Fiona’s story – being a volunteer

“Want to enhance your listening skills? Want to build your knowledge and confidence on parenting issues?”

This is what the poster asked me on the library community noticeboard. I got in touch.

Now I’m a trained Telephone Support Worker for Parent Help. Callers from around New Zealand phone our free, confidential, parenting helpline. I am one of the TSWs who answer their calls.

The caller may benefit from information on child development, or perhaps a range of parenting ideas to try. Perhaps it’s helping the caller untangle a knot that seems impossibly tangled. Perhaps it’s providing reassurance that they’re on the right track. Perhaps it’s being a friendly voice when they really need it. Perhaps they’re not really quite sure what they need.

I help the caller to work through these. I do this by listening and asking questions.  I ask questions that help the caller to think; questions that inspire and bring about that wonderful  “lightbulb moment”  for another person.

These moments feel like magic.  The sudden silence on the other end of the line tells me when this has happened.  For the caller, it’s a real “whoa” moment. These are some of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

The Telephone Support Worker training focuses on how to ask these lightbulb questions.  I’m like a paramedic, I provide emotional First Aid. We support callers with understanding, empathy, and compassion. We support in a way that is empowering for the caller. Helping clients discover skills to make changes in their lives.

Sometimes the caller needs more support than a helpline can provide. There are families and children at risk. There are people in extremely tough situations, people who can benefit from outside help. TSWs can help callers get in touch with a wide range of community support agencies, suitable for their specific needs.

Sometimes a call seems really big.  I don’t feel I can give the caller the help they require.  Perhaps I feel out of my depth, or perhaps the call feels especially sensitive to me, maybe a bit too close to home. When this happens, I have my back up team.

The Parent Help professional team consists of psychotherapists, counsellors, family therapists and mediators. If I need to, the team will debrief with me. Talk things through. Our supervisors work alongside us, we are part of a wider organisation.

Our team meet for clinical supervision sessions. We discuss issues and ideas to do with our work. We discuss how we’re doing, and what we need. We also have Professional Development days where we hear speakers and receive up to date information on parenting and a range of other issues.

The volunteer team are a slice of kiwi life. We are mums, grandmas, blokes, single people, students – different ages, different cultures, different life experiences. And an interesting range of day jobs! We each bring wonderfully unique skills and insights to the role.

The variety is reflected in our callers too.  Our callers are men, women, young people, old people, people from all walks of life. The reasons that prompt the calls are as many and varied as the people who make them.

Being a Parent Help Telephone Support Worker is a commitment. It’s a special type of volunteering and it isn’t for everybody.

The skills I am learning are limitless.  I learn about myself, I learn about other people. I’m discovering what makes us tick, and what motivates us to do the things we do. How to recognise when we need to make changes in our lives, and how to support ourselves and others through change.

I’ve found a niche for myself in becoming a Parent Help Telephone Support Worker. It’s a good feeling.


– Fiona

TSW, Parent Help

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