Rise issue 11 cover

Child, Youth and Family Central hero Terry Taylor – Forty years of helping families

In 1970, 23-year-old TERRY TAYLOR walked into Wellington’s Child Welfare Division of the Department of Education. In 2010, he walks into the Napier office of Child, Youth and Family, still ready "…to do something worthwhile".

Thumbnail - Terry Taylor

What’s your most enduring memory of your early days on the job? 

In those days our caseloads were measured, literally, in the hundreds and the workload was divided up by gender. The women were called child welfare officers and managed all the girls and the boys aged up to nine years; the men managed all the boys nine and over. The job was much more varied. We did adoptions, which was nice work, inspected and licensed childcare centres, and followed up every child born out of wedlock to speak to the mother…often to be shown the way off the property.

What was the training like back then?

There was a general lack of guidance and no practice framework, but I worked off my Child Welfare manual, which I still have somewhere. It gave instruction about lots of practical things, like how to write a letter to the superintendent of child welfare. He was quite a stickler about correct use of the English language; he once sent out a four-page memo on the need for brevity. You had to write a letter to him every time you wanted something for a kid, like a bicycle, to explain why it was needed. He’d then reply personally with a yes or no.

Other things have changed, as well. Is it true that back then you could smoke right in the office?

I’d light up at the desk and not a murmur from my roommates. Fortunately, in the light of today’s culture, smoking was a passing phase.

What’s been the most positive change you’ve seen over the years?

Definitely the introduction of family decision making and strength-based practice. The Turnell-style Case Consult tool and the 3-houses, which have proven to be effective in talking with children, are a couple of examples.

What’s the secret to your professional longevity?

Obedience and clean living. No, the real answer is – my colleagues! It’s definitely the joking relationship with colleagues, and their support, that eases the stress and pressure when things have been especially tough. They make the job bearable because there are times when it’s pretty tense. Every day I’m filled with admiration for the courage of the frontline social workers who have to challenge violent families with only their skills to protect them. So, at this stage in my career, what I love doing is training newer social workers in good practice and passing on the stuff that helps.