with an aboriginal organisation because they feel a bit more comfortable with all of the things that are going on. That’s been one of the great things in going out, they see me and they are more relaxed.”
While her work can be stressful at times, Elva has found the support of teachers invaluable in helping her to balance the challenges of working and studying.
“The teachers are very supportive, especially the Koori Unit. I don’t think I’d still be studying if it wasn’t for them. They were absolutely fabulous!”
“If I was confused about something, they’d see the teacher and find out for me. I don’t think I would have continued if it wasn’t for their support. If I hadn’t continued, I don’t think I would have found employment.”
After being awarded an Melbourne Polytechnic study grant, Elva firmly believes in encouraging others to do what they want to do, but her advice for prospective students is practical:
“Go to every class and don’t miss any! What you miss might be really relevant to what you might do in employment. When I missed classes it really did affect me and I’m making up for it now.”
These days you can find Elva at VACCA where she hopes to continue working and perhaps studying a Diploma in Community Services or Social Work in the coming years.
“It’s a great place! We have pictures of all the kids up, so we get to see the work that we’re doing. It’s a great thing to be able to support people and see what they need. Sometimes it’s something as simple as food vouchers or even someone to talk to.”
Elva’s partner has followed his dreams too, working with members of the Stolen Generation, helping them to find their families and connect them back to their people.
“He actually found my grandfather who we’d been looking for, for over 60 years! We were pretty serious, but that cemented the deal,” jokes Elva. “It’s been good to put the pieces back together. Without my partner’s knowledge, we probably wouldn’t have found him.”
Certificate IV in Alcohol and other Drugs, Certificate IV in Community Services Work