Catharina Howman, Firstchance family worker
Catharina Howman has been drawn to helping children with disabilities and their families her entire working life.
“Supporting families is ultimately the best way to support the children,” she said.
Ms Howman works for Firstchance, an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides early childhood intervention support for children living with a disability, and support for the child’s family.
Her role involves helping families who may be feeling isolated and struggling with a sense of grief as they attempt to adjust to what is the start of a big change in their lives.
She provides comfort and information about support available to families.
“It gives me a little bit of flexibility to support in the areas that are often missed,” she said.
“Those areas that are supporting the whole family.
“We help them make connections in the community and link them into mainstream services as required.
“Often families who have children with disabilities are linked into to disability services, but might find it difficult to navigate the regular services that are available to them.
“Things like applying for carer’s allowance and getting counselling.”
Ms Howman, 61, who is originally from Tasmania but now lives at Warners Bay, has worked for Firstchance for about six years.
Her efforts recently earned her a Westfield Local Heroes award from Westfield Kotara. The award, one of three given, came with a $10,000 prize.
“It was a bit overwhelming,” Ms Howman said.
“I felt very honoured and valued.
“You put a lot of work into it but you’re never quiet sure how other people perceive what you’re doing.”
The money received from the Westfield Local Hereos award will go towards Firstchance’s ‘Little Ones’ playgroup, which runs every Friday during school terms.
“We’ve got 17 families who come regularly. They can change quite regularly as families are linked to different services or move on,” Ms Howman said.
“There are a lot of pre-schools and childcare centres who are aware of our service and will say to families ‘just see if you can pop in there [Little Ones] if you’re concerned about something’.
“That’s how we get a lot of our families coming through.
“They come through and say ‘look, there’s something going on, we’re are not sure what it is, can you help point us in the right direction’.”