As someone who is neurodivergent, Tempe Sheales understands the importance of positive experiences in the social services industry. It’s this determination that is helping her excel not only in her CQUniversity studies, but in Emerald’s residential aged care system.
Tempe, a single mother of two, is in her final year of a Bachelor of Social Work course, while working as a Lifestyle Program Coordinator at Blue Care’s Avalon Aged Care Facility – a role that Tempe has ensured incorporates her practice framework as a social worker in training.
“I chose to study social work because of my own experiences as a service user. Positive experiences made a real difference for me during some tough times, and a few negative ones made me feel that my insight as a service user could be valuable as a practitioner,” she said.
Being diagnosed late as neurodivergent, Tempe said her experiences at school were difficult. After having her children – the youngest also being diagnosed as neurodivergent – the possibility of pursuing education as an adult seemed unattainable, but her desire to help people and embark on a new learning journey came to the fore.
“After six years as a stay-at-home mum and carer, I felt like I had lost my identity and lacked purpose; I needed something for myself,” she said.
“After completing a few units in CQU's free enabling course Skills for Tertiary Education Preparatory Studies (STEPS), I entered my first year in 2020 just as the pandemic hit. It was quite an interesting year, with much improvising from the University to ensure we could continue our studies despite the pandemic.
“The last three years haven't been easy; there have been many challenging times. However, I have felt well supported by the CQU team; their unit coordinators, lecturers, the field education team, the accessibility team, and the counselling and wellbeing team and of course my peers and fellow students — I couldn't have made it this far without them all.”
Tempe undertook a work placement with Blue Care as part of her studies and it was here that she really shone and found her path.
“I completed my first placement at Blue Care and my service manager, who was very supportive, offered me the Lifestyle Program Coordinator role,” she said.
“I am currently working in residential aged care coordinating a lifestyle program. I have been here almost a year now.
“While I am not currently in a social work role, my time in the lifestyle program has given me great opportunities to put my training into practice and bring a unique perspective to the role. I have gained valuable experience in working with older people and their families and gained critical insight into understanding their multi-faceted needs.”
She said her role has allowed her to practice her skills on the micro and mezzo level, including providing counselling and emotional support, care planning and coordination, group work, family work and advocacy.
“I take pride in performing life history assessments with the residents, which is crucial for maintaining personhood and dignity, particularly for persons with dementia and those entering the final stage of life,” she said.
She added that she believed social work could be of significant benefit to people in residential aged care.
“There is a rising need for mental health services in Australia, and with our ageing population, the demands on the aged care sector are rapidly increasing. Australia needs more skilled social workers, especially in rural, regional, and remote areas,” she said.
“My advice to others looking to study social work with CQU is to go for it; it's not easy, but it is rewarding. CQUniversity's Bachelor of Social Work is an AASW-accredited course, and CQU will support you throughout your studies.”