A glimpse into the role of a First Nations Home Support Assessor: Keiren’s story

Keiren Freeman is a First Nations Home Support Assessor and Community Development Coordinator at Aspire4Life.

With a background in Human Resources, communications, disability sector and business development, Keiren discovered an opportunity to work in the assessment services field after helping family members navigate both disability support and aged care services.

“I was interested in developing my skills but also the opportunity to help other members of my family and the community,” Keiren explains.

“I’ve seen, through assessments and looking at the statistics in my community and in First Nations communities, either a lack of information – or a lack of understanding of where to seek the right information.”

“And it was really important to me that at Aspire4Life, we not only assist those communities, but also our own staff members in understanding how to improve those opportunities for communication.”

A personal connection with the local community

Keiren is from Port Macquarie, and says her family goes back to “both convicts and the Birpai people” in the local community – “but we’ve missed a lot of connection due to my grandmother on my dad’s side passing away, and my grandfather on my mum’s side being essentially part of the Stolen Generation.”

Keiren has since found out more information about her father’s side of the family, the Birpai community, along with the Bruny Island community in Tasmania from her mother’s side.

“My grandfather was considered half-caste, removed from his parents, and he always felt like a part of him was missing,” Keiren says.

“He used to say, we go back to Truganini – the last full-blooded Aboriginal woman in Tasmania. And I didn’t really understand that when I was younger but as I’ve grown up, received more education and information about Indigenous people in Australia, I’ve gained more confidence in regard to my First Nations heritage.”

It’s this heritage which empowers her to be open and vulnerable with her clients.

“It’s very much a conversation opener, it becomes the first part of that conversation – who is your mob, where are you from?”

And this, in turn, helps with her day to day role – sharing the possibilities of the My Aged Care system with even the most apprehensive of clients.

Assessment with heart

Keiren is now one of three identified Aspire4Life assessors on the Mid North Coast, providing clients with the option of meeting with an identified assessor. She makes an effort to work with clients and make them comfortable, offering safe places to meet them on their terms, or offering to come to their home.

“We go in with an open heart, an open mind, find out how we can help them. I’m not going in to dictate what services they need – I want to work out what they think would suit them.”

Keiren has also worked with the Aspire4Life team to develop a First Nations flyer using some of the artwork from the organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

“It helps when you turn up to a client with some sort of symbolism – my shirt with an Aboriginal print, or my lanyard – clients see this print and know that you have some level of cultural understanding and you can provide them with safety.”

“The flyer does the same thing. It’s material specifically related to Aboriginal people, and that’s really important, because there are so many documents featuring mainstream general population but not representing Aboriginal people.”

It’s all part of that bigger picture, Keiren says, of giving everyone a fair go.

“My Aged Care does that, we have hope that a client can move through their barriers or find something that ticks their boxes and connect them with those services.”

The proof is in the result

Keiren mentions that once you have your head around the aged care system, you develop the ability to see your assessments in practice – and exactly how they’ve worked, to benefit the client.

“One lady I worked with experienced chronic arthritis, her mobility was really poor. She was connected with exercise programs, had hip replacements and knee replacements and lost 50kgs.”

“The last time I saw her she’d just turned 80 and said, ‘I’m like Benjamin Button, I’m getting better with age!’ It was amazing to be able to do her first assessment then come back and see the change. A lot of it was her super positive mindset and My Aged Care.”

Some natural curiosity and the willingness to open up can also go a long way. Keiren mentions a support plan review she did with a client: on his record, it stated he was Torres Strait Islander, but on the phone, he had a strong British accent.

“I asked about his accent, and he told me he’d been removed from his family and adopted out, and the family had relocated to the UK when he was a small boy. I asked if he’d ever been back to the Torres Strait Islands, but he said he couldn’t bring himself to do it, not knowing who to ask for or where to go for help.”

“He asked, ‘What colour are you Sis?’ I said, ‘I’m like a snowflake!’ We were laughing. He ended up saying he’d like someone that identifies to come out and see him. And it was part of what’s been a big lesson for me, sharing a little bit of yourself can go a long way, and a big part of building that rapport.”

Going from strength to strength

Keiren continues to work with the Aspire4Life team and other RAS assessors to further develop goals within the organisation’s RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan).

“A RAP means that the organization is on the right path to making significant changes. It is an ongoing process, not something to be taken lightly and it is something that can be taken away if we don’t follow the right path,” Keiren explains.

“It’s certainly not something tokenistic – making a commitment to a RAP is a commitment. And we are on that journey to be more culturally aware and build bridges as much as humanly possible.”

Recently, this included a training session covering basic communication with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, such as body language.

“In training sessions like these, I explain that you can’t go into a client’s home with any preconceived ideas. If clients feel intimidated by you, they’re on guard right away. Keep it respectful. As soon as a client sits there and just starts saying “yep”, you know you’ve lost them – there’s no point progressing much further,” Keiren says.

“That may sound obvious but just because someone has completed some level of cultural competency training doesn’t mean they are fully savvy – it’s forever a learning process, it takes a lot of time to build competency and you learn something new every day.”

“It’s all about taking ownership and pride in your knowledge, your acceptance and understanding.”

To find out more about Aspire4Life and our services, click here.