Adventurous road to a rewarding job

Published: September 20, 2022

'It’s an honour to do this work, and to have such amazing colleagues' Oranga Tamariki social worker, Veronica Jiang says of her last five years working in the Adoptions team.

Making a difference

Veronica Jiang is reading out a letter from a parent that she’s pasted above her computer. 

‘Your conduct taking us through the Oranga Tamariki process was nothing short of outstanding, and any negative perceptions that we had about dealing with the agency before meeting you were unsubstantiated.’ 

It’s not that the senior adoptions social worker wants to boast, though she has received many such tributes from judges here and overseas, lawyers for children, and – most importantly – from the families she has worked with. 

No: the importance of the letters is that they are tangible proof of her work making a difference in people’s lives. 

The road there

It was not always so. Veronica’s road to social work was a long and adventurous one. 

Born in north-east China in the icy cold city of Harbin, whose green onion-domed Saint Sophia cathedral shows its proximity to Russia, she studied Chinese literature before spending twelve years as a civil servant. 

It was a ‘golden bowl’ job to the Chinese: prestigious, with good prospects, and offering security to Veronica and her young family. 
But she was bored and knew life had more to offer. And so, in her mid-30s and with minimal English, she decided to leave the country: ‘shocking news’ to her friends and family. 

Veronica went to Australia and studied English, moved to New Zealand, returned to China to pick up her daughter and started a business in Rotorua, importing and selling souvenirs. 

But she concluded she didn’t have ‘a business brain’, and now with a new husband and second daughter closed the business after a year to spend more time with her family. 

A calling to social work

That was when it happened. Veronica was on a bus with her daughter one day and saw a toddler in a pram being fed a bottle of Coke. A small thing, but it started Veronica thinking about how she could help struggling families. 

She gained a Master of Social Work (Applied) from Massey University but couldn’t find work without experience. Seeing a job advertised at the CYF Masterton site she flew down from her home in Auckland for the interview, landed the job, and was just about to move her family south when a position in a care and protection team became available in Takapuna, right on her doorstep. 

It’s a good example of the combination of determination and good fortune which have propelled Veronica through life. But nothing had prepared her for what she was about to encounter. 

Tough learning

"It was very tough, finding out about abuse, neglect, family violence, drug and alcohol abuse. I cried at the beginning."  

But she persevered, finding her feet and slowly building trust with the families she worked with. One girl with very complex needs used to call her ‘government mummy’, and years later got back in touch to tell Veronica how well she was getting on. "That meant so much to me."  

And it wasn’t just the lives of others she was changing. "My confidence in myself grew. I used to panic when I went out, but now I had faith in what I was doing."

Veronica was inspired by Karen de Wit, an adoptions social worker with whom she worked, and in late 2017 was accepted into the adoptions team. Karen is now her supervisor.  

Finding a place in adoptions

The adoptions work is a little less heavy than care and protection, but Veronica finds it equally satisfying. Applicants for adopting are screened in the same way as foster parents are and there is a lot of liaising with other countries. 

Veronica’s language skills often come in handy, as do her experiences of so many different sides of life. 

But social work is what she wants to do. "It’s an honour to do this work, and to have such amazing colleagues." 

Intergenerational contribution

The rewards of the job, it turns out, can be intergenerational. Veronica’s older daughter Raina – the one she brought back from China – spent six months working as a social work resource assistant in Takapuna. 

She too treasures an email from a parent who said that Raina’s help had made a difference to her life. While Raina now has a successful career as a data scientist in Melbourne, she still regards receiving that email as one of the most rewarding moments of her professional life. 

And Veronica’s advice to anyone who might be considering a social work career? 

She has no hesitation. "It is hard, but the challenges make you stronger. You contribute, and you grow."